One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Right now concerned citizens are asking themselves: Where do I sign up for a revolution in Pakistan? How can I bring down the government because it’s so, so terrible?

Easy there, concerned citizens. Let’s bring the rhetoric down a bit, and really study the myriad of issues we face as a nation. For anyone truly concerned about the future of Pakistan, serious discussions must be had, requiring cool minds and an acknowledgment of the facts. Vigorous public debates are healthy – they are the calling card of a free society. However, we cannot tolerate discussions that incite hate, or encourage violence. This is not a respectable discussion or anything resembling journalism. Our free media must take its role seriously and be an informative tool. Because they are they medium through which people debate, their role is key in national discussions.

An example of the alarming violent speech is this talk of a “an inevitable revolution in Pakistan.” I think they must mean a metaphorical revolution, right???

As we watch the Arab world fight for democracy, we must stand in solidarity with them, not shake our heads at their “mistake.” We should applaud their bravery and courage. For countries like Egypt, where a revolution successfully toppled Hosni Mubarak, the real challenges begin now. A regime can be topped in a matter of weeks, but the building of institutions takes much, much longer. Unforeseen dilemmas will surely arise as the country tries to steer towards its goal of democracy. It is a struggle worth having.

And yet in Pakistan, some are not talking about a revolution in metaphorical terms. In Lahore there was an actual youth protest against democracy, and for some sort of pan-Islamic form of government to unite all the Ummah. The sky-high absurdity of that is astounding. First of all, Muslims are in every part of the globe. The logistics would be difficult enough! All joking aside, it is really tragic that the Islamic world is rising towards democracy and freedom, while many in Pakistan are bent on bringing it down.

Is our government perfect? No, of course not. We must always be working towards a more perfect society. Problems will plague us and obstacles will always be in our path. But are we willing to sacrifice Jinnah’s Pakistan to some idealized vision of dictatorship?

It’s time to really just calm down and think. Concerned citizens, wake up and have a look around. Haven’t we been through enough of that back and forth between dictatorships? Haven’t they done enough damage? Protestors and pundits alike speak with conviction against our current democracy. Yet very few have the real courage to build things up, strengthen institutions, or even engage in a civil discussion.

Raymond Davis Debate Continued

My last post on Raymond Davis drew, as I expected it would, some pretty harsh criticism. This was expected and I was prepared for it. It is an emotional topic and as such it results in some emotional responses. I wanted to use this post to respond to some of the points that were made and also to continue the discussion because I think it’s important that we discuss these topics openly. Also I should note that I took some criticism for being ‘holier-than-thou’ and overly sarcastic especially with Dr Awab which I would also like to say was not my intention and I appreciate his responding. We don’t always agree on issues, but I think we can have a productive debate.

Following the last post, Dr Said Chaudhry posted the comment:

For the masses in Pakistan, the question is not whether they believes Raymond Davis is guilty or not (let the courts decide that), it is whether diplomatic immunity means an alleged double homocide perpetrator can walk away with just a few nights in a Lahore jail simply because he has a piece of paper that says “DIPLOMAT”?

This is an excellent description of the situation, and it helped me think about my own concerns on the issue. Let me say that this thinking is quite common but I think it confuses the issue in the following way – If Raymond Davis has diplomatic immunity, the court cannot decide if he’s guilty or not guilty because he is not subject to the jurisdiction of the court. So guilt or innocence has nothing to do with the question of immunity. Diplomatic immunity does not only cover petty crimes like auto violations but rather it covers all crimes. Therefore, if someone commits a cold-blooded murder and has diplomatic immunity then, yes, he gets to walk away scot-free. Such a result may be unfair, and it may be infuriating…but it is the way the law works. And if we expect the same treatment for our own diplomats then we have to grant it for those of other countries also. In other words the law doesn’t apply only when it is convenient to us.

I also criticised Dr Awab in my original post for terming the shooting “cold blooded murder”. Dr Chaudhry correctly notes that Lahore police chief Aslam Tareen has also termed it this way. But is it possible that the CCPO chief is mistaken or possibly influenced by public sentiment and not the facts only? I don’t suggest this out of disrespect but because I think things are less clear than they appear at first. For example, look at the statement of the CCPO:

“The investigation revealed that the motorcyclists did not point guns at Davis as the weapons recovered from them were not loaded.”

Why would it matter if the guns were loaded or not? Could it not be that the boys pointed the unloaded guns to put the fear of his life into the American without intending to actually shoot? But the American would not know that they did not intend to shoot rather he would fear for his life and assume that the gun was loaded, which would make it a case of self defense.

The CCPO also stated the following:

“We have proof in the form of eyewitness accounts and forensic reports that it was not a case of self-defence. Rather it was a clear murder,” he said.

But Najam Sethi wrote in The Friday Times that forensic reports showed evidence of self-defense.

Two men on a motorbike, armed with unlicensed pistols, held up Mr Davis’ car. He expertly shot them through the windscreen, stepped out and took pictures of the gunmen with weapons as evidence of self-defense. Later, an autopsy report showed that four out of seven bullets had hit the gunmen in the front, confirming the threat to him. The criminals had earlier robbed two passersby of their cell phones and money.

And Kamran Shafi wrote of eye-witness accounts supporting a self defense claim in Dawn on 1 February.

What I myself saw on the very day of the shooting, about two hours after the event, was the interview of a young man off the street, conducted by a loud and vociferous channel. When asked what he had seen the man said: “pistol” (“The two motorcyclists drew their pistols to rob the foreigner [using the near-pejorative term , or Whitey] who shot them dead”). This was repeated twice in a period of 30 or so minutes and then taken off air. This is what I saw and heard myself. It is pertinent to note that that young man has not been seen, nor heard from, again. Neither has any newspaper quoted what he said on record.

Far more than this, there are stories in the press that the police is hesitant to register cases of mobile phone and wallet snatching against the two, crimes that two people allege they committed a few hours before their encounter with David, for fear of a `backlash`.

So while it is true that CCPO Tareen termed the shooting “clear murder”, it is also true that this is only one account and that others who were actually at the scene of the incident saw it differently. I was not at the scene and so I cannot tell you exactly what happened. Probably you the reader were not there either, so you would not know also. This is what is frustrating me is how many people are saying so definitely that they know what happened when that is simply not possible.

Let us also consider a related point which is that having so many media reports and so many people deciding that the shooting was “cold blooded murder” before any courts have had a chance to hear all the facts and evidence has the effect of making any fair trial by a court impossible. Ambassador Najmuddin A Shaikh described the chances of a fair trial in Express Tribune as unlikely.

Perhaps equally importantly from the American perspective is that the chances of a fair trial and the acceptance of Davis’s self-defence plea would appear to be minimal, given the viral public reaction to the killing. Initial reports had made it clear that the police had evidence that one of the two motorcyclists had a criminal record and had earlier that day robbed a Pakistani of cash and a cell phone, but that report has now been overtaken by a report that the two men were from a Pakistani security agency and were keeping an eye on Davis. Another piece of news, the committing of suicide by the young wife of one of the victims because she felt that justice would not be meted out to her husband’s killer, has further exacerbated the ugly public mood. When this is the mood in the streets in a country where a public prosecutor cannot be found to present the case against the killer of Salmaan Taseer and where cases against known terrorists cannot be brought to a successful conclusion because the judges fear that a judgement against the terrorist would put their life at risk, there would, especially in the American perspective, be little chance of a fair trial for Davis.

Of course all of this is interesting to discuss, but the fact is that the only real question is as I stated before: Does Raymond Davis have diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention? If the answer is yes, then it doesn’t matter if it was a case of self-defense or if it was a case of cold-blooded murder. It also doesn’t matter what happened in Georgia or what happened with Abdul Salam Zaeef. Even if the law was not correctly followed then it does not mean that we should not follow the law correctly now. Personally I may want to see Raymond Davis hang, but immunity is immunity full stop. It’s not conditional on if it’s an outrage or if it’s inconvenient or if we made a mistake in the past. And Diplomatic Immunity can only be determined by discussions between the US State Department and the Foreign Office – not a CCPO, not LHC, and not bloggers including me. That’s the difference between rule of law and rule of mobs. Rule of law is sometimes infuriating, but rule of mobs is just…

Jamaat-i-Islami Rule of Mobs

Lastly, I want to mention one comment that accused me of being CIA because of my post. This to me is the most frustrating because it is a cheap shot that I hear used too often. We can differ in our views on America, Vienna Conventions, drone strikes, poetry, food and everything else – and yet we can also both have Pakistan’s best interests in our hearts. Calling people infidels and agents and questioning their patriotism because they don’t agree with you is not debate, it’s just bullying. We are better than that. I know this because even the commenter when he saw that his comment was posted was surprised and then left a comment that was actually thoughtful and debated a point that I made by giving me something to look up and think about. I wish that comment had been left only and not the first one with such accusations.

I quoted Mosharraf Zaidi at the end of my last post, and I’m going to do the same here because I think he has made another excellent point for all of us to think about:

Lessons for Pakistani? #Egypt revolution had ZERO conspiracy theories (those came from #Mubarak) & ZERO rabid anti-Americanism.

Progress happens when people engage each other in civil dialogue. I’m glad that we have a good dialogue going here, and I welcome anyone who wants to join in. I don’t claim to have the answers, but by discussing these issues rationally, I think we have the opportunity find some answers together.

Agreeing to Disagree

I was eating with some friends when the discussion of politics came up as it always does. The conversation started when I was telling a story about the latest conspiracy theory I’d heard. We were having a laugh about it when someone asked who I heard it from and it turned out we unknowingly had the same friend! Someone else in our group asked how we could be friends with someone that believed such nonsense and talk turned to respecting people who you don’t agree with. I asked if they agree with all of their friends about everything and then so no, obviously not, but there have to be limits. This made me think – when we stop talking to people we don’t agree with, isn’t it our own positions that suffer the most?

Now, there are levels of disagreeing with people. My sister has always preferred chocolate ice cream while I prefer vanilla. When we were younger my mother would sometimes give us a few coins to take down the street for an ice cream, but only enough for one so we would have to share. (Part of my mother’s scheme to keep her children from being selfish I’m sure.) At first this caused quite a fuss as each of us wanted something else. Eventually, though, we figured out a compromise – we would alternate between flavours. Even in the worst case, we still had ice cream.

Other disagreements are not quite as sweet, though. Professor Emeritus at the University of Massechusetts and Visiting Professor at Lahore School of Economics Anway Syed writes of the intolerance of dissent that plagues society.

The people of Pakistan have become notorious for their intolerance of the dissident. Many of them will ridicule opinions of which they do not approve. Some of them will resort to physical violence against persons who think unconventional thoughts. A man, presumably a religious fanatic, recently killed Salmaan Taseer because he thought the governor had criticised a law that prescribed death penalty for anyone who had detracted from the Prophet’s (PBUH) high status and honour. He considered the governor’s presumed failing as despicable enough to merit death. He was obviously not tolerant of opinions different from his own. Consider also that we have Shia-Sunni riots periodically in which members of the two sects kill one another. Acts of violence go beyond sectarian strife. We know of cases in which members of different factions of the same political party have exchanged blows and thrown furniture at each other in party meetings. Supporters of rival candidates in elections have often fought one another.

Professor Anway writes that things are beginning to change, though, noting that,

A few days ago I saw a television channel’s interviewees say that if their MNAs did not do something to bring down prices and make gas and electricity available to consumers on a regular and more equitable basis they would not get their constituents’ votes in the next election.

This is the way democracy works. The people will elect the leaders to move the country forward. If they are satisfied, they can re-elect them. If not, they can elect new leaders. Everyone is held accountable on election day.

But what about between elections? Perhaps someone proposes a law that I don’t like, or threatens to repeal a law I do like. The fact of the matter is that the only way to advance your cause is through convincing other people. You can’t force people to change their minds. Guns may make you feel powerful, but it’s actually an illusion. The philosopher Hannah Arendt said that violence is a tool of the weak, used by those whose ideas are not powerful enough to be convincing.

How many martial law administrations have we lived under, and yet every single one has fallen to democracy not through violence but through the strength of the idea of freedom in the minds of the people. It is the same force that keeps alive the Palestinian cause, the same force that brought down the might Soviet Union, and the same force that swept away apartheid in South Africa and America.

This is why even though I don’t agree with my friend, he’s still my friend. Maybe you would think he’s an idiot, but he’s my idiot and I will defend his right to be an idiot. And he would do the same for me. I’ve stood awkwardly many times when he’s strongly defending me to people who are even crazier than him.

Besides, I would rather he was telling me about his crazy ideas so that I can explain to him why they’re crazy. And even if I don’t convince him today and he still holds onto his crazy ideas, at least we’re talking about things like civil people. We agree to disagree with each other. Then we go out for ice cream.

Democracy, of course!

Half the work in creating a sustainable democracy is getting major key players and parties to agree that democracy is the only option. Given Pakistan’s ill-fated relationships with martial law and military dictators, conventional wisdom expects that is where the country might return as it struggles with a plethora of terrifying challenges. Yet as they deal with a conspiracy theory driven punditry, a dark battle with extremists, and the worst natural disaster in Pakistani history, President Zardari and the PPP have accomplished a Herculean task. They have created an environment that respects and learns from Pakistan’s political history, and in doing so, rejects anything other than democracy as an option for our nation.

For example, the leader of the main opposition party, PML-N, Nawaz Sharif, has set a tremendous example by repeatedly declaring his support for democracy.  He has been blunt and sincere in his statements, saying, “We should stress on reforming the government and if it cannot be reformed then we should talk of a change but through constitutional means instead of calling for a martial law (to get rid of a failed government).” That statement came in the face of another political party’s leader, Altaf Hussain of the MQM, calling for “patriotic generals” to take over the country.

Nawaz Sharif has been criticized by the right-wing fire-starters in the media, but the fact is the public can no longer respect such illogical claims. Pakistani people are coming to expect and demand more of their governments, provincial and federal, and democracy is the only way to meet their needs.  It can then come as no surprise that the right wing has roundly slammed Nawaz and the PML-N, calling them “traitors.” Excessive hyperbole is their war chest; sadly, reason is nowhere to be found.

Over the past year and half, there have been more voices calling for a fair and free Pakistan. The Daily Times’ editorial board published a sharp piece titled “Support for Democracy” in which it profusely agreed with Prime Minister Gilani’s assertion that any change in administration through undemocratic means would be “dangerous.”

The movement for strong democracy in Pakistan received another boost, as our most recent military ruler (a man who once felt the judiciary was unnecessary and sacked judges he disliked, placed burdens on the press when not banning channels outright, and suspended the Constitution!), Gen. Pervez Musharraf, stated the democratic process was key to Pakistan’s success. He has announced his return to Pakistan, not as a military man, but as a civilian creating his own political party, the APML (the All Pakistan Muslim League).

Let’s take a moment to absorb this reality: the man who deposed an elected prime minister (the above-mentioned Nawaz Sharif) now casts himself as the defender of democracy as he said in a BBC interview:

“A time has come in Pakistan when we need to introduce a new political culture, a culture which can take Pakistan forward on a democratic path, on a correct democratic path, not on an artificial, make-believe democratic path.”

President Zardari has said that Musharraf has the right to participate in the political process. Affirming the wisdom of the people and trust in the political process the President declared that Pakistanis “know what is good and what is bad.” Of course how Musharraf will be received in Pakistan will be seen soon enough.

Many in Pakistan are waiting for an apology from Gen. Musharraf, for all the unconstitutional actions he and his administration carried out. This writer is skeptical about him ever eating a slice of humble pie, but glad he at least realizes a dictatorship has no chance in Pakistan.

We are at a new chapter in our history. It seems our leaders all across the political spectrum (liberal, conservative, err, former dictators) acknowledge that democracy is the only way to improve the overall quality of life for Pakistanis.

In the midst of the challenges, this is the glimmer of hope that keeps the civic-minded motivated to participate. After all, no other form of government would allow them that right.

Marvi Memon vs. Ghairat Brigade

Marvi Memon

Marvi Memon (PML-Q) has been making quite a name for herself lately. Her recent statements saying that we should get the facts before making a martyr of Dr Aafia has certainly raised the blood pressure of drawing room politicos. What’s crazy is that what she’s saying really isn’t even that controversial – just that we should have the facts before we make a judgment. She still calls for the Aafia to be returned to Pakistan, she just thinks that we should find out for ourselves what the truth is. But since when has the truth mattered to the Ghairat Brigade?

Writing for Express Tribune this week MNA Memon said,

Having heard plenty of evidence corroborating Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s alleged links to CIA and al Qaeda, from all those who had held important and relevant posts then and now, it became incumbent on me not to follow the herd. It became necessary for me to call a spade a spade and for that reason I was not part of the National Assembly walkout in her favour. Having said that, I have always maintained that she should be brought back to Pakistan and be tried here because she is a Pakistani, even though there are doubts that she may now have American nationality. Her trial in the US was far from fair with many human rights violations against her, but till allegations against her dangerous links are proven wrong she could not be called ‘qaum ki beti’. I also added that real leadership did not ‘cash in’ on wrong popular moods.

Real leadership may not ‘cash in’ on wrong popular moods, but too often our elites – especially in the media – do just that. Fasi Zaka called out these elites on their hypocrisy last week in his column, “The Aafia Mafia”:

I have a friend who works in the production unit of Pakistan’s most watched channels, and she told me an interesting anecdote that when the verdict was announced for Dr Aafia (not the sentencing which has been done separately now) the news team all thought Dr Aafia was not entirely innocent because of other facts in the case, but when they went on air they agreed to do so with the unequivocal line that she was innocent.

I imagine politicians are in the same boat, even if they have doubts, voicing that opinion is almost like a taboo. I suspect it has to do with the same line of logic that causes many to be inadvertent sympathisers of the Pakistani Taliban despite their bloody war against Pakistani citizens. Any overt sense of religious symbolism throws out rationality in a sense of what could loosely be described as “catholic guilt”.

Of course, throwing logic and reason out the window and hyperventilating about conspiracy theories is a popular pastime, and so we saw all sorts of attacks on Marvi Memon even in the National Assembly where all manner of people from various parties knocked each other over trying to get on the bandwagon first.

Her statement invited harsh criticism of the parliamentarians not only those of PML-N but her party colleagues also criticised her and condemned her statement, saying she is following the agenda of other forces including NGOs. Sheikh Rohail Asghar of PML-N said that US courts could not prove any allegation of terrorism against her. Dr Aafia is a woman and victim of oppression, he said.

This has got to stop. Not the defense of Dr Aafia, not the statements by Marvi Memon and Fasi Zaka…I’m talking about the way that every time there is some difficult or controversial situation, we through all reason out the window and go off half cocked.

You can agree or disagree with Marvi Memon, but you don’t have to accuse her for having her own opinions. If we allow ourselves to get carried away on the Ghairat Brigade bandwagon. We need reasonable and civil discourse in this country, and what we’re seeing around the Dr Aafia case is not it.