Tahir Rasheed Joins PTI

Sheikh Muhammad Tahir RasheedI suppose it was to be expected that Imran Khan’s impressive showing last Sunday would trigger a wave of people jumping on the PTI bandwagon. What’s funny, though, is how quickly the tsunami is sweeping up an army of yesterday’s has-beens. The latest announcement is that Tahir Rasheed has announced that he is supporting PTI. In case you are looking puzzled as I mention the name, don’t worry – you’re not the only one who’s never heard of him. So, to enlighten our energetic youth, let me fill you in on Rasheed’s bio.

Sheikh Muhammad Tahir Rasheed’s father, Sheikh Muhammad Rasheed, is former MNA nominated by General Zia-ul-Haq and elected in non-party elections for the term 1985-1988. Tahir Rasheed took up the family business in 1990, first as MPA (PML-N) for PP-163 in Multan, then moving up to MNA for NA-116 in 1997. He sat out the 2002 elections since he wanted to take over as Multan Zila Nazim when SMQ left the post to stand for National Assembly. That didn’t work out for Tahir Rasheed, though. He tried switching to PML-Q, but that didn’t help either and he lost again in 2008.

So now, Tahir Rasheed is hoping that maybe he can ride the new tsunami back into office if he jumps on the wave early enough. What is it they say? Third party is a charm?

How the New York Times Keeps Getting Pakistan Wrong

Syed Yahya HussainyThe New York Times is an institution in journalism. Published continuously for over 160 years, the Times has won 104 Pulitzer Prizes – more than any other news organization. In 2009, one of those Pulitzer Prizes went to a team that included Pakistan correspondent Jane Perlez for their coverage of America’s deepening military and political challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With this background, how is it that The New York Times keeps getting Pakistan so wrong?

In her latest article, Many in Pakistan Fear Unrest at Home, Jane Perlez suggests that Pakistan is on the brink of takeover by Islamists, comparing the political climate today to Iran in 1979. But is this really an accurate description of Pakistan, a nation that only recently held massive pro-democracy street demonstrations, overthrew a military dictator, and elected a democratic government that for the first time includes all ethnic groups and major political factions at either the state or federal level? Tunisia and Egypt may be shedding the yoke of autocracy, but Pakistan achieved this years ago.

Since 2008, of course, Pakistan has been hit hard by the global economic downturn, been ravaged by devastating floods of historic proportion, and lost thousands of citizens to attacks by terrorist groups. Despite these challenges, the democratic government has remained resilient, implementing political reforms to strengthen the democratic process and the rule of law. So why is The New York Times comparing 2011 Pakistan to 1979 Iran? It turns out the answer may lie in Ms Perlez’s sources.

Jane Perlez has quoted Mr Farrukh Saleem quite regularly over the past few years, though she introduces with different titles in different articles. In her latest article about the possibility of an Islamist putsch, Farrukh Saleem is “a risk analyst”. Last November, Ms Perlez cited him as “a political analyst” in an article about political violence in Karachi. A month earlier, Mr Saleem was “executive director for the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad”. The one constant in Mr Saleem’s CV is his affiliation with The News, an English-language newspaper that has received international attention for its virulent anti-government propaganda.

In fact, Mr Farrukh Saleem appears in a 2009 article by Jane Perlez praising opposition leader Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N party. Here Saleem is referred to only as a newspaper columnist. Earlier, Farrukh Saleem is quoted by Jane Perlez saying that President Asif Zardari “has an unending desire to control all of Pakistan.”

Later that year, of course, President Zardari transferred power over the nation’s nuclear arsenal to the Prime Minister, and a few months after that signed the 18th Amendment further devolving power that had been consolidated under military dictators. For someone with an unending desire to control all of Pakistan, the president appears to be giving a surprising amount of his power away. Despite this record, Jane Perlez continues to present Farrukh Saleem as an objective “analyst”.

Then there is Ms Perlez’s other go-to source for analysis of Pakistan: Jahangir Tareen. According to Ms Perlez, Mr Tareen is “a reformist politician”. But what claim to the title of “reformist” does Mr Jahangir Tareen actually have? After all, this is the same Jahangir Tareen that served as Minister of Industries and Special Projects under the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf – a fact certainly known to Jane Perlez as she has been quoting him in her articles as such since at least 2008.

Ms Perlez quotes Jahangir Tareen blaming rich politicians for failing to address the economic needs of the people without mentioning the irony that he is both rich and a politician himself in the opposition party PML-Q. Jane Perlez also fails to mention that Jahangir Tareen’s CV includes such “reformist” tendencies as serving as a cabinet minister during the corrupt Musharraf regime that squandered foreign aid money while incubating jihadi militias. Today, Mr Tareen warns the Times reporter that Islamist forces “will sweep into power”, but Jane Perlez conveniently ignores her sources background and fails to provide her readers important context that might raise questions about his credibility.

Certainly Pakistanis are frustrated with unemployment, inflation, and ongoing attacks by Islamist militant groups. And there do exist residual effects of an institutionalization of Islamism carried out by the regime of 1980s dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and reinforced by the former boss of Ms Perlez’s friend Jahangir Tareen, Pervez Musharraf. But Pakistan’s democratically elected government has proven resilient, and by-election results since 2008 have not revealed any increased support for Islamist parties.

When the curtain is drawn on the election booth, the people of Pakistan consistently reject Jamaat-i-Islami’s candidates and policies. Jane Perlez’s article may represent the prejudices of her rather compromised (and seemingly few) regular sources, but it does not represent the aspirations of the Pakistani people. Let us not forget that fewer than six months ago, Jane Perlez predicted a military coup in Pakistan. That, too, never came to pass.

Jane Perlez’s fearmongering on Pakistan notwithstanding, the democratic system is maturing and growing stronger – a fact evidenced by the unprecedented cooperation between the opposition parties and the coalition government in defense of political stability. It is true that religious parties organize street protests with thousands of participants. But these are demonstrations of frustration, not political support. If Ms Perlez truly believes that the Pakistani people believe in “the failure of representative democracy”, perhaps she should expand her social circle beyond those who have built careers trying to derail it.

The question for The New York Times is whether or not Jane Perlez is actually providing investigative reporting on Pakistan or simply phoning her few friends for juicy quotes to pad sensationalist articles. Following her reporting over the years, Times readers would come away with two things: a close familiarity of Mr Farrukh Saleem and Mr Jahangir Tareen, and very poor understanding of Pakistan.

Maleeha Lodhi’s Economy

Dr Maleeha LodhiWatching the way some of our more prominent thinkers have treated the RGST in their columns has been an eye opening experience. For several, the tax bill was a PPP plot to punish the poor while protecting the rich…until it was set aside. Then not passing the bill was a PPP plot to punish the poor while protecting the rich! While these were quite obviously promoting a political agenda, I was more disappointed in the more subtle ways that some people put criticising the government ahead of moving the nation forward.

A perfect example of this is Maleeha Lodhi’s article from last week that accuses the PPP of sacrificing the economy to save the government, a most cynical suggestion that frankly defies all reason.

Please, let’s not forget so quickly what was happening only a few weeks ago: MQM quit the coalition in protest of the economic reforms and threatened to sit on opposition benches. Anti-government voices in the media were falling over themselves in hopes that a no-confidence vote would finally grant their wishes and unseat the PPP government. So, even if the PPP wanted to push through these economic reforms, which by all accounts they did (in fact, they seemed to be the only ones), they didn’t have the votes to do so.

But for the sake of argument, let’s consider the alternative. What if the PPP had thrown caution to the wind and stood firm. Any reforms would have been put off while a new government was formed. If the opposition parties managed to cobble together a coalition, it would have most certainly been led by the PML-N…who opposed the economic reforms.

So tell us, please, Dr Lodhi, in what alternate universe was it possible for Zardari to pass the economic reforms that he asked for? Also, if these reforms are as important as you now claim, why did you not use your status and influence to help the government when it was trying to bring other parties on board with the package?

This is what really frustrates me: When Dr Lodhi had the opportunity to pressurize the opposition parties that were standing in the way of the reform package, she chose rather to attack the government, even though it was the only group that was trying to get the reforms through.

If Dr Lodhi was really so concerned, why didn’t she use her very public voice to chastise Chaudhry Parvez Elahi when he said PML-Q would force a showdown rather than allow RGST to pass? No, rather she attacked the PPP who was supporting the measure.

What’s worst, this theme of Dr Lodhi’s has been picked up by the international media, most specifically in The Economist. Dr Lodhi’s spin on the topic could very well result in economists unnecessarily doubting the government’s commitment and further jeopardizing the nation’s economy even though the government has been very clear of its support for the reforms and is only trying to convince the opposition parties of its necessity.

Maleeha Lodhi concludes her latest column with the following paragraph:

In today’s strained political environment evolving consensus on a minimum reform agenda may seem a vain hope but the alternative – a descent into economic chaos – should serve as a reminder of what might happen if no policy correctives are implemented. This ought to urge different stakeholders to review their stance of putting short-term expediency before the country’s economic security. After all without such stability their political gamesmanship will be in vain.

I agree 100 percent. It remains to be seen, however, if Dr Lodhi will follow her own advice and work with President Zardari and PM Gilani to bring Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Altaf Hussain, and Nawaz Sharif to understand the importance of the government’s reform package. I understand that she has taken a job with Jang/Geo, but I would hate to think that someone of her stature would be “putting short-term expediency before the country’s economic security”.

Salmaan Taseer: “This is a man-made law, not a God-made one.”

The following discussion between Governor Salmaan Taseer and Ayesha Tammy Haq was published on a few short weeks ago by Newsline Magazine. As you can see, Salmaan Taseer approached the topic with reason, tolerance, and intellectualism. He advocates working within the political and legal system to protect the rights of the nation’s minorities.

Q: Why did you take up Aasiya Bibi’s case?

Salmaan TaseerA: Aasiya Bibi’s case is particularly relevant. She is a woman who has been incarcerated for a year-and-a half on a charge trumped up against her five days after an incident where people who gave evidence against her were not even present. So this is a blatant violation against a member of a minority community. I, like a lot of right-minded people, was outraged, and all I did was to show my solidarity. It is the first time in the history of the Punjab that a governor has gone inside a district jail, held a press conference and stated clearly that this is a blatant miscarriage of justice and that the sentence that has been passed is cruel and inhumane. I wanted to take a mercy petition to the president, and he agreed, saying he would pardon Aasiya Bibi if there had indeed been a miscarriage of justice.

Q: When do you expect the president to issue the pardon?

A: The case will come before the High Court and be heard, and if for any grotesque reason the judgement of the Sheikhupura district judge is upheld, then she will be given a presidential pardon.

Q: You have been criticised for circumventing the legal process.

A: Yes, particularly by a television talk show host. I would like to ask that host if some maulvi accused her of blasphemy and she spent a year-and-a half in jail and was then offered a presidential pardon, would she turn around and say, “no wait until my appeal has been heard.” This kind of ‘mummy daddy’ approach is probably fine for others, but I wonder if she would apply it to herself. I don’t think I have circumvented anything; all I have done is to draw everyone’s attention to this case. I have also showed my solidarity with minority communities who are being targeted by this law and, in doing so, I have sent across a strong message.

I have received thousands of messages from people from all walks of life. The result can only be good. This law that no one dared speak about is now being discussed, criticised and its repeal sought. I have heard anchors, journalists, members of civil society, people like Ghamdi, Imran Khan even Rana Sanaullah and many more saying amendments are required. The important thing to remember is that this is a man-made law, not a God-made one. What I find particularly distasteful is that when you speak of amendment, people assume you condone the crime. If I am against the death sentence, it does not mean I condone murder.

Q: Do you advocate repeal of those provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code better known as the Blasphemy Law?

A: If you want my personal opinion, I don’t like this law at all. I understand we are working in a coalition government and that being the case what we can do is to amend the law in such a way that the maker of a false accusation is tried under the same law. There should also be a proper filtration process where someone like a DCO should confirm that there is a case to answer. This will help ensure that pressure from maulvis and fanatics does not result in the victimisation of helpless people. One of the maulvis demonstrating against me said that they killed Arif Iqbal Bhatti, a judge who released someone accused of blasphemy. Surely, at the very least, he should be tried for incitement to murder.

Q: Yes, but the perpetrators get away…

A: The real problem is that the government is not prepared to face religious fanaticism head on. This also gives us a bad name in the world.

Q: Babar Awan, the federal law minister, has said there is no question of repealing the law on his watch. How do you respond to that?

A: Well, I do not agree with Babar Awan, it is as simple as that. That opinion is not a majority opinion in the party. Sherry Rehman has tabled a bill to amend the PPC. Most people in this country – and I am not talking about the lunatic fringe – are moderate. They do not like this law and have demonstrated against it.

Q: Will the PPP support Sherry Rehman’s effort?

A: President Zardari is a liberal, modern man; most people I know in the PPP are liberal and modern. I think the MQM, ANP and most of those in the PML-Q have the same point of view. So if push came to shove and there is no bowing to pressure from the lunatic maulvi, then it can very easily go through. And I think if Nawaz Sharif will show a little bit of moral courage for a change and keep away from his constituency of religious fundamentalism and place himself on middle ground, that too would be a very positive thing. This amendment should come through not on a party basis but across party lines. So you vote with your conscience.

Q: People may have demonstrated against Aasiya Bibi’s sentence, but fatwas have been issued against you.

A: People also issued fatwas against Benazir Bhutto and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They issued fatwas against basant. These are a bunch of self-appointed maulvis who no one takes seriously. The thing I find disturbing is that if you examine the cases of the hundreds tried under this law, you have to ask how many of them are well-to-do? How many businessmen? Why is it that only the poor and defenceless are targeted? How come over 50% of them are Christians when they form less than 2% of the country’s population. This points clearly to the fact that the law is misused to target minorities.

Q: How do you think the media has handled this issue?

A: I am very impressed. Nearly 90% of the media in Pakistan has spoken out against this. I have watched talk shows, spoken to anchors, read numerous columns and opinions, and barring those with a deliberate agenda, not just every media person but also guests on talk shows have openly condemned the Blasphemy Law. They all say it should be amended, which is something which has been the most encouraging result of my move. Because I took a stand, many people have lined up and taken a stand and that, in turn, will empower judges and law-enforcement agencies to the extent that they may not bow to pressure. I think that now a policeman registering a case of blasphemy or a judge hearing a case will investigate before registering or at least think twice before hearing such as case.

Q: What kind of perverse pleasure is there in oppressing the weak and vulnerable?

A: Unfortunately and sadly there are people who feel bigger when they pick on someone who cannot fight back. It’s called bullying. I went to Sheikhupura jail to stand up against a bully and it has encouraged others to do so as well. That’s what taking a moral stance is. I am honestly happy to say that I am heartened by the huge response from ordinary folk. Even people who are deeply religious have spoken out against this black law. Ghamdi, for example, has stated clearly that this has nothing to do with Islam – Islam calls on us to protect minorities, the weak and the vulnerable.

2010 Year In Review

2010 The Year in Review

As 2010 comes to a close, a brief look back over the last year’s major events and some observations about who gained and who lost from each.

WIKILEAKS

-1 Nawaz Sharif’s secret arrangement with Saudi Arabia:
This could have been something or nothing, but it does look bad for the PML-N chief to appear to be prostrating before foreign leaders. Imagine if the same story had come out about Zardari? The media would not have ignored that one, let me tell you.

-1 Media’s ‘Fakileaks’ story:
It wasn’t enough that they were obsessed with the petty name-calling in some of the documents and ignoring the more interesting stories underneath, our media was so hungry for sensational headlines that they ran a planted story that was proven fake within a day. While some of the more reputable media groups took the black eye and admitted their mistake, others like The Nation kept publishing the story, putting a final nail in the coffin of their credibility.

-1 Ahmed Quraishi, The Daily Mail and the whole Fakileaks conspiracy brigade:
Caught with their hands in the jar, these jokers quickly deleted a bunch of their fake news websites, basically admitting their guilt. But rather than go away quietly, we’ve seen an almost endless stream of pathetic excuses for hawking propaganda and exploiting the people’s sentimentalities. Where is the ‘Ghairat Brigade’ when you need them? These guys are a national disgrace.

MEDIA

-1 Hamid Mir scandal:
Here we have a prominent TV anchor who is so wrapped up in his relationships with militants and intelligence agencies that he can hardly keep straight who knows who anymore. Khalid Khawaja loses his life and Hamid Mir finds himself embroiled in scandal. Lucky Mr Mir, this scandal involves murder and not corruption, so the media won’t pay attention for long.

-1 Talat Hussain article about Angelina Jolie:
Really pathetic story, this one. Talat scribbles the most offensive sexist insults all in a botched attempt at playing to the gallery of anti-Americanism. He thought he would get away with it by writing in Urdu, but it turns out Urdu is not a secret code, but a language that intelligent people also speak.

-1 Jang Group operating as political party and not objective news organization:
Jang Group’s anti-government diatribes got so out of control that even the foreign governments started to notice. Not as off-the-charts crazy as some other media groups, there’s still time to fix things. The word on the street is that Mir Shakilur Rahman is trying to rein in some of the worst offenders before things get too out of hand. Lets hope so. Jang Group has a lot of young talent on board, and it would be sad to see some old has-beens sink the ship.

-1 Continued focus on conspiracy theories and silly predictions that never come true:
Despite the defections of JUI(F) and MQM, the government hasn’t been toppled. Gen. Kayani hasn’t taken up any mathematical formulas to subtract one or more Zardaris from the government, and the Americans haven’t invaded and tried to steal our nuclear weapons. Still, stories about CIA controlling the weather and suggesting that donors not give to help flood affectees because of corruption did more to hurt the nation than we want to admit. We’re not asking for a Daily Jiyala, but please, give us the facts without so much masala.

+1 NFP:
Forget Imran Khan, when will NFP start his own political party!

+1 Fasi Zaka article about Aafia Mafia:
Fasi Zaka’s article about the Aafia Mafia was exactly what we need more of from our esteemed journalists – a willingness to tell the truth even when it’s not the ‘popular’ thing to do and call out political leaders of all stripes when they start exploiting popular sentiments.

POLITICAL PARTIES

PPP

+1 Zardari signs 18th Amendment
Despite failed predictions that he was going to be a tyrant behind a wide grin, Zardari voluntarily returned powers that were grabbed under previous “leaders”. Some in the media swore that he would never sign, and when he did they tried to term it a trick. Give the guy some credit where its due.

+1 NOT abusing power
Let’s be honest, despite being heavily criticised by the media and judiciary, the PPP leadership did not abuse its power in the government by throwing out judges or banning anti-government media voices. Yes, some jiyalas may have gotten carried away and there is no excuse for that. Certainly some room for improvement, but considering the way past government have behaved facing much less animosity, I think these guys deserve a thumbs up.

-1 Zardari’s Europe trip during floods
Who signed off on this PR nightmare? Yes, I know such diplomatic schedules are difficult to rearrange, and yes I know that he was ‘damned if you do damned if you don’t’. But they had to know this was going to play badly at home.

+1 Zardari’s Europe trip during floods
While it was a PR nightmare, the trip might have been bad for Zardari and good for the nation. By meeting with UK PM David Cameron, President Zardari was able to secure trade concessions that will help the national economy.

PML-N

+1 Nawaz Sharif’s support for democracy:
From saying that change should only come from constitutional means and the democratic process to coming out strong against Altaf Bhai’s comments about ‘patriotic generals’ to his support – even while being critical – for the government to at least finish its elected term, Mian Nawaz is showing a political maturity that is encouraging and welcome.

-1 Shahbaz Sharif’s “Spare Punjab” statement:
Um, Nawaz buddy, you need to talk to your little brother.

Musharraf

+1 Saying that he will only return to power if the people elect him:
In the beginning of his ‘comeback’, Mushy was playing the right tune and saying that his mistake in the past was ignoring the democratic process.

-1 Saying that the Army should have a constitutional role in governance:
Of course, it is hard for a tiger to hide his stripes as they are a natural part of his being. So it is with Musharraf, and it wasn’t long before he revealed his true colours by going back to calls for military governance.

MQM

-1 Altaf Hussain’s “patriotic generals” remark:
Come on, Altaf Bhai. If even Musharraf understands the importance of democratic process, so should you.

+/-? MQM pulls out from federal cabinet:
It’s a bold move and one that could either see MQM with a greater voice in the coalition, or continue being sidelined as part of opposition. Let’s be honest, even if new elections are held, MQM is not going to make any sweep of power. This one we’ll have to watch into the new year…

JUDICIARY

+1 Resolving 18th Amendment case:
Another nail biting drama from the highest court, but this one ending without causing a constitutional crisis.

-1 Taking up suo moto cases against everything EXCEPT the real problems:
Suo moto is a great power, and it essentially allows the court to decide the direction of the docket. So why so much focus on old politically motivated cases and almost no eye to the jihadi terror groups that are blowing up mosques and schools every day. Someone is supporting these beats, isn’t that the worst corruption case?

-1 Dragging out NRO cases:
These should be resolved quickly or dismissed. Dragging them along is a distraction that we don’t need with the security, economy, and energy sectors requiring maximum attention. It’s time to move on.

MILITARY

+1 Taking the fight to the jihadis:
Whatever interest the Americans have in getting rid of al Qaeda and leaving a stable and friendly Afghanistan, the war against these jihadi terrorists is our war and our sons of the soil are proving that Pakistan’s military is second to none in the world. Any accusations of not taking the jihadi threat seriously are obviously made by people who don’t have the facts correct. We’ve lost more sons and sacrificed more resources than anyone else. And when our soldiers go in to a militant enclave, they clear them out.

+1 Not repeating mistakes of previous generals:
Ten, twenty, thirty years ago this government would have been long gone. It’s a real testament to Gen. Kayani and his commanders that there have been no attempts to seize power from civilian government. Pakistan is a democracy in which the civilian government does its job and the military does its job also. Working together, we can’t be beaten. Seeing the military brass refrain from seizing power and the civilian leaders passing amendments to devolve power shows just how far we have progressed.

CIVIL SOCIETY

+1 Setting aside differences during the floods:
For a short time, we showed ourselves that when we focus on our commonality as Pakistanis we can do amazing things. Why does it take a historic disaster to bring us together? Let’s focus that same energy in 2011 to benefiting the country without waiting for a disaster to occur.

-1 Quickly forgetting the flood victims:
Everyone would give up everything for the flood affectees until the it was asked to update the tax scheme and actually put your money where your mouth is. It’s like when I was a younger man sitting and watching the TV when my mother came in to tell me that I was to begin working for Mr Y. the next day. What!?? I yelled. She said, “You told me you wanted a job, now go!” I said, “Yes, but I didn’t think I would actually have to do it!”

+1 Standing strong during a year of historic challenges and never forgetting the words of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah:

“In our solidarity, unity and discipline lie the strength, power and sanction behind us to carry on this fight successfully. No sacrifice should be considered too great…”

So that’s my 2010 year in review. I’m sure I didn’t cover everything, and I’m sure you have some different opinions also. But don’t be quiet about it – speak up! Who were the winners and who were the losers in 2010 as YOU remember?