White Elephants On Parade

circus elephants

Farrukh Saleem’s billion dollar gamble came up short last week, but rather than admit fault, he has simply doubled down. Only this time, he’s beginning to show his hand. After predicting that ‘the price of independent horses is bound to go through the roof’ following Senate elections that saw little evidence of horse trading, the columnist shifts from complaining about politicians being corrupt to complaining about them being ineffective – especially compared to that other power centre, GHQ.

At least Farrukh Saleem tries to be subtle, though. That much cannot be said for his colleague Shaheen Sehbai who rather ham-handedly calls for the military to take over…without actually taking over. Continue reading

Imran Khan a creation of Zia-ul-Haq

I love the music of Junoon, but Salman Ahmad’s politics are completely baffling to me.

Here’s what makes absolutely no sense about this Tweet – Salman Ahmad supports Imran Khan…who is a creation of Zia ul Haq. Really. And you don’t need to take my word for it, it’s what Imran Khan himself says. In his autobiography, ‘Pakistan: A Personal History’, which I’m increasingly convinced no one has actually bothered to read, Imran Khan discusses at great length his admiration for and recruitment into politics by Zia ul Haq. Page 63:

As the captain of the Pakistan cricket team, I had a good relationship with Zia. He used to call me personally when we won matches and when, in 1987, he asked me on live television to come back out of retirement for the sake of the country, I agreed.

Page 93:

Three months later, at a dinner given for the cricket team in Islamabad, General Zia asked me to take back my decision to retire for the sake of the country, and again captain Pakistan. Within weeks I was leading the national team on a tour of the West Indies…

Page 123:

In 1988, while I was playing for Sussex and living in London, I got an unusual call from Pakistan. It was my friend Ashraf Nawabi, who was close to Zia. He asked if I would become a minister in the General’s cabinet…Nawabi’s offer took me completely by surprise. I declined it politely, saying that I was not qualified for the job. A day later, Dr Anwar ul-Haq, Zia’s younger son, called me up and urged me to join the government for the sake of the country.

Page 136:

I had already retired following the 1987 World Cup but a year later General Zia requested my return to the sport on national television. At a dinner organized for the team he took me into another room and warned me about what he was going to do. “Don’t humiliate me by saying no”, he said. “I am going to ask you to come back for the sake of your country”. Touched by the appeal to my sense of patriotism, I of course had to say yes.

Gen Zia the man died soon after this, but his political legacy lived on – and Imran Khan was increasingly drawn to it. Page 146:

In the summer of 1993, I was asked to be a cabinet minister in the caretaker government of Moeen Qureshi that had been formed following the dismissal of Nawaz Sharif’s government by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Qureshi himself called me. Again, I declined. However, by now I was thinking about how I could make some kind of political contribution.

Page 147:

During this period I also started meeting a lot of politically minded people and held endless discussions on the state of the nation.

Page 183:

I had been hoping that certain people I knew would form a political party I could support, but in the end they had neither the financial resources nor the nationwide support to challenge the two established parties, the PPP and the PML. So that option was not available to me. I had also explored the possibility of supporting one of the religious parties.

Page 219:

After Musharraf had come to power in a military coup in 1999, many of us in Pakistan hoped he might bring a new lease of life to our country, following years of unstable and corrupt civilian governments…Yet even at my first encounter with him, in a secret meeting a few months after the coup, the alarm bells should have rung.

So now Imran Khan has admitted to holding secret meetings and talks with both Zia and Musharraf following their military coups. You would think that these experiences would have taught the man a thing or two, but his devotion to military rule continued. Page 222:

General Ehtisham Zamir headed the political wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and was tasked with bringing together General Musharraf’s ‘coalition of reform’. He was looking for my party’s support for the General, to give him ‘the strength to take on the crooked politicians’. After the referendum, in Spring 2002, designed to give legitimacy to Musharraf’s presidency, we met again and he told me of the ‘Grand National Alliance’, and that’s when the alarm bells started ringing.

Page 223:

I met Musharraf for the fifth and final time on 23 July 2002, when he invited me to President House in Islamabad; I was hoping to change his mind about making this coalition of crooks. It was then I realized how much those of us who supported him initially had been fooled by his promises to clean up the political system. Also present were Musharraf’s spokesman and national security adviser, along with the head of the ISI, and Zamir.

Imran Khan didn’t have a problem with Gen Musharraf and the ISI cobbling together alliances and manipulating politics – his only problem was that he wanted to choose the participants! That the ‘old guard’ of PTI was merely a creation of the ISI is even admitted – possibly unwittingly – by Imran Khan himself a few pages later. Page 225:

But now we were firmly out of the establishment-backed coalition. Consequently, a lot of potentially good candidates abandoned us. The ones that were left were turned on by the ISI.

How could the ISI ‘turn on’ PTI officials unless they were with them in the first place? Whether intelligence agencies ‘turned on’ PTI in 2002, Imran Khan certainly seems to be back in their good graces now. In 2011, Prince Jam Qaim told A. K. Chishti that “some well wishers in the military had advised me to join Imran Khan”, and in May of this year, former chief of General staff and Director General Military intelligence Lt Gen (R) Ali Kuli Khan Khattak joined PTI. While this does not mean that PTI is a being backed by ISI or the military, it is still interesting to think why Imran Khan is so popular among military and intelligence officers, particularly those from the eras of past dictatorships. It is also worth noting that, despite Imran Khan’s criticism of past dictators in his book, his criticism is always about how they turned out to be disappointing dictators – not that he had a problem with them being dictators in the first place. In fact, it seems like Imran Khan never met a dictator that he didn’t originally support and even have secret meetings with. None of this suggests that Salman Ahmad should or should not support Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif, or any other politician. But, please, let’s not be selective in our memory of who was and who wasn’t given a place in politics by dictators. Imran Khan is many things, but he’s no angel. Gen Musharraf Imran Khan and MMA

This is what democracy looks like

Pakistan's vibrant diverse culture

A column in Pakistan Observer by Sajjad Shaukat calls on Pakistanis to “unite against the foreign enemies”. In case you don’t know who “the foreign enemies” are US, India, Afghanistan and Israel who “are in collusion as part of a plot to ‘destabilize’ Pakistan for their common strategic interests…while main aim remains to disintegrate the country”. This is an old conspiracy theory, and the author offers nothing new in the way of evidence to support the theory (there is none).

But the way the author uses this conspiracy theory is what I think is interesting. He uses the alleged threat of ‘foreign hand’ as a national unifier to overcome ethnic differences.

No doubt, since its inception, Pakistan has been facing ethnic, linguistic and communal problems but in order to unite against the foreign enemies, our national, provincial and regional leaders must stop manipulating these problems and disparities at the cost of federation, which have hindered the path of national unity.

In this context, a blind dedication to one’s own race, tribe and creed should not be allowed to create hatred in one group against the other. Unity against the external enemies require that formation of alliances and counter alliances, based upon the principle of hostility for the sake of hostility should also be abandoned, while our politicians and leaders must eliminate lack of national cohesion among various segments of society. Besides, most of our regional and national parties which are divided on sectarian and ethnic lines should also stop manipulating the ongoing phenomenon of terrorism not only against one another but also against the armed forces. Otherwise, this selfish attitude will further block the path of national unity.

Echoing the Asharite rejection of critical thinking in exchange for obedience and order, Sajjad Shaukat argues that the threat of disintegration “demands sacrifices of individual selfish interests from the citizen of every province including every religious and political organization”. He goes on to say that the masses are incapable of understanding events, and that the politicians are being manipulated by ‘foreign hand’. His solution? Everyone should defer to the military and ISI without question.

Drastic implications of the situation cannot be grasped by the general masses at large, who abruptly change their opinion without reason. Hence, they become easy prey to the internal exploiters, unintentionally benefiting the external conspirators who want to weaken Pakistan by creating a rift between our general masses led by politicians and the security forces. Apart from it, foreign agents misguide the disgruntled elements that national institutions are not made to develop the backward areas, and policies formulated at Islamabad are not congenial to other provinces except Punjab. To castigate the conspiracy of the external enemies against the integrity of the country, our political leaders must avoid manipulating any crisis not only against one another but also against the security forces and ISI whose image are deliberately being tarnished by the external plotters.

This is, essentially, a call for martial law.

But Sajjad’s column also reminded me of something else I read recently – an article by Omar Ali, an academic physician living in the US. Exploring the question of whether Pakistan is descending into a ‘failed state’, Omar finds that it’s not, and that fears of ethnic clashes leading to the state disintegrating are based in gross exaggerations.

First of all, it is very hard to break up a modern post-colonial state. It’s been done, but it is not easy and it is not the default setting. The modern world system is heavily invested in the integrity of nation states and while some states do fail in spite of that, this international consensus makes it difficult to get agreement on any rearrangement of borders. In most cases, distant powers as well as surrounding neighbors find it more convenient to find ways to compromise within existing borders. Even a spectacular failure, like the collapse of the Soviet empire, actually ends up validating already existing borders rather than creating entirely new ones. The supranational structure of the Soviet Union collapsed, but its component nations remained almost entirely within their existing borders. In this sense, Pakistan does not have 4 separate ethnically and culturally distinct units joined by weak supra-national bonds. Even an extremely unhappy component like Baluchistan is not uniformly Baloch. In fact, Balochis are probably no more than half the population of that province. Sindh contains large and very powerful Mohajir enclaves that do not easily make common cause with rural Sindh. More Pakhtoons live in Karachi than in the Pakhtoonkhwa capital of Peshawar. Economic and cultural links (especially the electronic media) unite more than they divide. If nothing else, cricket unites the nation. In addition, the reach of modern schooling and brainwashing is not to be underestimated. Even in far flung areas, many young people have grown up in a world where Pakistani nationalism is the default setting.

Economically, the country is always in dire straits, but agribusiness and textiles are powerful sectors with real potential. More advanced sectors can easily take off if law and order improves a little and irrational barriers with India are lowered a little bit. The nation state is not as weak as it sometimes appears to be.

Despite the doom and gloom headlines that we read every day, Pakistan is not heading towards ‘failed state’ status. That’s not to say there aren’t some bit problems, but things are getting better, even if it’s slower than we would like. And things are getting better as the democratic process takes root and the participants (politicians, justices, military, etc etc etc) figure out how to effectively operate in their new roles. We tried Sajjad Shaukat’s approach under Gen Ayub, Yahya Khan, Zia, Musharraf. The nation long-term effect of each of these regimes was negative. The mistakes of each of these rulers brought us to where we are today. Actually it was this approach to governing under Yahya Khan that did more damage to Pakistan’s unity than anything under democratic rule.

Rather than ignoring and suppressing ethnic, tribal, or religious diversity in Pakistan, we should be celebrating it. The way to secure Pakistan is through allowing every man, woman, and child a sense of belonging and national pride that recognizes and appreciates who they are as individuals also. This is what democracy looks like. It looks like Pakistan.

Dictatorship vs. Democracy

From Huffington Post, the following article by Aparna Pande provides an excellent examination of competing political perspectives. We have often made the argument that debates should focus on reason, and the following piece gives some important historical context to the struggle between the preference for rational thinking which can be quite messy and the preference for order which is tidier. The author is a Research Fellow at The Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.

Aparna PandeWhile discussing the current Middle East situation in a recent interview, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf asserted that “good dictatorship is better than bad democracy.” Mr Musharraf’s quote is reminiscent of the traditional Asharite/Al Ghazzali view that “a bad ruler is preferable to anarchy.”

During the early centuries of Islam there were two broad views on political theory and philosophy — the Asharite and the Mu’tazilite. The Mu’tazilites, influenced by Greek philosophy and thought, emphasized reason and rational thinking (ijtihad), whereas the Asharites were more traditional and asserted imitation (taqlid). With the need for complete control desired by monarchs it was the Asharites who eventually won the debate and gained political blessing. The main reason was that every political system needs legitimacy and the Asharite view of taqlid was more likely to approve of the existing system than the Mu’tazilite view of reason and questioning.

While these views and names are rarely mentioned today, their basic conflict still remains. Across the Greater Middle East, this view has been prevalent for decades that autocracy or dictatorship is preferable to the anarchy or chaos associated with democracy. The Saudi dynasty’s legitimacy derives from an alliance with the Wahhabi clergy where the latter have consistently overlooked the personal indiscretions of the ruling family on grounds of avoiding anarchy. Al Ghazzali, a prominent Islamic theologian of the 12th century, often stated the need to avoid fitna (strife) and anarchy.

All of Pakistan’s military rulers, from General Ayub through Yahya and Zia till Musharraf, have held similar views on the need for order and avoidance of anarchy under democracy. General Ayub Khan (1958-69) believed that the people of the subcontinent were not suited either by temperament or by experience to the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. General Ayub also believed that democracy was best suited to cold climates and not to the tropical climate of Pakistan. That the same conditions prevailed in India did not seem like an anachronism to the general. General Ayub attempted to impose his form of autocratic rule under a system of ‘Basic Democracy’ which excluded political parties and instead installed an indirectly elected presidential system. Ayub’s failure in the end lay in his inability to gain legitimacy and the prevalence and popularity of local political parties despite attempts to get rid of the latter.

General Zia ul Haq (1977-88) sought legitimacy in religion, for him Pakistan had been created in the name of Islam and the reason for the 1971 break up as well as any problems to date had been because his predecessors had moved away from Islam. The Islamization of Pakistani society, education, politics and law struck deep roots under Zia’s era. Zia was fearful of democracy because it would show the strength of parties like his nemesis Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Zia repeatedly asserted that it was his rule that had prevented anarchy, corruption and further break up of Pakistan by its eternal enemy India, helped by Soviet Union, Israel and other allies.

General Musharraf believed that he was the messiah who saved Pakistan from the corrupt, inefficient and constantly bickering rule of politicians. Thus he ended anarchy and brought efficient rule under a dictatorship. Musharraf’s policy of ‘Enlightened Moderation’ was very similar to Ayub’s ‘Basic Democracy’ — an attempt to build legitimacy outside of the political system. Musharraf’s views have not changed, as evident from his memoirs and speeches given after he resigned as President in 2008. He still believes he is the messiah who will save Pakistan from its chaotic democracy. Musharraf’s recent statements are reminiscent of his predecessors not just in his condescending views of democracy but also in his worldview. Just recently in an interview Musharraf stated that Pakistan is faced with an existential threat — not from the Taliban and jihadi groups who are eating up Pakistan internally — but from the eternal enemy, India.

The view that the Pakistanis masses are illiterate and do not know what is right for them and given the choice would choose inefficient, corrupt and self-serving politicians is a view held deeply by the military-civilian establishment. From this it follows that the military and technocratic elite are by education and temperament best suited to guide and lead Pakistan and protect it from its external and internal enemies. The Pakistani army strongly believes it is the guardian of Pakistan’s territorial and ideological frontiers.

The notion that “good dictatorship is better than bad democracy” arises from the need to have order and predictability. However, for any multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual country like Pakistan, any attempt to impose one view will have long-term repercussions. As discussed in my book, Aparna Pande Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India, Pakistan’s founding fathers constructed an ideological identity for the country, which subsumed and denied the religio-ethno-linguistic differences. The various internal challenges facing Pakistan today are a blowback of this basic challenge of identity.

While order and conformity suit the people in power, they rarely ever benefit the masses. The irony of Musharraf’s statement seems to be lost on him — the only way Musharraf can return to power is if he contests elections under democracy!

The Zardari Pinata

Source: Pak Tea House

By D. Ashgar

Lately in many discussions, about various events which have unfolded in Pakistan, it appears that Pakistanis in or outside Pakistan, find only one person responsible, its President Asif Ali Zardari. To clarify, I reside in the US, have no affiliation with him or PPP. As a teenager, when I was in Pakistan, I admired ZAB, but according to my analysis, the ideals of PPP died along with ZAB on the ill fated day of, April 04, 1979.  Even late BB, failed to impress me as she made some huge blunders, and used ZAB’s name to advance her political career. There is no denying of this fact, that till this day PPP, uses ZAB and now BB as well to tap into the vote banks. It is the sheer charisma of ZAB, which still resonates with the masses.

Getting back to our infamous President, the blogospheres are on fire chastising him for almost any and everything. Whether it is the bomb blasts, floods, mob lynching or cricket betting scandal, he seems to be the target of everyone’s scorn. Undoubtedly, AAZ has a questionable past and his actions subsequent to taking the oath are definitely worthy of criticism, but definitely not worthy of any military intervention.

We get to hear pleas emanating from London, to change the feudal culture and political landscape of Pakistan. This to me and many others, is quite troubling. Amazingly, the proponents of this sweeping change have always formed the convenient alliances with the feudals in the past. The print and electronic media is creating its own hysteria and it appears that talk show hosts on many popular channels have pretty much made it their source of livelihood to demean and berate AAZ.

The conditions and events in Pakistan become, a topic of heated discussions in the living rooms here in the US. Sadly, the overwhelming majority of educated, liberal and law abiding Pakistanis tilt towards a “quick     fix” and want either the military to intervene or they want a “sweeping revolution.” Very few want the process of democracy to evolve and mature. The convenient reasons given to justify their rather illogical stance is, “Pakistan is not ready for democracy”, “Democracy has always failed”, “Politicians are corrupt”, “You think military was bad, see what worst is, GOD has brought HIS wrath in the form of AAZ.”

AAZ has made his share of follies, after replacing Musharraf. Arguably, he may be one of the most corrupt Executive of the country, but to replace him, Pakistanis need to exercise the legal and democratic means available to them. Having witnessed Clinton’s impeachment process, I can state that, it was an impressive demonstration of how mature institutions function. Similarly, as painful as 8 years of Bush Presidency were, the US citizens demonstrated their disdain on election day, and brought a rather inexperienced Obama to power.

The repeated argument presented by the military loyalists is the extent of corruption. In my opinion, the rampant corruption stems from two basic elements, an empty stomach with very limited source of income or too much on hand and the limitless greed. The history of corruption in Pakistan, predates many Zardaris. The set up of government institutions back in the 50?s with inherited British style of bureaucracy provided the foundations. In all these years, regardless of military or civilian governments, the government still functions on the same paradigm. To expect any miracles from the cancerous system, just because the in charge is a General, is quite a utopian hope in futility.

As it is quite obvious that, the elements behind the upheaval are the ones, who do not want the process of democracy to strengthen. Pakistanis want a messiah to come in and rid them from the myriad of the problems they face. Whether it is soaring inflation, unemployment, law and order, terrorism, corruption and poor governance. The argument presented by the critics of a civilian government is that politicians are there to fill their coffers and tend to play “musical chairs” with one another, but do not want to solve the problems of the masses.
The military has been a tested institution and brings “law and order” under control. This is quite lame of an argument, as Musharraf regime had a serious law and order issue. Then feudalism is considered a major impediment in the formation of the “will of people” by the military loyalists. The military and feudals have a lot in common. Both are authoritarian and many military people hail from feudal backgrounds. Many politicians welcoming the military are feudals. So rather than introducing a bill on the floor to end feudalism, we want the military to take reins and run a “national government” comprising of ”like minded” politicians, some if not many representing the feudal background.

No matter which way you cut or slice, no matter how many justifications of democracy and democratic process are presented, the people are unwilling to buy. It is  ”Zardari bashing” which has become the favorite past time for Pakistanis in and out side of Pakistan. Beating the Zardari Pinata provides a psychological relief to many. What we fail to realize is, all means are available to us within the framework of a democratic process. Whether it is a no confidence motion for the PM, mid term elections or a potential impeachment of a President. It is high time that we start developing and fostering the democratic norms and stop relying on the short cuts, which have brought us to such a disastrous state.