Jalsa Wars: Winners, losers, and the rest of us

Imran at the Minar-e-Pakistan jalsa

As the dust settles, Imran Khan has emerged the undisputed winner of the 2011 Jalsa Wars. Even if you control for the standard variables such as hired bodies and curious onlookers (certain to be much higher in this case), Imran’s crowd was impressive. On the other hand, Altaf’s late entry was little more than a side note, and after being outshone by the crowd at Minar-e-Pakistan, PML-N’s response that “in politics people make the decision through their vote” msuggests that the Sharifs are counting votes more closely than they did on Thursday. Still, despite the impressive showing, many questions remain as we inch closer to 2013.

Speaking to New York Times reporter Salman Masood, Imran explained his political strategy.

“People confuse two types of politics,” Mr. Khan said as he sprawled on a sofa in the house, situated on a hill that overlooks the city. “One is the politics of movement. The other is traditional power-based politics. Tehreek-e-Insaf is never going to win the traditional way.”

I found this somewhat concerning. Not that I think that Imran would be advised to adopt ‘traditional power-based politics’, but the ‘politics of movement’ is not necessarily the politics of solutions. Movements tend to be ideological and reactionary, whereas solutions require consensus and compromise. Rallying against corruption and governing in a society with deeply rooted patronage networks are two entirely different animals. Additionally, some of Imran’s strategy rings not of a new way forward, but an age old prejudice.

“Lahore decides what happens in Punjab,” he said. “Punjab decides what happens in Pakistan.”

Of course, if this were true, Nawaz Sharif might be PM instead of Yousuf Gilani. It turns out that despite this age-old racism, Pakistan is more than just a Punjabi playground. But, speaking in Lahore, it is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

In fact, while the talking points that filled his speech may have been very popular, many of them were also very short-sighted. It’s easy for Imran Khan to say that “Imran will rather die” than ask for foreign aid. But Imran is not the one who will die without foreign aid. Remember, the Sharifs already tried this tactic, and it was the poor of Punjab who suffered for their display of jingoism.

The loss of aid for schools, water and sanitation also won’t be felt acutely by the elite. Most send their children to private schools and live in leafy parts of Lahore dotted with Western restaurant chains, polo grounds and cosmetic surgery centers. The Sharifs own property in London worth millions of dollars.

The Pakistani military, which has received the bulk of US assistance over the past decade, is also somewhat insulated from a reduction in aid. Its officers mostly live on well-manicured cantonments that have their own schools and hospitals that are much better than those available to the general public.

Life is very different for Pakistanis who live in Shamaspura, a dirt-poor part of Lahore filled with ramshackle brick houses separated by a narrow mud lane coursing with sewage. Most of the roughly 15,000 residents are fruit and vegetable vendors who make about $2 per day. They are forced to tie pieces of cloth across their faucets to filter out dirt and insects in the water.

Other promises were mere fantasies without answering the difficult question of how PTI is going to achieve what no other party has been able to.

Mr Khan said a country that had “over 180 billion tons of coal reserves could not in any way be called an energy starved state”. There is an equally great potential in hydro-electric resources.

“If the PTI can run thermal units even at 70 per cent of their installed capacity, currently running at 25 to 30 per cent, the country will have no energy crisis,” he said.

And then there were the promises remind us how unfortunate it is that Imran chooses to put all of his energy into organising against the incumbent parties who, despite their many failings, are not the ones out killing innocent Pakistanis. Lines such as “The minorities should rest assured that the PTI will stand for them once in power”, raise the obvious question – why do they have to wait? Gathering 100,000 people to rally against the government and foreign drones is one thing, but why won’t Imran Khan organise 100,000 people to rally against sectarianism and obscurantism that’s killing people in our own backyard?

As the excitement of Jalsa Wars dies down and people go back to their daily lives, it’s unclear if Imran Khan will be able to translate this frustration into votes, or if he could maintain this momentum once a PTI member was actually responsible for governing rather than merely complaining. Imran Khan has come a long way since the past 15 years, but he has a long way to go before he reaches the political maturity that a successful nation requires.

Jalsa Wars 2: Wrath of Khan

Sipah-e-Sahaba flag flying at PTI dharna Karachi

SSP and JI flags flying at PTI dharna earlier this year

As N-league’s innings in the 2011 Jalsa Wars have ended, we prepare to meet the challenger. To learn more about Imran’s strategy, I turned to PTI HQ, also known as Facebook. The official Facebook page for Hakumat Hatao Mulk Bachao Jalsa in Lahore describes the event as:

“This is the official Event for the movement launched by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf during the Karachi Dharna on 23-24 May 2011. This Event will mobilize the nation for the next sit-in Lahore.”"

In other words, PTI held a dharna in May to organize a jalsa in October to mobilize the nation for a sit-in at some time in the future. Truly, an extraordinary strategy for solving the many issues facing the nation.

Sunday’s rally will also find political watchers looking for the answer to the question of whether or not SMQ will finally announce if he is switching parties. He was noticeably absent from Friday’s PML-N rally, leaving many to wonder if it’s a sign that he has chosen PTI as his new home. Such a decision, of course, would raise questions such as how Zardari’s Foreign Minister fits into the PTI talking point of being ‘untested’ leadership. But I suppose Pir Imran Khan’s blessing washes away all sins.

FM Qureshi with US Secretary of State Clinton

As Jalsa Wars continue, though, I can hardly wait to see what a great effect these rallies will have. Will dengue finally be eradicated out as machar are bored to death by endless speeches? Will Imran’s electric personality finally solve load shedding? Will sectarianism finally be wiped out as the whole nation unites as Shi’atu Imran?

One thing is certain. If democracy and electoral process are not solving the national problems fast enough, rallies and sit-ins are sure to do the trick. Otherwise, we might have to think that Imran Khan doesn’t know what he’s doing…

Beggars, Dacoits and Jalsas

In a curious attempt to appeal to national sentiments, Shahbaz Sharif claims that PML-N’s jalsa is a “war to save the country” from the present government which has made Pakistan into a beggar state “despite having nuclear weapons”. This begs the question, how do nuclear weapons make money?

I suppose one answer would be to use nuclear weapons as a threat to extort payments from other countries. But extortion is the work of dacoits, not beggars. Surely Shahbaz is not suggesting that we sink to the depths of global armed robbery. So, then, how does he propose that nuclear weapons solve our financial woes?

The fact is, nuclear weapons don’t make money, they cost money. And lots of it. Shahbaz has his complaint backwards. We’re not a beggar state despite having nuclear weapons. If we’re a beggar state (and I hate that insult), it’s because we have nuclear weapons. It was ZAB who famously said that “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own”. Perhaps that made sense when we felt that we could not allow India to hold nuclear weapons over our heads. But we now have over 100 nuclear weapons. And according to the UNDP Human Development Report 2011, we rank 125th for population in poverty. We got our own nukes. For how much longer must we continue eating grass?

I would actually take Punjab CM’s complaint and rephrase it.

Despite being one of only four polio endemic countries globally, we continue spending money on nuclear weapons.

Despite having literacy rate of 57 per cent, we continue spending money on nuclear weapons.

Rather than holding street rallies, why doesn’t PML-N provide some leadership on the issue? Why not ask how many nuclear weapons we need to feel safe so that we know when we can stop spending on devices to kill our enemies and start spending on programmes for loving our children. Instead of protesting against increased power tariff, why not protest against continued resistance to reporting and paying taxes by the privileged elites.

Pakistan is not a ‘beggar state’, but we are a state with severely misplaced priorities. We would rather be number one in nuclear weapons than number one in literacy. We would rather sit in the dark than pay taxes. We would rather complain in the streets than make difficult decisions in Majlis-e-Shoora. Being a nuclear state means that we have the resources and the intellect to get rid of things like polio and illiteracy. What we lack is political will.

Politicians love slogans about how it’s time for Pakistan to take responsibility for itself and stand on its own feet. Okay. But responsibility requires more than slogans, and standing on your own feet means having the courage to get off of your arse. So why, despite having the opportunity to help build support for spending reform and tax reform, PML-N is sitting in the streets chanting slogans again?

Obituary for Lawyer’s Movement

Lawyers rally for confessed killer Mumtaz Qadri

In 2007, Gen Pervez Musharraf decided the law was inconvenient to his authoritarian whims, so he infamously attacked the judiciary, suspending and detaining the Chief Justice. The dictator’s action was seen by all as a bald faced attempt to crush dissent and rule with an iron fist. Rather than solidify his regime, though, his overreach gave birth to the Lawyer’s Movement, also known as the ‘Movement for the Rule of Law’, and the historic long march from Lahore to Islamabad two years later demanding reinstatement of the Chief Justice.

The movement gained international attention for Pakistan, and international acclaim for the lawyers who were seen as the vanguard of justice and integrity in Pakistan.

The movement to restore Chaudhry, and the constitution, and the rule of law, held out the hope of disinterring the liberal tradition. In a country where politics taint everything, many of the lawyers were independents. Pakistan’s bar associations were among the few bodies that had consistently selected their leaders through democratic elections; and the country’s 116,000 lawyers had chosen through their bar associations to commit themselves to protest. Ahsan was not then an officeholder, but he worked alongside the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Munir Malik, and Tariq Mahmood, a former judge who had quit rather than accept Musharraf’s blatant rigging of the 2002 referendum. Years of disappointment had made Pakistanis cynical about politics and public life, but these were men whose integrity put them beyond question.

Today, the lawyers’ reputation has become as black as their coats.

After Mumtaz Qadri shot Salmaan Taseer in the back, a murder he freely admits to, lawyers were seen showering the killer with roses, a shameful about-face that was not missed by the international press.

Instead, before his court appearances, the lawyers showered rose petals over the confessed killer, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a member of an elite police group who had been assigned to guard the governor, but who instead turned his gun on him. They have now enthusiastically taken up his defense.

It may seem a stark turnabout for a group that just a few years ago looked like the vanguard of a democracy movement. They waged months of protests in 2007 and 2008 to challenge Pakistan’s military dictator after he unlawfully removed the chief justice.

Whether or not any particular lawyer believed that Qadri’s actions were defensible under the law, the way that the lawyers have behaved has shown that, as Saroop Ijaz observed, “this particular case is anything but ordinary”.

What has made the case even more extraordinary were reports this week that the judge who presided over the case, Pervez Ali Shah, has fled to Saudi Arabia after receiving death threats.

“The death threats have forced Judge Pervez Ali Shah to leave the country along with his family for Saudi Arabia,” Advocate Saiful Malook, the special prosecutor in the Qadri case, told Dawn on Monday.

He said sensing the gravity of the situation the government had arranged the lodging of Mr Shah and members of his family abroad. “Although security was provided to the judge and his family members, the government on the reports of law-enforcement agencies opted for sending him abroad,” he said.

There were also unconfirmed reports that extremist elements in religious parties had fixed the head money for the judge. “There were such reports but there was a potential threat to the life of Mr Shah and his family members,” he said.

And where are the lawyers now as one of their own is once again forced from the bench by forces that refuse to accept the rule of law when it is inconvenient to their agenda? Where is the long march demanding the return of Judge Pervez Shah and defence of an independent judiciary?

While it is true that some of the leaders of the lawyer’s movement such as Asma Jahangir have remained true to their principles and demanded that the rule of law not be sacrificed to the rule of mobs, these few souls have been abandoned by their colleagues whose silence in the face of the new authoritarian threat is the public death notice for the lawyer’s movement.

Pakistani Youth Activists Featured in New Al Jazeera Documentary

Pakistan is under attack from within. An estimated 35,000 Pakistanis have been killed in extremist violence since 2001. Bombings are a constant threat and journalists, politicians and activists, along with anyone who speaks out against intolerance, risks their lives.

Twenty-five-year-old activist Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi has dedicated his life to challenging the complex religious, economic and social divisions which threaten to strangulate Pakistan.

This documentary follows Ali and the Pakistan Youth Alliance on their anti-extremist mission across Pakistan, from café culture in Islamabad to Taliban rehabilitation in Swat. Will his passion be enough to change entrenched attitudes and beliefs?