PPP: Liberal Politics or Confusing Messages?

After the 2013 elections, PPP appeared to be wandering aimlessly. It was unclear who was advising, and what the party would look like after taking a drubbing in the polls. For some time, it was not even clear whether there were one or two PPPs. Recently, though, things seem to have changed and the People’s Party looks like it has settled on a particular strategy. However, looking at what has been going on is in some ways more confusing than before.

Let me start by clearing up one thing. Confusion doesn’t mean that there are lies or attempts to fool anyone, but it does mean there are questions. For example, there is the recent issue of PPP officials tellingi media that Zardari was ‘invited‘ to Trump’s inauguration, something that the American government denied.

Trump Swearing In Diplomatic NoteThis was followed by another media report, that actually someone gave Trump $1 Million so that Zardari and Sherry Rehman could attend. What is the truth? Were PPP leaders invited on their own, or were their ‘invitations’ bought? Or is there some other truth somewhere in between? These are questions that hang over the entire affair, and someone needs to come up with an answer for them.

However these questions only raise further confusion. It seems like the PPP leadership has been in America more than Pakistan this year. Last month, news reports were suddenly filled with photos of Zardari and Sherry Rehman taking dinners and meetings with American officials. Most recently, Bilawal has been in Washington giving speeches warning Donald Trump against any attempt to ban Pakistanis from entering America or else to face ‘a host of hostilities’.

This all might have made sense when PPP was in power, but since the past three years PPP has been a minority opposition party. This begs the question who has sent them to America, and what are they trying to accomplish there? Are they working as messengers for the government? Isn’t this what the Embassy and the entire diplomatic corps led by our Ambassador are for? Sherry Rehman resigned her Ambassadorship in 2013. What is she doing in Washington instead of Islamabad? If PPP isn’t representing the government overseas, are they representing themselves? Are they trying to curry favor with the Trump administration for some reason?

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto often sought international support for restoration of democracy, which was sensible because in times of dictatorship, international pressure helps getting a free and fair election from a dictator. Mohtarma Bhutto’s lobbying worked in 1988, 1993 and 2007 in securing international pressure for fair elections. Now that Pakistan has had successive fair elections and transfer of power within our constitutional framework, the real task for the PPP leadership is to win an election at home and define its political positions. The PPP has generally tended to back off from liberal positions under the slightest pressure within Pakistan. What benefit, then, would good PR in Washington with right wing American politicians do for the PPP if it cannot project itself as the party of liberals in Pakistan? American officials, a handful of elected representatives and former Congressmen might meet a former Pakistani President and his children along with a former Pakistani ambassador out of politeness but that is hardly the path to political success for an embattled political party that has significantly lost support outside Sindh.

There are no easy answers, but the questions cannot be denied. If the party was split a few years ago, it seems to have come together, but it is unclear whose advise is being taken and where exactly it is supposed to lead. PPP remains the standard bearer for a liberal progressive democracy, but it is mostly by default with MQM in complete disarray under pressurisation and Nawaz’s unwillingness to sever ties with Chaudhry Nisar and his sympathies. Even if PPP is the liberal standard bearer, though, there is not much sign that they will be effective by taking this strategy of attending expensive dinners in America instead of building the party at home.

 

Balochistan: A Land Without a People?

disappearing baloch

Zionists call Palestine ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’. The saying is meant to justify settlement by doing more than merely replacing its inhabitants, but by erasing their very existence. Is something similar happening in Balochistan? It is a shocking question, but we must take note of the following development.

Human rights groups estimate that over 14,000 people have gone missing in Balochistan. This is no surprise as the Baloch insurgency has been raging since long, and mass graves have been discovered in the province, though these have never received proper investigation. The Supreme Court has requested a report on the number of missing persons, but the official facts were always held in secret.

Now, chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, retired Justice Javed Iqbal, has presented a report on the number of missing persons to the Senate. His report? There are only 96 missing persons. Such an incredible understatement that flies in the face of all evidence and common sense can only mean one thing: The state is not only disappearing Baloch people, it is trying to erase their very existence.

 

Nawaz Sharif just dealt an important blow to extremism

Muhammad Abdus SalamPrime Minister Nawaz Sharif has dealt an important blow to the forces of obscurantism and extremism today by renaming of Quaid-i-Azam University’s (QAU) physics department to the Professor Abdus Salam Center for Physics and creating a new programme named the Professor Abdus Salam Fellowship to grant five annual fellowships for Pakistani PhD students in the field of Physics.

Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam is a national hero, though he has been treated very badly and nearly forgotten only because of his religious sect. By openly recognising Dr Abdus Salam in such a public and lasting way, PM Nawaz has dealt an important blow to extremism in the country. It is a first step only, but it is a crucial one to undoing the normalisation of hate and sectarianism that has taken root in so much of our society.

 

Why ‘bans’ are worse than futile

Welcome to BanistanOur proclivity for banning things for one reason or another resulted in the hastag #Banistan appearing on social media a few years ago. During this time, YouTube was banned, though it was easily accessible to almost everyone with a little work around. This caused many to note the futility of our obsession with ‘banning’ things that we don’t like. However banning is often worse than just futile, as was noted in an excellent letter to Dawn on Monday.

APROPOS the letter ‘Liquor Shops’ (Nov 23). The writer maintains that liquor shops in Sindh should remain sealed because alcohol is bad for health.

What our perpetual sermonisers do not take into consideration are the following: 1) alcoholism in Pakistan after prohibition was imposed in April 1977 has always remained higher than what it was before prohibition; 2) the curbs have given birth to bootlegging mafias, or worse, those selling tainted alcoholic beverages; and 3) very rarely have any serious crimes been reported in which consumption of alcohol was involved.

Third, many Hindus and Christians known to me are forced to buy alcoholic beverages on the black market since the court ordered the sealing of the licensed wine shops. Interestingly a non-Muslim friend tells me that people meet their needs by driving to Hub, where the sellers are making hay while the sun shines.

The Sindh government must make a more realistic law regarding the sale of alcohol as the current law was made in 1979 and has lost its relevance. Last but not least, should we not be more concerned about the bad health effects of things like extremism, bigotry and domestic violence?

M.M.D.D. Karachiwala

As this person correctly points out, a ban can not only be worked around, but there are also unintended consequences from the workarounds that may make the cure worse than the disease.

Same can also be said not only about bans on alcohol but Bollywood films also. Some argue that such bans will not only protect Pakistani culture but Pakistani film industry also. But does banning Bollywood films actually get rid of them? Obviously it does not, it only takes them out of the legal economy and pushes them into the illegal economy of bootleggers and pirates.

‘Black economy’ of Pakistan, or the informal economy of goods and services that escapes the eye sight of authorities, is estimated over $100 billion. This is where criminal gangs and militant groups get much of their funding. So when we ‘ban’ alcohol or foreign movies, we are really just pushing them into the black economy and providing more funds for terrorists and mafias. In other words, we not only fail at the stated goal of stopping the thing we are banning, we are actually making our society worse by funding the worst criminal and extremist elements.

Honouring Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam (1926-1996)

15th October 1979: Joint Nobel Physics prize winner and Imperial College of London professor Abdus Salam, originally from Pakistan. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

15th October 1979: Joint Nobel Physics prize winner and Imperial College of London professor Abdus Salam, originally from Pakistan. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Today is the 20th death anniversary of Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam, the first Pakistan to receive a Nobel Prize, which he was awarded in 1979. He was also awarded Sitara-e-Pakistan (1959) and Nishan-e-Imtiaz (1979) along with dozens of other honors both nationally and internationally. In a just world, he would be honoured as a hero. But the respected physicist did not live in a just world. He lived in Pakistan.

Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam was not only the first Pakistani to receive a Nobel Prize, he was actually the first Muslim to receive the Nobel Prize. After his death, this honour was noted on his headstone. Today, however, his grave has been defaced and the word ‘Muslim’ removed on the orders of government officials. His crime? He was an Ahmadi Muslim.

Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam grave

Today we express our sadness not only for the loss of Pakistan’s great hero Nobel Prize winner Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam, but for our own country that is so psychologically insecure that we cannot even honour its greatest citizens.