Sunday, November 6, 2011

Vote for Imran Khan?

‘Vote for Imran, vote for change’ is THE catchphrase these days. Having heard this line several times over after the successful rally that PTI held in Lahore, I was forced to ponder over the question. While I was deliberating on the issue, I read this interesting article which encouraged PTI supporters to ask questions of Mr. Imran Khan; in the author’s words ‘Ask Khan difficult questions now because tomorrow you, and not him, will look really stupid if he gets it wrong or worse has nothing to offer.’ I thought long and hard over the issue of voting for PTI in the upcoming elections and decided to put my reasons down on paper.
After the protracted deliberation, the conclusions (in the form of questions) that I came to were as follows:
1.       Are the promises being made by Imran Khan, realizable? If yes then does he have the potential to deliver on them?
2.       Would he be able to secure numerical strength in these elections? Numerical strength which will be crucial to whether or not he can even think about initiating any system level changes.
3.       If not PTI then would it be reasonable to vote for the alternatives? Is challenging status-quo really that important right now, given the already precarious state of affairs?

To begin with, Imran Khan comes across as extremely sincere talking about any issue and I think that alone merits him votes but since I was looking deeper than a sincere façade, I thought along three main lines vis-à-vis political, foreign & economic policy.

         i.            Imran Khan’s take on foreign policy sounds extremely appealing but lacks substance on almost every occasion I have heard him. One of his catch-phrases on foreign policy issues is 'I HAVE LIVED WITH THEM (WESTERNERS) AND HENCE KNOW THEM INSIDE OUT', thereby reducing the entire world to his knowledge of a couple of 'goras'. In retrospect that might have helped him courting socialites in Europe or America but foreign policy is a different ball-game altogether. He also displays naiveté when talking about his core issues of War-on-terror and drone strikes; I have myself heard him say on Kashif Abbasi’s show that he will ‘convince’ President Obama NOT to conduct drone strikes in Pakistan. Now I wish foreign policy was that simple an issue, but the reality couldn’t be further from Khan’s understanding of it.  Khan is also very vocal about reformulating foreign policy, but never mentions how he will wrest control of Pakistan’s foreign policy design from the men in uniform. In a normal modern state, the foreign policy dictates the defense policy. Quite ironically the converse is true in Pakistan’s case; it is our defense policy that dictates our foreign policy and authority for both rests with the army. Whether he will ‘convince’ Gen. Kiyani to hand over these to him or will he use ‘brute force’, has never been mentioned. Imran Khan’s stance on Taliban and other extremist elements in Pakistan is also found wanting and is cause for serious concern. Khan talks about unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban, without taking into account the fact that all previous treaties and dialogues with Taliban have ended in disaster. What he fails to grasp is that when dealing with militants, it is imperative to use a carrot and stick approach; militancy has never been ended by unilateral acceptance of militant demands, case in point being the 2008 peace treaty in Swat. He also ignores that the NATO coalition has been talking about holding talks with all Taliban who give up militancy and are willing to be incorporated into the political process. For some reason I can’t help but feel the argument of ‘strategic depth’ in play behind his silence against the Taliban. 
       ii.            On economics he has a consistent line centering on inflation and corruption. To begin with, he doesn’t seem to understand the simple fact that growth and inflation are intrinsically linked and you can’t have one without the other; once you adopt policies to promote growth, inflation would follow. Now bashing the finance ministry for having contributed to ‘mehngai’ might get PTI a couple of more votes but when it comes to macro-economic policy making, we’d be back to square one. Assuming that he wins the next election, this very thing will come to haunt him; when his cabinet sits down to work on fiscal and monetary policy, he will have to make the tough decisions being made by the current government. He has also come up with this magic number of Rs. 3 Trillion in losses that Pakistan is incurring due to corruption and inefficiency in tax collection. Imran says that he will cut down these losses by half (i.e. 1.5 trillion) in the very first year of his government.  Given that Pakistan’s budget deficit is under Rs. 1 Trillion, this would be amazing; however I am very skeptical about this target, given that no method or policy has been delineated which would help me quantify and estimate the probability of success. Also the timeline of 1 year looks totally unrealistic. To give you a better understanding of the issue, Pakistan has had the following average tax to GDP ratios decade wise:

a.       1990 to 2000 – 11.17%
b.      2000 to 2010 – 10.41%
(The decline from the nineties to 2000s was primarily because of trade liberalization whereby Pakistan dropped average effective rate of duty on imports from 30% in early nineties to below 6% by 2009-2010)

Whether this improvement will be made by better tax collection, increase in taxation or otherwise is not mentioned by Mr. Khan. Historically, Pakistan has been on the lower side with tax collection and it would do wonders to the state’s functioning if somehow this could be improved. However the reality of the issue is that previous regimes including the ‘amazing’ military governments (which were omnipotent, having all kinds of power at their behest) couldn’t increase this ratio despite numerous efforts, then how is Mr. Khan going to change that? Even if he wins a sizeable majority in parliament, would he be stronger than a military dictatorship in terms of executive authority?

      iii.            On politics his favored line has been one of exclusionism. He has alienated everyone by calling them corrupt and/or incompetent, however at the same time he is accepting into the folds of PTI every tom, dick & harry abandoned or ostracized by mainstream parties. This would lead to two possible outcomes:
a.       Either people will stop taking him seriously and his image as a messiah will be tarnished
b.      Or he would go down the same road that he so loathes
Another trend that I have observed is his seemingly biased position on civil-military balance and his intentional drive to malign politicians and politics in general. Being a staunch believer in strengthening of democracy and strictly opposed to the idea of autocratic rule of any kind I feel his silence on military’s forays into the civil domain is disturbing. His ridicule of politics and the political domain would only help to weaken the already fragile structure of democracy in Pakistan. It would also pave way for the possibility of further proxy governments.
Moving on, after detailed talks with several senior PTI members, I have concluded that they themselves realize that PTI would at best get a handful of seats at the federal level and perhaps a slightly better count at the provincial level (particularly Punjab). Given that is the internal estimate, how does Mr. Khan envision changing the system? Politics is a game of numbers and a process of give & take and PTI has categorically rejected any such methodology where they will concede to other parties/individuals for presenting a common front. This again creates a catch 22 situation for Mr. Khan; if he decides to have a sit-down with other political parties (corrupt by PTI standards) for the general political process, he would be reneging on his word to his voters. If he doesn’t, he would be rendered ineffective and thereby cause more disillusionment in his followers when he will fail to deliver on the larger-than-life promises he has made.

To sum it up, the overall situation looks bleak for PTI. If they don’t win a majority in the upcoming elections, they wouldn’t have any real power to produce change. If they do win in majority (highly unlikely) then they stand the risk of causing even bigger disillusionment than we have now, because the problems that Mr. Khan has promised to fix, do not have any short term solutions and once he fails to deliver on them in the time-frame promised, the youth would feel completely betrayed. My heart tells me to vote for PTI but my mind tells me that he is not the logical choice and since I am defined by the choices I make, I choose to stay skeptical until my questions are answered.

The author is a Fulbright scholar studying law & entrepreneurship at Duke University, USA.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tunisia - What next? by Ali Malik

The events of Tunisia have stirred the whole world and have raised questions about the future of Tunisia, the Arab world, and the developing world's bastions of stability in the cyclical boom of 90s and early 2000s. As the events keep unfolding in Tunisia, the world awaits answers to four key questions.

What Happened?
Whether what happened was a consequence of something deep rooted or was it a knee-jerk reaction is yet to be seen. Arab world, rewinding back 4-5 decades or so, has a tendency for knee-jerk revolutions without any unifying agenda or leadership. Whether what happened this time was a repeat of 60s or is it a more aware revolution with a defined set of compatible and workable ideals is yet to be seen.
Another perspective on events, and with significant credibility, is that the Army in Tunisia realizing that the anger on streets is getting out of hand decided to make Bin Ali the scapegoat. If this is true then the success of the revolution in achieving its objectives will be determined by the steam in the revolution. Based on past precedence of such scenarios, most likely both sides will have to compromise and the tug of war will continue for years between the army and those who want to break the status quo.

What Next for Tunisia?
Tunisia has four possible paths from where it is. First the revolutionaries could succeed and Tunisia moves to become a pluralistic, liberal democracy and the forces of status quo get wiped out from the power structure completely. If this happens, the country will slowly but surely start to develop its institutions and leadership will start emerging in a country where till now no viable consensus alternative to Bin Ali can be seen. However, because of lack of centralized leadership among opposition and absence of a clear national agenda, this outcome though the most desirable for the people of Tunisia is least likely.
Then there is the real threat that in the chaos that has ensued, the militant Islamists will hijack the movement and attempt to takeover the government. This is exactly what happened in Iranian revolution where a revolution by the combined opposition was hijacked by Ayatullahs for they were the only opposition with guns. Though Tunisian society is liberal compared to its neighbors and does not have strong radical Islamist elements, the presence of militant radical Islamist movements in its neighborhood make this threat a potent one for Tunisia.
It might just be that when the steam of revolution subsides, the current establishment regains complete control of the situation through new faces. This will be the real test of Tunisian revolution and should be a reason enough for the opposition parties to come up with a minimum common agenda.
Last scenario will be a compromise between the ruling elite and the revolutionaries in which the ruling elite will give concessions to the opposition and give them a share of the power structure. From there on, how much the opposition proceeds towards a completely democratic Tunisia with strong institutions and a representative rule will depend on the unity of Tunisians as well as the vision of the leadership at the helm of affairs. If other examples are anything to go by such transition is always a painful process with a lot of disappointments along the way. To reach their desired goal of a democratic Tunisia, the Tunisians will have to be ready for disappointments and will have to be patient for the system to work and flourish. It will be high time for international players, particularly United States and Europe to back the representative government in Tunisia. The path will be hard to travel but seems the only viable route for people of Tunisia to claim their place in the world. If Tunisia descents further into chaos, this will not only be a blow for progressive forces in the Middle East but will also be dangerous for the continent in the north of Tunisia. Just when in the past, the western governments, particularly the European ones, seemed complacent with Bin Ali regime and the status quo; for their own interests ranging from curbing illegal immigration and drugs into Europe to fighting radical Islam, they will have to side with a liberal democratic Tunisia. This gives me hope of transformation of Tunisia into a liberal democratic nation.

Will it Spill over to other Arab Nations?
The revolution has been cheered by almost the entire youth in the Arab world. It is unclear whether this support will translate into similar attempts in other Arab countries or not. One thing is however clear, the ideal of Pan-Arabism was never dead and is back with full force. Whether this idea remains a nationalistic idea or gets influenced by Islamist movements is yet to be seen. It seems that the revolution spells trouble for non-oil importing nations more than it does for the oil-rich nations; with most vulnerable being the North African neighbors of Tunisia. Though not vulnerable immediately by the events, the real threat for the oil-rich Arab nations is the hijacking of the movement by Islamists for they have the strongest presence of militant Islam with in their frontiers. 
These events are a wakeup call for autocratic regimes of Arab world who have mastered the art of suppressing their masses and have created crony-centric economies that have severely marginalized the majority of have-nots.  It is about time that the governments themselves start introducing wide-ranging political and economic reforms aimed at representation and inclusion. In absence of these, the chaos will make them more and more vulnerable to the forces of change. 
Next few years will be Arab world's real test. The outcome will be determined less by the actions of the ruling elites and more by the vision and wisdom of the masses. The ruling elite and masses can embrace the progressive ideals and be part of the modern world or can fall into the hands of the forces of radicalism and oppression. There is no choice for Arabs but progress and the smoother the Arabs make this transition the better it will be for them and for the rest of us.

How will the governments cope with rising inflation?
With the excess liquidity present in the global financial system as a result of bailouts and the inflation expectation built into the prices of energy and food, high inflation is likely to persist in most parts of the developing world. Countries like India, China and oil-exporting countries have some cushion to absorb the impact of this rapid inflation through subsidies. For the rest of developing world, the inflation will be a threat for the political and economic systems. If not dealt properly, the threat has a potential to drag the world into a crisis that can reverse the progress many decades backward. The nations of the world are already late in planning for the crisis awaiting us. They need to start acting now or the chaos might lead us to destination none of us desired.

Reposted form Author is a member of IDD. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Wrong Bandwagon

by Soufia A Siddiqi

Lately, Ufone’s been making all of us laugh really hard. That’s ended brutally with its latest advertisement in the Saaf Awaaz campaign. A lot of people I know are still chuckling along, telling me I’m taking the ad too personally. Mikaal grimacing at the unusual voice of a stunningly fair, beautiful woman is more than slapstick, however. It’s a response typical of members of our society towards an anomaly-shock bordering on disgust.  I have a congenital vocal cord disorder called Dysphonia, which makes my voice unusually hoarse and toneless for a girl. Much of my life has been spent answering queries about it, largely by women who pity I will never receive a decent marriage proposal because of it. I have had boys walk away from me the minute I’ve uttered one syllable. I don’t expect sympathy for a condition I didn’t choose; I expect empathy.
Accepting differences and celebrating diversity are qualities unique to the human being. That’s not what the Ufone ad tells the viewer. It stereotypes male behavior towards beautiful women (the irresistible ogling), then mocks her for her strange voice. It also blatantly disregards the fact that only mentally retarded children speak in a manner akin to the girl’s. All of this, it neatly packages into a telecommunication connection. Sure, ads can be funny, but at whose expense?
For a society as conservative as ours is about women, the corporate sector seems to be having a field day toying with the female figure. In an attempt to progress and win the economic rat race, advertisements in the country have taken objectification of 50% of the population to a new level. Fair & Lovely may be a relatively older form of this phenomenon by narrowly defining beauty in one skin tone. Hardees’ sleazy billboards in Lahore are a more recent addition. Consider the one in Model Town that declares ‘This chick won’t disappoint you’ or Gulberg’s ‘Big, juicy, messy; just the way you like it.’ The CEO of Carl’s Jr (Hardees’ sister company) admitted last year that the parent company CKE, Inc. deliberately targets ‘young, hungry men’, a double entendre on both physical and carnal hunger. The company’s Teriyaki Burger ad featuring Audrina Patridge as the ‘best bikini body’ and a more recent one with Paris Hilton seducing a, brace yourself, car, only evidences its history of foraying into voyeurism. Is that really the direction we want to head in, is what Pakistani parents should be asking themselves every time they drive past the cheery yellow star.
Ok. Sex is touchy. Let’s instead consider the effects of marketing a cosmetically perfect lifestyle with the help of skin bleaching products. Psychologically, the association of terms like ‘handsome’ and ‘lovely’ with fairness is mindboggling for a country genetically dominated by darker skin tones. Legally, such marketing amounts to misrepresentation through a product. Not only does it equate beauty with a particular skin tone, once the effect of the cream wears off (with discontinued use) one’s natural colour returns. Obviously, this is not the light tone promised by the cream to become characteristic of a face. Its continued use, according to skin specialists, results in cracks, sores and other forms of skin damage. There is even a greater tendency for the skin to darken. The unfortunate truth is that lightening creams are all the rage now in the country, especially among educated women desperate to subscribe to a fictitious ideal of beauty. The greatest targets of such ads are probably the girls ranging from early adolescence into their late 20’s (the average marriage age range in the country). Being fair, educated and holding down a ‘professional’ job is the latest best package for securing a successful marriage proposal. Companies want the young women of our country to believe a cream can do all this for them. The Journal of Consumer Policy affirms that consumers’ preferences and behavior are shaped by the size and nature of an advertising message.
Yes, ads just market products; one probably shouldn’t take them too seriously. Why, then, are advertising industries and marketing budgets worldwide valued at millions? Pigou explained that companies operating in monopolistically competitive markets such as food and personal care depend largely on advertising to differentiate their products from each other. Elements used range from humour and shock to sexuality. Company reps argue that consumers have the choice to ignore, change channels to or just tune out of ads that privatize the public domain. That’s exactly why in Pakistan billboards are often placed right behind traffic signals, radio stations will play your song request ‘right after these messages’ and cable operators will run a movie with commercials constantly appearing on horizontal and vertical panels on the TV screen. All of these are Hobson’s Choice: a consumer has no option, but to tolerate such adverts because they accompany other services he/she may desire or need.
The liberal feminist movement in the US took Burger King to task for its Super-Seven-Incher ad showing a young woman leaning towards a phallis-shaped sandwich claiming, ‘It’ll blow your mind away.’ The psychological and physical battle among Asians in the UK for fair skin has featured and been condemned on a BBC News report, Beyond the Pale; BBC2’s Desi DNA-Skin Deep; and Anita Rani’s Make Me White on BBC 1. The Australian Standards Bureau considered cancelling a Kotex ad in Australia that made euphemistic reference to female genitalia when it received a significant number of complaints overnight following its initial airing. Globalization critic, David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World argues that ads are just a part of the greater propaganda machinery controlled by corporations the world over to remind people that consumerism is the key to happy living.

 The author is a Rhodes scholar and a free-lance writer.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

New World Order

by Ali Malik

When one authority replaces another, it dismantles the old order and establishes a new one. This is something which the jargon intellectuals on our media are overseeing day-in day-out while reviewing the recent developments in our country and the region.
When British Order collapsed, it was replaced by no definitive order but a conflict of two orders, Soviet and American. Americans being closer to British values, decided to pursue with British order to battle the immediate threat of communism. The threat was a threat of survival and rather than dismantling the old order and replacing it with a new one, Americans focused on triumph in conflict and used their proximity to British values to their advantage.

After the collapse of Soviet Union, Americans started implementing the American order in the world (much like the British Imperial Order, or Ottoman Order, or Arab Order, or Order of Gladiators). There is nothing unusual about it and nothing suspicious. This world is full of way too many variables to be controlled by anyone as the conspiracy theorist will make us believe. This American Order (or attempts at it) is a logical culmination of that rise and fall of tribes, nations and civilizations.

Just as both societies are rooted in Anglo-sexan social code; there remain inherent differences between Americans and English. First and foremost, English is a society rooted in suspicion (which comes from the historical baggage of being in Europe), US is rooted in trust (which comes from openness and the concept that inherent good of human beings should be counted on to govern the society with minimal government). American is a very classless society (with very few exceptions - race, mind you, is a separate issue) English, on the other hand, were and still are very aristocratic. English like to plan extensively before moving, Americans are doers. Part of the reason of America being America to me is the extreme self confidence in their ability to deal with any situation that arises. There is a saying "I am Ameri-can not Ameri-can't". Because of this confidence, part of which comes from the success of America, Americans don't believe in planning too much but acting. Then there is romanticism with the American dream. Unlike British nationalism, American nationalism is stemmed in some values and not in region or language. The values of liberation and independence of spirit still run deep in reshaping what America is and a significant majority of Americans is euphoric about these values.

Of course there are differences between America too on many issues. For instance, on whether the way to establish American order is through global cooperation or unilateral dominance? There are differences on whether America is better of being a catalyst of change or a ringmaster controlling the change? What comes first, justice or American hegemony? And these contradictions are providing the ammunition to resistance to American order.

But despite these contradictions, post Soviet Union, wiping out of British order and rollout of American order is in place. It is little different from previous rollouts of dominant order because it is 6 decades too late. And in six decades in order to assert itself it has benefited from the relics of previous order it is trying to replace. It would have been much smoother if those relics could have been abandoned at the fall of British Empire but for reasons mentioned above, that was not to be.

There are certain center-pieces of British order, which was carried by Americans for six decades, which need be dismantled and replaced for establishing American order. British order relied heavily on strong military establishments in empire and its old colonies including India and Pakistan. Mid-Eastern monarchies were central to British order and so was the mismatch between the sect of rulers and masses. One State solution under Balfour Declaration was central to British order to control Middle East (now two-state solution, in principle, is a policy solution), emphasis was more on governance than representation, and then is this notion of James Bond, a state with in the state, a secret service determining on its own whims what national interest is. American order ideally aims to curtail all these relics. The problem is they have got stronger and stronger in last six decades and so the task is more challenging and daunting. In this attempt to establish American Order, the old interests are going to fight tooth-and-nail. This turns this rollout into all or none. If it succeeds, it will be a long era of American Order, if it collapses, US, most likely, will fall.

One thing that should be abundantly clear to everyone is that no major global power wants this American Order to fail. China, EU, Britain (with the only exception of handful imperialists who see a return of glory of Crown), no one is ready to replace it - they have their differences over who deserves what, but they are willing to settle them within the confines of the order. Probably only exception is Russia (but it too is acting more out of revenge than any gain of its) and the nobilities/ruling classes in some parts of the world.

This whole rollout is central to our existence and future in Pakistan. The success or failure of new order depends on how things shape up in Pakistan. Democracy has to succeed and militancy has to go. If the influence of militants in Pakistan, its polity and its media is curtailed significantly in next 4-5 years, the order will succeed. If things go wrong there, it will collapse.

World has too much resting on Pakistan to let it fail in these circumstances. If present setup fails, it will not fail alone. It will take with it the new Labor experiment (and even David Cameron's center right Tory) and Obama mania. If Pakistan fails to eradicate militancy and influence of Saudi monarchy and Salfi Jihadi ideology, the whole system will fall like house of sand. The America will then be controlled by the hawks who will again retry pushing the order (though with much difficulty) till they either succeed or collapse.

Indians miscalculated the centrality of Pakistan in its response post-Mumbai, and have been made to understand what it was. If the present setup falls, it will lead to embargoes and an all out military assault. If Iraq and Pakistan succeed, monarchies will go through a ripple-effect across the region inspired by prosperity and freedom (and mind you the freedom for fundos like Talat Husains and Kashif Abbasis and Ansar Abbasis to utter their nonsense on TV is not what freedom is).

If the order fails, with none to replace, it will lead to a vacuum and a complete chaos and bloodshed spanning decades. That chaos, coupled with religious mythologies, provides a perfect backdrop for some psychos to try to orchestrate the arrival of a fake Christ or Mehdi or Messiah (this psycho disorder exists all around) fueling the religious passion in the era of chaos.

If the order succeeds, America is here to stay for a few decades/ centuries as dominant power. In cycles of rise and fall of nations - it will go one day too and will be replaced by more potent and strong order - hopefully even better in the true spirit of human evolution. I don't care what my Urban Educated Countrymen label me, I have to say what I believe is right. The world has a lot to gain from smooth transition of order and if it fails, we all pay the price - may be except a handful of Monarchs, Ayatullahs, and Defense Contractors. Let us be on the side where we benefit. It is not a war against the religion – it’s a war against an old order that has outlived its utility. Khatre main Islam nahin!

Tailoring Shortcuts snd Stitching Revolutions

Mashal Shabbir

Pakistanis as a nation have become addicted to quick-fix solutions to problems. Our mentality displays itself in how much we value short-cuts in our lives; from our school and university lives, where we prefer spoon-feeding, and cheating, to the get-rich quick thinking that guides the profiteering businessman, to buildings roads and buildings that cannot withstand weather anomalies, our lives are dominated by how quickly we can be gratified. Is it any wonder then, that our national psyche is simply intolerant to something as pain-staking and testing as democratization?

As of late, our national media is dominated by news items concerning a Revolution that will take place sometime soon. MQM’s call for a glorious hurricane to sweep away the corrupt politicians (like they are physical objects waiting to be blown away), has led to the elite, the opinion-makers and the public to start considering seriously the possibility of a revolution. Popular discontent is being given voice through the notion of a popular uprising, uprooting the current government and replace it with something remarkable. But this thinking is rooted in anger and misguided idealism, two ingredients that have the potential to unleash horrors on Pakistan that we have not seen yet.

When people call for a revolution, it implies that the government has in some way closed off all options available to them for exercising their will. The social contract, whereby people remove themselves from the “state of nature” and place themselves in organized society, where the sovereign, the repository of their freedoms, holds ultimate sway in making and enforcing laws is the means through which the state has legitimacy. Unfortunately, in today’s situation, the current government is being conflated with the state, and the democratic structure that we proudly ushered in two years ago. Since the government is corrupt to the core, proponents argue, and each politician is as corrupt as the next, we need to simply give power to the people to rule themselves as they see fit. The army is called to support such an endeavour. But this call to usher in a revolution simply ignores whether such a revolution is possible, whether it is desirable in itself, and whether it will actually achieve the ends its proponents want.

In Pakistan’s situation, the floods have laid the groundwork for the belief that a revolution is possible. Granted the damage caused in terms of life and property, and future prospects for the 20 million people displaced, one can argue that these people might lose patience with the system and resort to violence. But even given the enormity of the challenge, revolution and mob rule won’t help Pakistan in any way but will plunge us deeper into problems that will become unsolvable.

This is because simply removing a government from power will never eliminate the issues that are causing the current problems. Proponents of the revolution forget that Pakistan is facing this situation because there is a lack of leadership and foresight. Eliminating all our current politicians to counteract this still implies a void, because experienced leadership is something that is cultivated and generated over decades, not conjured out of thin air. If, for instance, it is lack of food, water and shelter that is required for the 20 million IDPs, we require an appropriate amount of humanitarian and development assistance in addition to our resources, used carefully and honestly and consistently. If it is the economic situation of the rest of the population that has to be improved, we need practical and far-sighted economic policies. If it is corruption that has been addressed, we not only need accountability mechanisms to be in place, but all of us to participate in the political process so corrupt elements are weeded out over successive elections. To merely look for alternative through martial law and revolutionary governments is the wrong solution, because we need to depend on the wisdom of our chosen representatives with experience that is gained over time. Additionally, given the deep divisions that wrack Pakistani society, the naked power struggle this void would lead to would pose us many questions. Even if we do have options, who would we choose to form the flawless government? Army personnel or civilians? Rich industrialists or farmers? Sindhis or Punjabis? Who would call the shots in this new setup?

Tossing ideas of revolution lightly amounts to glorifying a process that by no means will eliminate our problems. History is replete with examples of situations where the popular mobs exercised their will most disastrously, even if it was in the name of the nation. In the past, the French Revolution quickly degenerated into warring between political factions, resulting in the Reign of Terror by which all sorts of people were indicted and murdered for being foreign or domestic enemies of revolution. Germany under the Nazis is another example in which a majority carried out the most heinous of crimes to get rid of perceived problems. In more recent times, one must simply look at the example of Rwanda where seething anger at Tutsis resulted in terrible atrocities carried at the hands of the Hutus. The list can go on and on.

The overall lesson to be derived is to not call for bloody revolutions, but to realize that the best revolutions are the silent ones that no one talks about. The call for a revolution is based on the flawed assumption that we should have no hope in the current system, but the call for a silent revolution, focused more inwards then outwards, assumes that there is still hope and positive changes can be brought about without violence being unleashed. This would be the more difficult of the two options and would require much commitment on part of our current crop of leaders, and on the part of the public. What remains to be seen is when we will cease to be attracted by short-cuts, a pointless search since laying the foundations of a prosperous and strong country is a process that takes decades of consistent effort and consensus from everyone.

"IDD may not necessarily agree or subscribe to the opinions and views of contributing authors or the comments made about them by any individual."

A Time to Celebrate Pakistanis

Muhammad Anwar Ul Haq

Benumbed by tragedy after tragedy in the span of one week, the whole nation is gripped by an air of despondency. In a similar frame of mind I was checking emails yesterday, when an Egyptian friend shared this video titled 'Brilliant Pakistanis''.

My first reaction was of reserved scepticism, as we Pakistanis tend to tread the extremes of the emotional spectrum. We are either basking in visions of grandeur based on an incorrigible superiority complex (where we reflect on past glories and curse India/America/Israel for all our woes current or past) or we sink into depression and declare that we are a nation of nincompoops with no hope in the forseeable future; case in point being the round of self-loathing & ridicule that started after the Sialkot incident, whereby anthropomorphic relationships were suggested between Pakistanis & cockroaches. Confused between these two extremes I played the video, which turned out to be quite contrary to my preconceived notions. All the personalities in the video were people who had given their lives (in certain cases literally) to bring about some measure of sanity to this otherwise anarchist pool. Without exception they have done something or the other to improve the status of Pakistan and its inhabitant without calling them kings or paupers, cockroaches or emperors, regents or serfs. However the people of Pakistan have forgotten them and their feats. Therefore at a time like this, when the entire nation is in doldrums and it seems as if nature itself is conspiring against Pakistan, I believe it is a time to celebrate all these wonderful people who have given their time, effort, money, blood and what-not to raise Pakistan's banner one notch higher, who have worked in the face of adversity to attain their goals. Let us celebrate these people who have strived for the people and not the other way around. Let us learn from these people who have tread the median, not indulging in 'self-pity' or 'self-glory'. Let us celebrate Pakistanis.

Dancing with the Devil: why Pakistanis Should No Longer Tango with Convention

Soufi A Siddiqi

My family and I used to visit Pakistan for only two months every summer holiday. I remember that time being a crucial source of learning about my country. Two lessons were always emphatically stressed on: that India was ‘our’ mortal enemy and that Pakistan was born to protect Islam. I always found myself at odds with the two issues: I was growing up with several Indian friends and classmates and none of them seemed particularly belligerent towards my family or me; in the Quran, we read about God’s promise to preserve the Quran and Islam, as a way of life, Himself-how did Pakistan give itself that right?

Many years on, even after having lived in Lahore for over six years, I’m still struggling to comprehend my Pakistani identity. What is certain, though, is that the ideas I was fed as a child are not necessarily true. In fact, with reference to religion, the more I read of my country’s history and international politics, the more I realize how drastically the thought processes of the ‘80s (and even the late ‘70s) in Pakistan were altered. It was almost as though they were erased and written all over again- this time, in an entirely different language.

This article does not aim at simultaneously studying the various forces that pushed for an anti-India agenda along with a pro-Islam movement (although both have been inextricably linked at significant points along the chronological record of Pakistan’s socio-political history). In the first section, it focuses on the themes, texts and methods used in the instruction of Islamic Studies in Pakistani primary schools. It tries to identify the influence of such curriculum on mainstream Muslim families’ perceptions of what Pakistan is and should be about. The second part of the article offers an example of the kind of reinterpretation of religion that could become the hallmark of Muslim society in Pakistan.

Section I

The unfortunate use of religion for political gains through education in Pakistan has not gone unrecognized. Much work has been done in this regard. For instance, according to a 1997 UNESCO report on curriculum for primary schools in Pakistan, the 1992 Education Policy included among its means of quality enhancement, the use of curriculum for the inculcation of ‘Islamic’ values in students and the introduction of Nazira Quran from Classes 1-7. Among its primary goals, the policy aimed at ‘inculcating values in Islamiyat’ and developing a ‘balanced personality by acquiring knowledge of Islamic values and by encouraging their use in thought and action’. To be fair, ‘a spirit of appreciation for all religions’ was to be encouraged, but the emphasis on Islamic learning outweighed this token mention of Pakistan’s various other faiths. In fact, the policy went so far as to stipulate the ‘knowledge and understanding of Islamic values’ as an integral part of the social studies curriculum for Class 5.

In 2003, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad produced a report on curriculum and textbooks in Pakistan. It emphasized on ‘insensitivity to existing religious diversity of the nation’ and encouragement of the concept of jihad or martyrdom found in textbooks. It also highlighted the facts that Islamic Studies was a mandatory subject right from class 1 without adequate arrangement for instruction in alternative religions/faiths and that reference to Islam and glorification of war was a part of subjects classified under humanities which non-Muslims were compelled to study as a regular part of the syllabus.

General Zia ul Haq brought with himself a dismal era of ‘Islamization’ of Pakistan. Much of this ideology rested on the premise that the country’s national security was under threat by the ‘infidel’ communists and socialists of the Soviet Union (an odd proposition, considering Pak-China friendship had gained particular strength by then). Hence, the need to join hands with any force that was willing to ‘defend’ Islam was imposed, if not logically established. Zia’s time was known for supporting the proliferation of religious schools as alternatives to mainstream education, conforming all school syllabi to ‘Islamic values’ and introducing Islamic Studies as a mandatory subject even at the Bachelors level. That innumerable seminaries went astray due to their lack of qualified teachers, politically motivated instruction and a general absence of accountability or assessment is a view even agreed to by the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group when it presented its case study on the state of development in Pakistan.

It was also during Zia’s era that a disturbing trend, set into motion towards the end of Bhutto’s rule, found solid footing- politics on university campuses. The University of Engineering and Technology saw the reign of terror the student wings of political parties unleashed, as did the Government College, Lahore, University of Peshawar and Karachi University. To date, the University of the Punjab still exhibits some of the most radical interpretations of religion on campus with members of the Jamiat-e-Talba terrorizing girls and boys into sitting at opposing ends of classrooms and putting up written warnings of the gruesome end artists and musicians will meet.

It is disappointing that Islamic Studies is still a core credit towards a Bachelors degree. Although non-Muslims may apply for Ethics in its place, the ability to take the course is often hampered by logistical details such as whether there is a qualified instructor for the course and adequate class strength. The argument proceeds thus: 97% of the country’s population constitutes Muslims; why shouldn’t they be asked to study their religion at the college level? If the course were a genuine effort at re-examining what Islam might mean to Pakistanis, there may actually have been merit in this justification. The truth is, unfortunately, that the syllabus of the Bachelors-level compulsory Islamic Studies course is largely a generic one, with emphasis on memorizing Surahs, translating key verses and answering standardized questions on issues of belief. It does not address modern problems Muslim communities face, nor does it ask of students to critically analyze the fundamental principles on which the Islamic faith rests. To be sure, such an exercise would constitute a form of heresy.

A 2005 study by the National Commission for Justice and Peace put it aptly: we are the victims of ‘partial truths’.

The confusion that such religiously-inspired rigmarole has generated is obvious in a range of situations. They may be as simple as cricket matches in which the crowd repeatedly chants, ‘Pakistan ka matlab kya; la ilaha illalla’ (What does Pakistan stand for? There is no god but Allah)- oblivious to the intermingling of sports and religion and the disregard such chants have for Pakistanis who do not subscribe to Allah. More worrying, though, are legal fixes like when and upon whom the Blasphemy Laws apply; political issues like whether the state should condone fixing the criteria of a ‘good’ Muslim; why the President or Prime Minister must be Muslim; why the state should be concerned at all with any particular religion; or the worst, the indecisiveness of Pakistani society even today over whether the Taliban are ‘our’people or ‘their’ people, whether they are the ‘good’ or the ‘bad’ ones and whether we should consider their behavior to potentially be a true representation of Islam as prescribed by the Book and the Prophet. The last, in particular, is a terrifying reality.

So perhaps the real problem lies within the minds of successive generations raised to believe that their beliefs about Pakistan are the only sort that could ever be true or right. The fear of disobeying a higher entity has been so crudely carved into the mind that many would rather live in denial than risk punishment.

Section II

The Muslim community in Pakistan has, over its history, expressed outrage-as a measure of solidarity- over the various grievances of the Muslim world. This has even included physical damage inflicted upon its own people, businesses and identities. Instead, it is suggested, this same community in Pakistan should scientifically investigate what its Book sets out as fundamentals of living and perhaps find its own freedom- a right it should recognize. I write this piece as part of a humble effort to move for reinterpretation of the Quran- a book so mysterious that it has entangled man in controversy for over centuries. I write it especially in the hope that one day, we may give strength to our children to understand this book and embrace its spirit, not just memorize it.

In April 2003, as the Americans went to war against Iraq to recover and destroy the ever-evasive Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD’s), some of the world huddled in front of television and radio sets, while others protested. But every single one of us bore witness to the expansion of the ‘liberal democratic’ agenda of the ‘free USA’ against the ‘terrorists’. These terms have become clichés in our lives; we are told what liberal democracy is, but does the Muslim world need to import it? Does Islam not offer its own inherently democratic premise of existence?

Both logic and human consensus tell us that a planned agenda will always prioritize words, events and actions. A simple activity like going to sleep at night involves preparation, in terms of brushing one’s teeth, offering prayers and changing into comfortable nightwear. Similar, the essence of Islam’s message is derived from the first revelation of the Quran, ‘Read: In the name of thy Lord,’ (96: 101-102). Literally, the verse can imply only a simple command. Yet, it would be an act of arrogance on the part of an omnipresent God to demand a task as impossible as to read from His man of choice- the unlettered Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Literary critique often examines prose and other such masterpieces from a few angles, including symbolism, mythical appeal, etc. The Quran’s language was widely acknowledged by even the Quraysh- then the finest poets in Arabia- as par excellence, maybe even Divine, if only it had not come out of the mouth of Muhammad. It would make sense to conclude that the Quran’s appeal, then, is to man’s inner self as much of literature is; it is not just a book of ordinance. The Prophet’s, and the Quran’s, repetitive stress on learning and investigation, ‘Verily in this, there are signs for people who reflect,’ (13:3) and ‘Here are signs for people who are wise,’ (2:164) highlight Islam’s penchant for human rationale. But it man is to reason through a complex situation, the mind must be clear in its purpose and adequately equipped with the necessary skills. It must, most importantly, be free.

Modern-day freedom stems from the political ‘Enlightenment’ of Voltaire and Rousseau, the economic ‘revolution’ of Marx and the historico-literary contextualization of Taine through his ‘race, milieu and moment.’ Foucault’s attempt to understand power as the product of knowledge and literature as the socio-economic reflection of one’s time is not alien to the literary style of the Quran, as is neither one of the abovementioned concepts of freedom. The step that Islam as a deen (a way of life and not just ritualistic religion) took over 1400 years ago, however, was the liberation of humanity from all such categories by effectively focusing on just one characteristic- the nature of man.

By nature, man is social, political and, as argued by Abraham Maslow, in a psychological need of approval. Without his self-esteem, man is weak and inferior. The movement for the superiority of self, however, was questioned by Roy Baumeister. He reasoned that in the pursuit of one’s ideal self, one would lose sense of his real being. There is little doubt that the self is a central focus of Islamic philosophy. Not only does the Quran address men, an-Nas, but it also verifies that each individual has within itself a soul, an-Nafs (38: 71-72). Iqbal’s development of William James’ ‘stream of thought’ in light of the Quran’s Nafs gave him the Ego- a unique, Divinely-inspired personality that manifests itself in human physique. In the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Iqbal argues that the Quranic instruction for daily prayers is a method for the restoration of the Ego to its uniqueness and its savior from falling into a mechanic routine of ‘sleep and business’.

The Quran’s story of Adam (7:19-24), if interpreted literally and metaphysically, sums up the Islamic model of the nature of man:

1. Man’s inherent nature is social, hence, his need for a companion. This has been related not only in the Genesis, but even in Aristotle’s observation that, ‘Man is by nature a social animal.’

2. Man is in a constant state of entanglement between good (Adam and his guidance) and evil (Iblis and his disobedience). His real freedom and victory lies in using his rationale to decide which way to proceed in, even in the face of his company.

3. The metaphoric use of tree (shajar in Arabic) is an indication of division and quarrelsome behavior. The warning God puts before man is to restrain from fragmentation; in sum, it is an appeal for the unity of mankind and the guidance that has been provided to man.

If, indeed, man’s nature is a dichotomy of an internal struggle between right and wrong and a communal/social one, what is the solution? In one powerful statement, Islam identifies the parameters of where and how both battles are to be fought and won- the Shahada. Literally put, ‘I bear witness that there is no god, but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah,’ is an excursion into the freedom that this article has been in search of and man may be as well.

In the former part of the Shahada, man must pledge with conviction an oath of allegiance to the unity of God (Allah). This is the definitive core of the Muslim’s life- a commitment to the principles of the Quran (the words of God), unyielding strength in the face of adversity and enemy and profuse humility in the event of success. The faith that Islam asks man to put every day in God’s system of life is what truly liberates one to speak the truth against the fear of even death. Without such freedom, man cannot truly capture the spirit of his or the world’s existence. An unjust interpretation would want Muslims to believe that other gods pertain only to stone figures and/or objects of nature. In our contemporary context, the need is for Muslims to rethink their other gods. Anything and anyone that has occupied in our minds a rank or position so lofty that it begins to dictate our lifestyle, thought process and, above all, our conscience, has become god-like. Unintentionally, we are in a process of committing shirk- association with God- and, in His eyes, the greatest displeasure, a point from which we may or may not return.

The latter part of the Shahada pertains to the practical existence of a Muslim community. From the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the city of Medina is a model that can be studied and expanded upon for the modern city. The economic (tax-free), political (consultative-Shura) and social (protection of the powerless; helpless,;Jews and Christians) structure of Medina is laconic and rich with precedent. In the person of Muhammad is a role model in public affairs, domestic relations, human values, rights and duties. Yet, like the freedom of man from other men by putting exclusive faith and trust in God, one can only avail the remarkable lessons from the Prophet’s life if one puts trust in his person to begin with.

It is this depth of faith in God, Imaan, and the conviction of the miracle of the Prophet Muhammad, Risaalat, from which the hallmarks of Islamic democracy arise: the trust of the common man in a simple, wise and visionary leader’s decisions and examples; the knowledge that such leadership will deliver justice and equity; and the hope that the principles of the Quran, when rightly adhered to, will truly free men and create a society-not a state- of the people, for the people and by the people.
                                                                                                           The author is a Rhodes Scholar and freelance writer.