Pakistan Does Not Need a Revolution

by K. Ashraf

Pakistan does not need a revolution. What Pakistan needs is Democratic Socialism.

The magic phrase about any successful system is: Confidence.  The confidence in a system comes from equitability, justice and sustainability. Rest of it is just detail, the details of the system, the way the implementers of the system implement it.

Every Tom, Harry, Dick is calling for a revolution in Pakistan. Some condors of the current system are even calling for a bloody revolution which kills hundreds of thousands of people. The others are asking people to take over everything they can get their hands on.

The first kind of revolution is being propagated by Mian Shahbaz Sharif of PML N the other kind of revolution is being propagated by Mr. Altaf Hussain. One can imagine what kind of revolution it will be if it is led by either of them.

First, a revolution needs a revolutionary party and leadership to bring revolution in a country. Pakistan does not have both. Therefore, there is a remote possibility that revolution will ever take place in Pakistan.

The elk of people who are talking about revolution in their dreams are far off from the social, cultural, and political realities of Pakistan. They even do not understand the nature of the current economic system in the country. However, what they talk about in their sleeps is nothing but the symptoms of the economic disaster the country is facing.

For example, the corruption which everyone from TV show hosts, commentators, analysts and some of the politicians talk about is not the disease in itself. It is a symptom of a larger economic problem. Similarly, poverty is not a disease in itself, but it is a symptom of a larger economic problem. Growing violence in the society is not a disease in itself, but it is a symptom of a larger economic problem. Same is the case with other challenges Pakistani society is facing for a while now.

The bottom line of all these problems is a larger economic problem. What is that larger economic problem?

The current economic system does not enjoy the confidence of the people who live under this system. Anyone who thinks, the ruling elite have confidence in this system, he is sure seriously mistaken.

Today, Pakistan’s ruling elite is the most corrupt in the whole world. Why is it so? It is so because they do not have the confidence in the system. If they had confidence in Pakistan’s economic system they won’t commit corruption and stash away money and put in foreign bank accounts. They do it because they know this system can collapse anytime and they can lose every thing they have.

Poverty is growing at exponential rate in Pakistan. With natural calamities the growth rate of poverty has sharpened to dangerous levels. Sixty, seventy percent Pakistanis are living in red economic zones. From the red economic zone, I mean, the worst possible economic conditions.

Revolution is not the answer. Revolution is not the answer, because there are no revolutionaries in Pakistan. Those who would lead revolution in the name of revolution would not be any different than the current breed of rulers we have in Pakistan. They will be rather worse as they won’t have any clear vision of a workable system for Pakistani society.

Here we will not talk about the Soviet, Chinese or Cuban revolutions. They have had their own social, cultural, political and economic problems. Pakistanis do not need to go through all that to create a credible social, cultural, political and economic system.

What Pakistan needs is Democratic Socialism. From Democratic Socialism, I mean a system which brings required changes in Pakistan’s social, cultural, political and economic systems through concerted social, cultural, political and economic activism.

Pakistan needs to lead itself at fast pace to reform its social, cultural, political and economic systems to build confidence, widespread justice, create equitability and sustainability in the system for every citizen of Pakistan.

Is it doable? Yes, it is doable and achievable? Who will do it? The current leadership, I doubt they have the ability or they understand the nitty-gritty of what Pakistan needs.

Altaf Bhai’s Convenient Conscience

Ayaz Amir hits the nail on the head last week in his column for The News, “Fresh takes on patriotism”. Amir is annoyed with MQM chief Altaf’s recent outbursts about martial law, of course, and flays them with the sharp wit that he has come to be known for, taking no mercy on Altaf’s own political opportunism and turning a blind eye to corruption when it served his own purposes.

Among the chattering classes–mercifully, irrelevant politically–there have been voices calling for regime change. But the drumbeat sounded by Altaf Bhai is the loudest and most unambiguous clarion call for Pakistan’s fifth military coup. MQM spokesmen, masters of the shrill and loud word and who have little to learn from Goebbels, are bending over backwards trying to explain what Altaf Bhai meant. But the meaning is clear. Wading in where others would have feared to enter, he has raised the first welcoming flag for the army to march into the political arena, all in the name of patriotism.

I can’t help but think of the phony patriotism of the New Feudals so prevalent in the media. Or the self-appointed patriots like Ahmed Quraishi and Zaid Hamid, always declaring themselves the real sons of the nation from the comfort of their climate controlled studios and European suits, never getting their hands dirty with people who actual struggle in this country.

There’s a common thread, isn’t there, with Ahmed Quraishi’s groveling before Musharraf and Altaf Hussain’s being doing his master’s bidding in trying to keep Iftikhar Chaudhry off the bench, only to turn their backs on their master when they thought his time was up?

When Musharraf was a senior staff officer in General Headquarters, the then army chief, Gen Waheed Kakar, used to call him “my MQM general”, because of his perceived sympathies in that direction. Musharraf lived up to this description when soon after his coup he cracked down on Altaf Bhai’s nemesis, Afaq Ahmed and his MQM-Haqiqi, and virtually handed over the keys of Karachi to Altaf Hussain.

Altaf Bhai repaid the favour by becoming Musharraf’s staunchest ally. For Musharraf’s principal adviser, Tariq Aziz, MQM headquarters in London used to be a regular port of call. May 12, 2007, when the MQM, at Musharraf’s behest paralysed Karachi, setting off an upsurge of violence which left scores killed and injured, just to prevent Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry from touring the city, was a telling sign of the nexus between Musharraf and the MQM.

But May 12 was a disaster all the same, doing nothing to improve the MQM’s image in the rest of the country. Instead the impression was further reinforced that the politics of violence was an integral part of the party’s ethos.

But when Musharraf’s time was up the MQM quickly adjusted its sights and positioned itself for the new turn of events. Becoming a coalition partner of the PPP’s, it not only held on to its position as a key player in Sindh and at the centre but pushed constantly to acquire more advantage and expand its sphere of influence, in the process giving an entirely new meaning to the concept of extracting one’s pound of flesh. Shylock could have learned a thing or two from this virtuosity.

It seems that Altaf’s conscience too is rather convenient – only popping up when it suits his next move, at other times missing. He claims today that he’s out to squash corruption in government (a problem, to be sure, but while the nation is underwater, is it really the most pressing problem we have?) But this never seemed to bother him in the past.

Musharraf promoted and protected some of the worst thieves in the country’s history during his 8 1/2 years in power, virtually institutionalising corruption on a grand scale. The MQM did not seem particularly outraged. Altaf Bhai is now talking about an independent foreign policy and not bowing to American dictates. Strange that this line should be coming from someone who seemed perfectly at ease when Musharraf was creating a virtual cult dedicated to bowing to American dictates.

But perhaps it’s just natural for Altaf to join the merry band of New Feudals such as Ansar Abbasi and Khawaja Sharif and all the others. Feudalism is in his blood. It’s certainly in the bood of MQM. Or rather, the blodd that MQM has spilled.

The MQM’s outrage or rather bombast against feudalism is also a bit surprising. Feudalism is alive in interior Sindh and southern Punjab. It is a waning if not an extinct force in the rest of Punjab and most of Pakhtunkhwa. But in Karachi and Hyderabad a new kind of feudalism has taken root, with the MQM protecting its turf and preserving its influence in a ruthless manner now lost to the dying force of feudalism elsewhere in the country.

Even as the country is drowning in the worst floods in Pakistan’s history, target killings continue in Karachi, their victims mostly the poor and the worst off along the social scale. This is a grim reminder of the kind of politics in play in Pakistan’s largest city and its commercial and industrial capital.

Once called the City of Lights–how distant that time seems–Karachi now is transfixed by the evil eye, organised and systematic violence at the service of politics, violence an integral part of the city’s increasingly disordered skyline. Traditional feudalism, a curse in every other sense, was positively benign compared to this new feudalism empowered or rather entrenched in Pakistan’s southern reaches.

Of course, as always, these New Feudals are also a brotherhood of convenience only, with no real principles to guide them other than the hope of a more prosperous next step in their careers. Perhaps Ansar Abbasi might want to watch his back.

To get a measure of this feudalism’s reach, and the aura it commands, we can look at another indicator. The media is free in all of Pakistan. It is less than free, its freedom tempered, in the afore-mentioned southern reaches. Hinting at things obliquely, talking in circles, is also an indication of this same power.

At the end of it all, Altaf’s move backfired.

But there is still hope in that this gambit has been attacked from all sides, the MQM as isolated on this score as it was on the evening of May 12. Which only goes to show that even the best masters of political timing can sometimes miscalculate and get things seriously wrong.

There’s an important reason for this and it’s quite simple. Despite the drawing room schemes of elitists and their media facilitators, the people aren’t interested in reliving the past. We’re interested in moving forward, and we’re not falling for the same old tricks by the same old tricksters. If Altaf Hussain and all the others really want to do right by the country, they’ll do right by the country and stop trying to only do right by themselves.


Ismail Khan: The partition narrative

Ismail Khanby Ismail Khan

It is 63 years since Pakistan emerged as an independent state on the map of the world. Variably referred to as the birth of Pakistan, partition of India or independence of India and Pakistan, the event is important not only for global and national power politics, but also for its imprint on the official narrative of the two states. Within Pakistan, 63 years after the event, it appears that the state’s narrative is still stuck in 1947.

That the birth of Pakistan was mired in human suffering is indisputable. Nearly one million people died and 10 million migrated in the “massive exercise in human misery” that bubbled out from the transfer of power from the British Raj to the newly independent states.

In addition to the material disputes between Pakistan and India emerging from day one, which laid the foundations of mutual animosity, equally notable is the impact of the partition narrative upon the national psyche. This is not meant to draw out any causal relationship between the psyche and the material disputes, but to highlight how the two fed each other.

As would be noted later, the state as well as the nation-building task was carried out largely by Pakistan’s two ethnic groups, Urdu-speaking and Punjabis, who suffered most while migrating from India to Pakistan. While that happened nearly two generations ago, the importance of the narration stands even today.

For one, like any tragic event around the world, partition did shape the personal lives of certain individuals who would rise in the state’s structure. For instance, the role partition played in shaping the memories of both Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, a nuclear scientist, and Hafiz Saeed, a jihadist, cannot be denied. Unfortunately, it seems that the legacy the two individuals sustained from the event was negative; comments attributed to them can be easily found in which they recall their loathing of the untrustworthy ‘Hindu India’ that made them lose relatives and property as they migrated from India to Pakistan.

This is not to say that the narrative had any specific reason that made a strong defence around it. With or without Dr Khan or Hafiz Saeed, the state would have pursued its policies. What happened was the convergence of the state’s goals and individuals who shared the state’s goal at the ideological level — something that, in the two cases, derived from their shared memories of partition.

Instead, it would be correct to say that instead of dismissing, the state sustained the river of narrative, prominent individuals being the tributaries of such a river. For, in times of desiring peace, the state had to project the softness that existed before the partition. Here, one would like to mention how Pakistan’s former ruler Pervez Musharraf, otherwise a military ruler, used to fondly recall his home in India, which his family had to leave at the time of partition, whenever he broached the subject of peace with India.

The additional reason why the role of the state as a factor in sustaining the memory cannot be denied derives from the lesser prominence given to events that rendered a trauma of the same magnitude upon its survivors. Depending upon the source of the statistics, thousands to millions of Bengalis died in the war of liberation in 1971, yet its imprint in Pakistan’s narrative is minimal. At the most, the event is recalled as Pakistan’s dismemberment with the primacy given to the external role, namely India, in supporting guerrilla fighters; the internal reasons are whitewashed. While the event and even its prominence show their mark, its primary genesis got tailored for the state’s ends.

Likewise, in our recent memory, the suffering of the people living under Taliban shadows has only recently made it into the official national memory. The magnitude of the sufferings could be discerned from the fact that prior to the military operation in Swat, US Special Representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke had said that the “displacement caused has been the largest since partition”.

Many might argue that the survivors or victims of the Bangladesh tragedy were those who hardly shared the same location as West Pakistan and, therefore, the lessons were not internalised. The same could also be said about the Taliban, who were initially thought of as a far-flung problem. It is interesting to note how the Pakistani state representatives would point towards the topographical features of Pakistan, arguing how hills separate the Taliban-infested Swat region and peaceful Islamabad.

In the same fashion, there is a noted absence of the internalisation of partition among those segments of society that did not experience it and did not read the official narrative. A case in point was a recent attempt by Zaid Hamid to ‘wake up’ Pakistan across the country. In both Lahore and Islamabad, he was able to get a thumping applause from students in response to the speeches he delivered after pictures of suffering of people during partition were relayed with melancholic dialogue and patriotic songs running in the background. However, the speaker had to face embarrassment when he held a microphone in Peshawar, where the contemporary sufferings had been caused by the Taliban.

This is not to underestimate any event or tragedy but to emphasise how the state must be resilient to all tragedies so as to shape its memory by absorbing the collective miseries of all segments of society — irrespective of time and place. The chronological halt around 1947 may not necessarily find resonance with the contemporary realities of 2010.

The writer, a graduate of International Relations from Boston University, is presently based in Washington DC

We must stay the course

by Babar Sattar for The News

Altaf Hussain’s statement inciting ‘patriotic generals’ to take steps ‘like martial law’ against ‘corrupt feudal and land lord politicians’ is an expression of intent to support subversion of constitutional rule in Pakistan. This statement is not only mischievous, but also malicious. It has been uttered (and vociferously defended by MQM minions) not in naivete or desperation, but in full view of the historically omnipotent role of the army within the political arena. Much of the thoughtless commentary in the written and electronic media suggests that Altaf Hussain’s problem identification is spot-on, but solution faulty. This is simply not true. His problem identification is inflammatory, misleading and self-serving, and the solution disruptive, illegal and unworkable.

The MQM statement and its shameless defense and the resultant name-calling and finger-pointing within the political arena provides an insight into how fragile democratic values are in Pakistan and how vulnerable a civilian government is to khaki adventurism. Despite all their fiery rhetoric and tedious jugglery with words the Farooq Sattars and Haider Abbas Rizvis of MQM have failed to explain what role Altaf Hussain envisages the ‘patriotic generals’ to play in addressing our mighty problems of governance and under what provision of the law would the khakis assume such responsibility. The Pakistan Army is part of the executive and under the control of the federal government according to our Constitution. How can generals hold corrupt ministers accountable without breaching their oath under the Constitution and usurping functions of the federal government?

If Altaf Hussain was merely emphasizing the urgent need to usher change and was speaking of a revolution in a rhetorical sense, why would he not try and recruit all citizens of Pakistan as agents of change instead of ‘patriotic generals’? If the MQM was not propagating an unconstitutional role for the military, why would fork-tongued MQM representatives make blaring speeches about the moral responsibility of generals to stand up this time for the ordinary people of Pakistan in a backdrop where the institution has repeatedly imposed martial law in self-interest? Does the MQM really find the rest of us this gullible? When has any general ever claimed to impose martial law in self-interest?

The script of all military takeovers has been identical: “circumstances are so dire that the skies are about to cave in … the country and its people need to be saved urgently … it is not martial law but a shortcut to true and meaningful democracy … if in the course of a larger good the law and the Constitution get screwed a little bit, so be it … we must keep our eyes on the big picture … Pakistan Zindabad.” And such speeches are always preceded by a section of the political class (read MQM in this case) engaging in intrigues and actively cultivating public opinion to accept khaki adventurism in the name of national interest.

First of all, the MQM’s identification of the problem is flawed. A feudal class engaging in corruption when in politics is not the fountainhead of Pakistan’s ailments. Our problem is an elite class that comprises feudal elites, industrial elites, military elites, bureaucratic elites, religious elites, professional elites and political elites. The composition of the elite might change a little overtime and so might the relative clout of each of these competing elites in controlling the state and its resources. But the overall role and character of the elite stay constant, which is to maintain and nurture a state structure that is neither focused on service delivery nor believes in investing national resources in organs and agencies of the state responsible for citizen welfare.

For the last two decades the MQM has been an integral part of the elite that controls the levers of power in Pakistan. It has been an ally of both the mainstream political parties – the PPP and the PML-N during the 1990s. It jumped into Musharraf’s lap immediately after he decided to put together a civilian façade for his regime. The MQM’s Ishratul Ibad is probably one of the longest serving governors of Sindh. The party was a partner in the federal and the Sindh governments during Musharraf’s regime. It continues to be an ally of both governments to this day under a PPP-led dispensation. The MQM, as a political entity, thus forms an integral part of Pakistan’s power elite.

Being an insider and continuing to be part of the ruling regime, does the MQM feel not the slightest bit hypocritical decrying civilian political elite’s corrupt ethics while offering no apology for its own politics? If it is such a champion of change, why did it violently sabotage the lawyers’ rally in Karachi on July 5, 2007 and oppose restoration of the deposed judges? If it is truly a supporter of egalitarianism, what explains its petty opposition to IDPs or flood victims being given refuge within the confines of Karachi? If it believes that the present government is evil incarnate, why remain appended to such evil while calling it names? If it was so interested in upholding people’s right to know details of the Nawaz Sharif exile deal, why wake up to the issue ten years too late while staying in power all along?

Without first taking responsibility for its share of contribution to Pakistan’s corrupt political ethic, the MQM has no moral authority to make shrill self-righteous noises. The MQM’s antics are a manifestation of our political rot. The party seeks accountability of others, but is loath to present itself for accountability or work to create sustainable institutionalised mechanism for accountability. It demands devolution of authority to provinces and local bodies and castigates lack of democracy in other parties, but remains the ringleader when it comes to authoritarian party structures. It wants empowerment of the ordinary citizen, but is widely seen as lording over the commercial hub of Pakistan.

And what is the MQM’s prescribed elixir for Pakistan’s ills? Patriotic generals! How long shall we stubbornly refuse to learn lessons from our checkered history? We have had direct army rule in this country longer than civilian rule, even without counting the long stretches when military has continued to control the state and ruling governments from behind the scene. The military remains the most powerful institution of the state despite our transition to democracy. If khakis had answers to Pakistan’s multifarious problems, we should have been heaven on earth by now. Our politicians might be corrupt and incompetent, but no more than the other elites that share state power.

It is only ordinary citizens and not generals who have the right to hold public representatives accountable. We need to lower the barriers to entry into politics. We need to make our political parties democratic. We need to revamp our electoral process and implement campaign finance laws. We need to setup permanent accountability processes that force holders of public office to treat state authority as a sacred trust. We need to redefine national security to mean the physical, emotional and food security that the state affords to each citizen. We need to fix our lop-sided civil-military imbalance. And we need to find and train political leaders who help accomplish all of the above by reordering our state priorities and building institutions that function seamlessly without relying on extraordinary individuals.

The bad news is that our problems have no quick fixes. But let us not allow our growing frustration with an incompetent government and concern over the sluggardly pace of political reform to be mistaken as an opportunity for palace intrigues. A change of façade alone will do us no good. We must hold our ruling regime’s feet to fire. But we must also stay the course and focus on nurturing and strengthening democratic norms and institutions within the confines of our Constitution.