Wishing Healthful Recovery to Mian Nawaz Sharif

Nawaz SharifMian Nawaz Sharif has undergone a successful heart surgery in London and has been advised to complete a bed rest for recovery. We wish the PML-N chief a speedy and healthful recovery.

Additionally, there has been much outpouring of support for the PML-N chief from those who may disagree with him on certain issues or belong to a different political party.

Journalist and commentator Nadeem F. Paracha wrote on Twitter today,

Mian Sahib, get well soon. I may have serious disagreements with your party, but Pakistan needs every local democrat alive and kicking.

Another journalist Beena Sarwar echoed this sentiment also.

Nawaz Sharif, get well soon. We may disagree, but #Pakistan needs every local democrat alive & kicking

Additional well wishes came from Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani and MNA Farahnaz Ispahani, both PPP stalwarts.

Also wishing the former PM a speedy recovery include President Zardari and PM Gilani. In addition to the proper etiquette of basic human decency, this is also a healthy sign of respect for the democratic process in which we can disagree with each other’s ideas without feeling a personal animosity towards our political opponents.

Who’s the liberal extremist?

Oh, my, that label again: ‘Liberal extremist.’ What on earth does it mean? Absolutely nothing. Great wordplay and deliciously idiosyncratic, but that’s about it.

However, since the popular electronic media in Pakistan is usually about a rather nihilistic strain of whatever it considers to be news and analysis, this topsy-turvy label has become the catch-all term of a number of TV anchors, hosts and, ahem, analysts.

So, then, what is a liberal extremist? How many Pakistanis do you know who advocate the abolition of faith, legalisation of cannabis, the creation of nude beaches, support gay marriages or… oh, okay, so this is not what you mean. Then what? If you guys who have suddenly become so fond of this phrase mean by it Pakistanis who emphasise reason over passion (especially in political and theological matters), or who find religion synonymous with humanitarianism, tolerance and compassion, or who like political parties that they support to retain a degree of secularism, or those who cherish the concept of social and religious pluralism and diversity, if these are the dreaded liberal extremists so many Pakistanis have suddenly started moaning about, then I pray for me to become one of the finest liberal extremists in this land of the pure.

So, can one suggest that what passes as being plain old liberal elsewhere becomes liberal extremism in Pakistan? There is another innocent question I would like to ask of all those who have been swinging their fists by suggesting the following brilliant insight: ‘The problem in Pakistan is religious extremism and liberal extremism.’

If so, then pray tell, dear sirs and madams, exactly how can one couple the two phrases in the same sentence? To begin with, one can safely suggest that those you call liberal extremists constitute an embarrassingly minute percentage compared to the glorious blooming and flowering we have seen of what are called religious extremists.

Over and over again we have heard and seen the delightful things faith-based extremists advocate, preach, feel happy about and shower rose petals for, but what have the malicious liberal extremists to gloat and float about? I’ve heard arguments (and that’s about it) from the liberals in the following cases, but no liberal extremist distributed sweetmeat when Dr Aafia was convicted; never saw this extremist chant ‘yea, baby, let’s have more,’ when the news of a drone attack breaks; never seen one claiming that such or such person should be killed just because he or she disagreed with the liberal extremist. Sure he or she may have a sympathetic argument about what their counterparts may consider to be treason, sacrilege, etc., but that’s it.

Kindly stop using this term, liberal extremists, as if it was an indigenous made-in-Pakistan media masterstroke. The term first began being used in the US during the 1970s. It was coined by some ultra-conservative Republican politicians and Christian evangelists against certain mainstream American newspapers, TV channels and filmmaking circles. These guys from that country’s far right in politics and religion thought that the American media and Hollywood were brimming with atheists, agnostics and liberals who were soft on the Soviet Union (mostly because the media was opposing the war in Vietnam).

It was a lunatic fringe whom the then liberal American media suspected of having extreme political and religious views, and this fringe retaliated (in typical knee-jerk fashion), by calling their detractors as liberal extremists. This term was again used during the conservative Reagan years in the 1980s against mainstream media outlets who were opposing his overtly laissez faire economic policies and his arming of the paid mercenaries to topple the revolutionary leftist regime in Nicaragua.

By the end of the Cold War (1990), the liberal extremist tag was hung around social and environmentalist groups that began agitating against large multinational corporations and ‘globalisation.’ The media in this respect was finally let off the hook and the reason was simple. With the arrival of such monsters like FOX-News and SkyNews, things in this respect were turned on their heads when it was the media that began adopting this term for detractors of corporate capitalism and the new millennium’s ‘neo-con’ polices.

In Pakistan it was the military dictatorship of General Musharraf who first used this term. In many of his apologetic speeches he defended his (albeit half-baked) actions against extremist religious organisations by adopting the old 1970s American ultra-conservatives’ mantra of being against both extremes (religious and liberal). However, the irony was that genuine liberalism (that the American conservatives used to call liberal extremism in the US) was almost non-existent in Pakistan.

Right-wing apologists of faith-based extremism now found in abundance in the FOX-News like environment in Pakistan’s electronic media have simply picked up where Musharraf had left: Blame the large-scale presence of both state sponsored and populist, civilian extremism in the country on the handful of vocal liberals by calling them liberal extremists. Of course, intoxicated on the delusion that they have discovered a perfect explanation to defend their sheepish defence of violence-prone extremism, they conveniently forget it is not liberal extremists blowing themselves up in public places or showering rose petals on killers.

This column by Nadeem F. Paracha was published in the 23 January 2011 edition of Dawn.

How Many Riyals Per Word?

Ahmed QuraishiWhen I was in school my uncle got me a job working for a journalist. Mostly I took notes for him or did some basic research on topics. But occasionally he would pay me to help write his articles. He would then complain that I could never make it as a proper journalist. My writing was always too long. I rambled on and on and lost the point halfway through. The guy would shake his head and say, “do you think I’m paying you by the word?”

It is an open secret that some of our finest journalists take a little extra bonus from intelligence agencies. When people still cared about Hamid Mir’s involvement in the murder of Khalid Khawaja (if you can remember history as ancient as six-months ago!) the inimitable Nadeem Paracha wrote for Dawn:

The agencies have always had personnel on their payrolls operating as reporters, anchors, and ‘analysts’ ever since the Ayub Khan dictatorship in the 1960s. Respected journalist and author, late Zamir Niazi, in his book, The Web of Censorship, suggests that the agencies recruited a number of ‘journalists’ during the Ayub dictatorship, specifically to check leftist sentiments that were all the rage among journalists at the time.

I always thought there was something about bit strange about how quickly journalists at a certain news organization started writing that Nawaz Sharif should emerge as a new liberal alternative to Asif Zardari. Had these guys really begun to lose their minds, I thought? Of course, now we have learned that this was exactly what one foreign government had in mind – Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis betray a strong preference for Sharif, who fled into exile in Jeddah in 2000 to avoid prosecution under General Pervez Musharraf. The cables contain details of Sharif’s secret exile deal – he was to remain out of politics for 10 years – as well as hints of Saudi anger when he returned to Pakistan in 2007.

Perhaps then we should not be so surprised that these journalists found a sudden taste for Nawaz?

With Ahmed Quraishi, especially, my friends and I play a game where we read his column and then guess who paid for it. The decision was unanimous a few months ago when he published a love poem to the Saudi Royal family and the Saudi women who gave up a necklace for the flood victims. Really, man, try for a little subtlety next time!

This time around it’s especially obvious. First, Quraishi’s article for The News reads like a wish-list of the Saudis – weaken the democratic government and enable a “smooth” military takeover. But notice also that while Quraishi blames everything under the sun on “serving US interests” and “foreign meddling”, his article is only another in a long list of conspiracies about the US while he blatantly ignores the damning evidence against Saudi Arabia’s meddling. Perhaps that was not designated in a contract with GIP?

Now do you notice how little attention all these same journalists pay to the meddling of the Saudi monarchy in our sovereign affairs? Hypernationalists like Ahmed Quraishi scrawl their columns about Wikileaks and condemn the politicians for airing family secrets in front of a US Ambassador, but are strangely silent on the secret deals made between Mian Nawaz and a certain foreign government that nobody will name.

These guys are also peddling the story that Wikileaks is a US conspiracy to embarrass Muslim countries, which is hilarious. They want to make headlines from the parts about Zardari, but ignore everything that’s inconvenient. But even if Ahmed Quraishi is correct and the Americans are hiding documents that could be embarrassing to Israel or India, he doesn’t explain why they want to embarrass Netherlands, not to mention France and Italy also. When you look at it without the distorted perspective of these self-interested conspiracy theorists, their story seems more a convenient excuse to protect someone than a reasonable and objective analysis.

Thanks to Wikileaks, it is now revealed that Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir famously told that “We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants”. We readily accept that everyone else is paying a certain fee to have their political agendas published by our army of ‘Journalists To Let’, so why shouldn’t the Saudis also? If Wikileaks really wants to do some good, they should reveal the bank accounts of some of our more ‘creative’ journalists. I bet you’ll find a juicy conspiracy or two there!

Quraishi says he wishes Pakistan was more like Emirates, which he claims is superior to Pakistan. So go live there already. For all his complaining about ‘foreign meddling’, Ahmed Quraishi sure seems to be deeply in love with other countries. As for his column that defines Pakistan as “bankrupt, uncreative and miserable”, I say I hope you’re getting paid by the word to sell your country out like that.

The point of all this, now that I’m done rambling, is that I’m thinking of setting up a PayPal account to raise money to buy Ahmed Quraishi a ticket to Saudi Arabia. Partly so he’ll stop spitting in the face of our country, and partly so that his trip to the office at GIP will be shorter. He can even fly Emirates if he wants to.

NFP: Leaky logic

Nadeem ParachaBy Nadeem F. Paracha

Now how bad can it be for a president to be criticised by a monarch who is alleged to have asked the Americans to bomb Iran and whose countrymen are still thought to be one of the leading donors to terror organisations like Al-Qaeda? Well, that’s what the recent US intelligence documents uploaded on WikiLeaks suggest.

To a lot of Pakistanis, the leaks were a big fat disappointment. For example, a colleague of mine was wagging a finger at me saying, ‘NFP, these new leaks will expose your president in the worst way possible.’ He was ‘my president’ and not my colleague’s because the guy’s into … ahem …the concept of modern-day caliphs as heads of state. Well, come the day of the leaks and I saw him all glum and gloomy. Sure the president was taken to task by the Saudi monarch according to the leaked documents. Nevertheless what the monarch said about Mr Zardari would have been music to the ears of all the Saudi-philes out there but only if the leaked documents had stopped at that.

What gave my pro-caliphate colleague a sudden bout of embarrassment, inducing depression, was how the same documents then go on to quote many Arab leaders (including the said monarch), asking the US to conduct aerial raids against Iran. Now, I am no fan of the current Iranian leadership; in fact, I find Ahmadinejad suffering from verbal diarrhoea against the West and all things western. However, it is actually this trait of his that has turned him into a hero of sorts among Muslims everywhere.

What a shock then it was for my colleague to read that Arab monarchs had actually instigated their American friends to bomb a fellow Muslim country. But, really, why the surprise? I mean, hasn’t it been clear all along that Arab leadership has always been repulsed by Iran, especially after the 1979 revolution? The truth is, and this goes for a lot of groups with sympathies for Iran in Pakistan too, no matter how loudly they exhibit their spite against Israel, they remain suspect in the eyes of a majority of Arab leaders, or worse, targets of various extremist groups.

I don’t think my pan-Islamic colleague’s shock was due to his surprise over the revelations, because everyone knows about the historical fissures that divide Arabs and Persians. Instead, he was stunned by the realisation that lofty caliph-oriented daydreams that men like him hold so dear would sound ridiculous now that the world knows that one set of Muslim leaders want the ‘infidels to bomb another Muslim country.

He was itching to let loose the tirade that people like him usually unleash once they do not agree with something: It’s a trick. A conspiracy and propaganda against Muslims, blah. But how could he? Not this time. Because had he termed these documents a ploy by Zionists to ridicule Arab leaders, it would also mean that the Saudi monarch’s criticism of Mr Zardari too was not true. Anyway, even if we forget what the Arabs blurted out against Iran, there is an inherent irony in the statement that sees a monarch being unhappy about a president in a democratic country.

The Pakistani president, no matter how unpopular he may have become, remains an elected leader. So what right does a monarch have to show concern about an elected leader of another Muslim country? The Saudi king is supposed to have said that Pakistan cannot progress as long as Zardari holds office. Now, I do wonder, what is the concept of progress to a monarch of a puritanical Muslim state?

Is his disappointment based in the fact that unlike the Ziaul Haq dictatorship, the Zardari regime is not constructing enough mosques or madressas? Is it due to the fact that unlike Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, Zardari’s PPP has been traditionally more associated with certain populist and indigenous folk versions of Islam in Pakistan that the Saudis scorn at? I am really interested in determining exactly what constitutes ‘progress’ to oil-rich Muslim monarchies, one of which, according to the leaked documents, is hovering at the top as the world’s leading donor nation to terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda.

Yes, sir, no matter how much carnage and madness countries like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan face from the monsters they themselves have created, they just refuse to learn from their follies. In their obsessive-compulsive paranoia that sees many of their citizens stuck in an old Cold War thinking mode as far as countries like Israel, India and US are concerned, they keep feeding merciless ogres whom they believe will fight their egotistical battles against their sectarian, religious and ideological enemies.

The mindset continues despite the fact that in the last one decade, terrorist foot soldiers have spilled more Muslim blood than that of ‘infidels.’ Wikileaks or not, we are suffering from a freaky deluge of a delusion.

Originally published by Dawn on 5 December 2010.

Nadeem Paracha: Cranky nobility

Nadeem Parachaby Nadeem Paracha

Source: Dawn.com

I don’t know what the situation would be once this column goes into print, but a TV channel’s all out, constant outburst against Zardari certainly seems something that has very little to do with democracy or the notion of free media.

If the PPP is to be believed, this channel is on an absurd anti-Zardari roll because the government is pressurising it to cough up the money it says it owes to banks and the FBR.

For quite some time the channel is fixated on milking to death the ‘follies’ (both imagined and otherwise) of the nation’s favourite punching bag, the president. But the channel’s puffed-chest image of being a crusader against corruption is bound to get a thrashing if what Fauzia Wahab and her comrades in the PPP-led government say is true.

The October 14 issue of Dawn quoted Wahab as claiming that the media group in question was a defaulter of Rs8 billion and an evader of taxes up to Rs1.6 billion. On October 15, Dawn then quoted Sindh Chief Minister Qayam Ali Shah repeating the same allegations. Flabbergasted at the no-holds-barred criticism coming its way from the channel, the PPP leadership finally asked its members to boycott any participation on its shows.

There is nothing unprecedented about this. In 2009, US President Barak Obama, sickened by the way Fox News was gunning for his presidency and personality, announced that he would boycott the channel. Fox News which, over the years, rode to stardom on the back of a more tabloid and sensationalist form of electronic journalism, lashed back by increasing its attacks on Obama, even to the extent of becoming somewhat lurid and far more garish.

However, once the channel’s gung-ho exhibitionism exhausted itself and its right-wing slant became all too obvious in the absence of any worthwhile Democrat politician’s participation, Fox actually began losing the kind of ratings it had enjoyed till then. It still remains a top player, but even the most conservative of anti-Obama viewers began switching to other channels to watch what Obama or any other senior Democrat Party member had to say.

The result was the gradual toning down of Fox’s over-the-top negativity regarding Obama, and the president finally ending his boycott of the channel.

PPP’s boycott cannot be termed an overreaction. In fact, as even the most casual TV viewer can notice, the channel in question has quite clearly gone rather obsessively flippant about ‘exposing and rooting out corruption’ (thus Zardari and his government).

However, there remains a relevant question: If the government is so sure about the financial oddities of the media group, then why hasn’t it taken any direct legal action against it?

According to Fauzia Wahab some of the matter is already in the courts, but the media group has been able to use the process to delay decisive action in this respect. If so, then does this also mean that the evidence against the group is somewhat weak — enough for it to make the case linger on in the courts?

The other day I asked the information minister, Qamar Zaman Kaira, what he thought was the reason behind the news channel’s overtly barbed attitude towards the president. He just shook his head from side to side. Rhetorically replying to his haplessness, I asked why the party doesn’t simply boycott the channel in protest. Mr Kaira did not respond to the query. Clearly till then, he seemed to be sure that the PPP men and women who are regulars on TV talk shows would be able to somewhat balance things out.

Of course, that has not happened, in spite of the fact that the party soon introduced one of its most articulate and focused men on TV in the calm and calculated shape of Faisal Raza Abidi. ‘No matter who you put on this channel, he or she will be outnumbered by government opponents, including the host,’ feels Captain Wasif, a Kaira aide.

A famous intellectual and professor once told me that some non-affiliated ‘liberal’ scholars and intellectuals have also complained that many TV channels invite them but only to surround them with the loudest of their conservative guests. ‘By doing this, it sometimes seems that these guys call people like me so we begin to look like fools. It is as if they are bent on making things like reason and commonsense look like they were alien constructs out to destroy Pakistan,’ he added.

I am not sure at what stage the government’s boycott would be by the time this article appears. But one thing’s for sure. Just as Fox News did after Obama’s boycott, Zardari and co. should brace themselves for an even more intense round of vocal assault — apart from facing what this channel loves doing: i.e. turning the act of someone even raising an eyebrow against it into a full fledged advertising campaign highlighting the ‘attack on the freedom of media’ and the network’s ‘commitment to root out corruption.’

Come to think of it, this then becomes perhaps the only ‘revolutionary’ prerogative that actually translates itself into hefty salaries for some, and healthy advertising revenues for the organisation. Very noble, indeed.