Will pedigrees bring change to Pakistan?

PTI is excited to announce that Waleed Iqbal has announced to join their party. Waleed Iqbal says he has never joined a political party before, and has no experience. So why is this announcement hailed by Imran Khan? Obviously, Waleed Iqbal has the only experience necessary…his pedigree.

Waleed Iqbal is the grandson of Allama Iqbal. In case you think this is coincidence, please note that the official PTI website does not even make the announcement by calling Waleed by his own name, simply referring to him as “Allama Iqbal’s grandson”.

This might seem like a big score for Imran Khan and his PTI, but it certainly also deflates any claims about being different from other parties where positions are inherited. After all, without his ancestor, would Imran Khan even care about poor Waleed who he can’t even call by his own name?

So PTI has a new member that can trace his ancestry to Allama Iqbal. Okay, but Yusuf Salahuddin is also a grandson of Iqbal and he is with PPP. Should we start asking which party has more Syeds? If ideology of Pakistan is Islam, shouldn’t this determine which party is best?

Of course not. Such a practice would be silly. Politicians should work to earn our support by their actions and their ideas, not their family history or who was their grandfather. Since he decided to take up politics 15 years ago, Imran Khan has been spending all of his time with people like Qazi Hussain Ahmed. Lately he’s been running around with Zaid Hamid, Ahmed Quraishi and crazy Ali Azmat.

Imran Khan, Ahmed Quraishi, Zaid Hamid and Ali Azmat

Imran Khan, Ahmed Quraishi, Zaid Hamid and Ali Azmat

These are Imran Khan’s ideological inspirations. Now Imran Khan is adding in the ingredient of pedigrees to his ideology, and this is supposed to bring change to Pakistan?

Military Accountability: The Role of Political Parties

The presence of Osama Bin Laden in Abbotabad has led to an opening of a Pandora’s box. The Pakistani military has had to pick and choose from limited options; that is either complicity or incompetence. The civilian government, already incapable of influencing any foreign policy, has once again chosen to side with the military and the intelligence agencies. On the surface, however, they have tried to act tough by establishing an “independent” commission in charge of analyzing the Osama Bin Laden mishap. The likes of Najam Sethi, Nawaz Sharif and Asma Jehangir have already called the commission useless. Nawaz Sharif was upfront about labeling the Osama Bin Laden a “security lapse.” He also criticized the PPP for not trying hard enough to ensure accountability within the military.

It is fair to assume that Nawaz Sharif has been bitter with the military since he was ousted in October 1999. His second tenure as the prime minister was marked with him trying to decentralize the military’s power in the political sphere. General Jehangir Karamat was nice enough to resign in face of civilian aggression, but Musharraf pounched on Sharif’s ego and ultimately ousted him. Sharif finally has seen an opportunity to once again engage in a verbal war with the military( and the election campaign of 2013). This time, the military may have found a more schrewd Sharif, and a public that is more aware of the military’s alleged incompetence. This situation is much similar to 1972, when army dictatorship collapsed.

The creation of East Pakistan sent shockwaves across Pakistan, as it lost 52% of its population within a matter of months. Martial law ended with Zulfikar Bhutto becoming both the Chief Martial Law Administrator and the President of the nation. While the public raised furor over the military’s policies, it was not fully aware of its atrocites in East Pakistan. Zulfikar Bhutto chose to keep it that way. In order to appease the military and ensure his future Presidency, Bhutto decided to conceal the “Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report” from the public. The report was also questionable in nature, as it did not indict General Tikka Khan, a military figure complicit in the army’s lawless actions in East Pakistan. General Tikka Khan went on to serve as the chief of army staff for four years under Zulfiqar Bhutto. The military, after a brief interruption in politics due to unpopularity, reinserted itself back into politics in 1978. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto missed the chance as Chief Martial Law administrator by not conducting a thorough investigation into the incompetence of the army. The result was the reinsertion of Martial Law in 1977.

Today, the PPP has once again allegedly decided to take the easy route by protecting the incompetence of the military. In fear of retaliation and possible aid withdrawal from foreign nations, it has decided to conduct an investigation in accords with the military’s wishes. Now, it would be foolish to assert that the military’s present blunders are remotely comparable to the atrocities of East Pakistan. Similarly, it is also unwise to assume that today’s PPP government is as strong as Zulfikar Bhutto’s government in 1972. Far from it, actually.

The morals of these two situations remain the same though. Public perception of the military is changing, just as it did in 1972. The PPP needs to act together with other civilian parties in order to ensure accountability in the military. It similarly needs to establish a proper independent commission in accord with the consent of the opposition parties. Najam Sethi, a distinguished Pakistani scholar, has critiqued the commission for catering towards the military’s needs. A commission needs to be established for ensuring justice within the military, not one that should be used by a party for political security from the military.

Three years ago, political parties were able to join together to restore the Chief Justice from a military dictator through unity. MQM President Altaf Hussain has already critiqued the alleged extremism within the army, and has demanded swift action within the military. Nawaz Sharif has called for a proper investigation into the blatant “security lapse” of Abbotabad. Imran Khan also wants a re-evaluation of military policy on the war against terror. This is the time for political parties to join together for a cause. Otherwise, public frustration with the military will frustrate itself to passiveness, and parliamentary democracy might once again meets its deadliest foe; martial law.


Fixing the economy requires shared pain

While many economic indicators have shown that the national economy contains significant potential for improvement, progress is slower than necessary to keep pace with the growing population and needs of the country’s poor. Shahid Javed Burki examines the economic stress in the country and notes that one of the largest obstacles to improvement is political parties protecting their base from the possibility of tax increases.

There is no other way out of this quandary than for the government to increase its resource base. But the tax system is proving hard to reform. The various constituencies that support different political parties are not prepared to see an erosion of the incomes of their base that would inevitably result in the short term with higher taxes. The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party has a strong base of support in rural Sindh and does not want agricultural incomes to be taxed. The Karachi-based Muttahida Quami Movement does not want urban services to be taxed. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which governs Punjab and is the largest opposition party, does not want the documentation of the merchant class, which has successfully resisted it. Without documentation, it cannot be brought into the tax net. Politics, in other words, is pulling down the economy. And it is only politics that will bring about an improvement in the economy.

The solution to this impasse will not be easy, but taken together there is a possibility. To succeed, each of the political parties must put the good of the nation above their own drive for power and political gain. This means that every constituency must be asked to share the sacrifice of taxes so that the economy can be improved and programs funded to alleviate the suffering of the poor and hopeless.

Farahnaz Ispahani – PPP: The Hope of a New Pakistan

The following article by Farahnaz Ispahani was originally published by Huffington Post on 1 December 2010.

Farahnaz IspahaniAs we celebrate the 44th founding day of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) today, it is important to remember and retrace the history and the principles of the PPP — its consistent purpose of progressive, responsible and compassionate government. The PPP, which was launched at its founding convention on November 30, 1967, is the only party with demonstrated strength in all of the four provinces of Pakistan. It is and always has been democratic and egalitarian, committed to equal opportunity for people regardless of class, region, religion or gender. From its founding statement to the party manifesto under which it contested and won the 2008 elections, the PPP is committed to the values of faith, freedom, fundamental human rights, and a society based on the rule of law and human dignity. From its founder, Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, to the great martyr of democracy Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, to the current co-chairmen of the party, President Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the party has had an unshakable commitment to parliamentary democracy, accountable government, and democratic civilian oversight of all ministries under the constitution. Some people have talked about change. The PPP has delivered it. Some people have talked about democracy. The leaders of the PPP have lived and died for it.

The PPP encompasses four founding principles: Islam is our Faith; Democracy is our Politics; Social Democracy is our Economy; and All Power to the People. The first principle of the PPP, Islam is our Faith, explains that Islam teaches brotherhood, love and peace. Pakistani’s faith places a responsibility on each citizen to reach out in a spirit of accommodation and tolerance to all religions and sects and to treat people of all faiths with respect, enabling them to enjoy religious freedom and equality before the law. The message of Islam is the message of Peace and are symbolized in the words and verses of great Sufi saints Data Sahib, Shah Abdul Latif of Bhittai, Baba Farid Ganj Shakar and Lal Shahbaz Qalander. The PPP commits itself to religious tolerance. Religious beliefs of individual citizens have little to do with the business of the state, as the Founder of the Nation declared in his inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto spent her last years traveling the world, educating people of all religions and on all continents, that Islam was not the caricature it was painted in the west, but a progressive, tolerant, innovative religion that abhors terrorism and violence, and guarantees social equality. She knew that in the end, she was the Jihadists worst nightmare — an enlightened, liberal woman dedicated to equal opportunity for all Pakistanis. She knew what she was confronting, but she bravely moved forward, teaching her country and the world what courage and dignity and true commitment is all about.

The second principle of the PPP, Democracy is our Politics, emphasizes the PPP’s commitment to freedom and fundamental rights, including freedom from hunger and want, is written in the blood of its martyrs and in the red marks of lashes on the back of its workers. It is written in the suffering and sacrifice of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who faced the gallows refusing to bow before tyranny, defending the human rights of our citizens to the last breath. In every age, including today, the PPP leaders and office bearers have been behind bars, in exile, facing political persecution, defending their Party and its principles at great personal cost to their families and themselves. It is written in the suffering and sacrifice of its leaders the greatest of whom was Quaid e Awam Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, who gave their lives so Pakistan could be truly free.

The third PPP principle, Social Democracy is our Economy, aims at creating a just
and equitable society with equal opportunity for all its citizens. The growing gap between the rich and the poor must be bridged by supporting the underprivileged, the downtrodden and the discriminated. The PPP is proud of being the voice of the poor, the working classes and the middle classes. These policies, while dedicated to the underprivileged, created conditions that enabled the business and trading classes to compete in the open market and satisfied basic human needs including full employment, national health, universal education, water supply and sanitation. Under Benazir Bhutto’s government 89,000 primary and secondary schools were created; 100,000 women health workers spread out across the country bringing health care to villages that had never seen it before; thousands of villages were electrified for the first time; all political prisoners were freed; labor and student unions were legalized; women were appointed to the Courts for the first time in our nation’s history and allowed to compete in international sports; polio was functionally eradicated. It was a record so distinguished that Pakistan under Benazir was awarded the Gold Medal by the World Health Organization, and declared one of the great emerging economies of the world by the IMF.

The fourth PPP principle, All Power to the People, has taken up the task of safeguarding the liberal, tolerant and enlightened values of the country and has been at the forefront in arresting the trends of extremism with its power of people. It has rendered several sacrifices, the greatest being in the early hours of 19th October 2007 when 170 workers of PPP were martyred and more than 500 injured in a bomb blast during a welcome procession of the party’s chairperson Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, on her return to the country after eight and a half year. These workers, mostly young boys, did not just die trying to protect Benazir Bhutto. They died trying to protect democracy in Pakistan. Three and one-half months later, their sacrifice and the sacrifice of our leader Benazir brought free and fair elections to Pakistan, with a democratic government replacing a decade of military dictatorship.

On this day of our founding, we recall both the triumph and the tragedy of our party’s great history — what we have accomplished and what we have sacrificed. Perhaps our greatest substantive and symbolic achievement occurred during this year, when our party led the National Assembly and the Senate to adopt the 18th amendment, purifying our beloved 1973 constitution from the usurpations of dictators. That fight was led by our President Asif Ali Zardari, through an unprecedented, selfless and principled fight to dilute his own power and in the process restore true democracy to Pakistan.

On this sacred day of remembrance and renewal, we reiterate our commitment to follow in the footsteps of our leaders Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to build a modern, progressive and democratic Pakistan in which the poor, the downtrodden and the marginalized sections of society including minorities and women live with honor and dignity.

And finally on this day our thoughts are with the assassinated leaders of the Party Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto as well as to the hundreds of martyrs of democracy who gave their lives for the future of our children. As Benazir so poignantly noted:

“It is because of their sweat, blood and tears that the dream of democracy has survived. It is because of them that dictatorship has not been able to talk root in Pakistan”.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s foundation of the PPP was a setback for the reactionary forces in a country long dominated by the Right. The fight goes on…

Farahnaz Ispahani is a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan and spokesperson for the Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairperson.

Waiting for Ghafoor

waitingIn Samuel Beckett’s play, “Waiting for Godot”, the characters sit and wait for a man named Godot to arrive. They don’t know what he looks like or how to recognise him, but still they sit waiting. At the end of the play they even consider suicide because still he has not arrives, but they just keep waiting. Though he surely did not intend it, Beckett has written a brilliant description of the Pakistani political mindset.

The disconnection between people and politics is illusory, and we really know that. Politics affects everything in our daily lives – traffic problems, the price of foods, getting a job, getting a visa…staying alive…And yet we have treat politics like a dirty word, and the politicians who practise it like dirty crooks.

But it’s too easy to simply call people crooks while we are just sitting around doing nothing. We’ve said it here before that we all have to get more personally involved in politics and stop being content with complaining. Hassan Iftikhar makes the case beautifully in Daily Times today also.

The solution for Pakistan’s conundrum only lies in strengthening the political parties so that the political system gets strengthened as a by-product. It is time that people with opinions on the outside join political parties so that their dissenting voices can be heard at the party meetings. For those willing to venture towards the alter of politics, there is a wide range of choices: for the covertly religious right there is the choice of any branch of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML). For the overtly religious far right there is the Jamaat-e-Islami. If you hold socialist ideologies, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is a safe bet. If covert use of muscle is your fancy then the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is your destination. If you are ‘bigoted’ you can sign up with Imran Khan’s fanciful circus, or if you are the really the ‘enlightened moderate’ kind, Mush has just launched the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML).

But this time, the squabbling masses have to take some responsibility for themselves, they need to be stakeholders in the political process and political parties because minority views in political parties may not be heard, but majority opinion is very hard to ignore — even for the dynastic leaders of our political parties. The current dilemma of our political parties is the lack of committed workers and second-string leaders with any vision for the future.

It’s easy to complain about political dynasties if your political activity never leaves your own drawing room. Perhaps the leadership of the political parties does behave like family business in some regards, but if there is no one else willing to take the responsibility, what choice is there?

We cannot continue to wait for someone else to take care of our problems. There is no political Mahdi who is coming to end all corruption, cronyism, and nepotism. We can sit around waiting all we want, but all we are doing is reinforcing the same political dysfunctions that we are complaining about also. It is up to us to take care of ourselves. No one will do it for us.

And we must not contemplate political suicide by calling for some ‘patriotic generals’ to step in and make yet another coup. It will not be America or the Taliban or the Army or anyone else who can fix the problems in our villages, our cities, and our government. Nuclear weapons cannot feed our families, and medieval clerics cannot improve our economy. We have won the right to govern ourselves through incredible sacrifice. Do not let that sacrifice go to waste.

We cannot complain that there is no hope of getting some influence in politics if we never even try. That sort of fatalism is the attitude of serfs. We are not serfs, we are free men. We must act like free men. We must take responsibility for ourselves and stop Waiting for Ghafoor.