We’re no angels

PTI Karachi jalsa

Imran Khan has done it again. His 25th December rally in Karachi drew crowds of people and added more evidence that those of us who easily dismissed his party as a one-man-show may have spoken too soon. The unexpected rise of Imran Khan, though, actually raises some important questions. Imran’s rising popularity is largely attributable to his never having governed before – or in PTI-speak, his being ‘untested’. This is a fundamental part of his draw because his message is not really that different from any other political party, only with the other parties, nobody believes they are sincere since they have not achieved what they promised when they were given the chance. So my question is, do we have unrealistic expectations about what is politically possible? Is there any politician who can possibly live up to our hopes? And the corollary to that question – is Imran Khan setting himself up for failure?

After years of insisting that there was ‘no place for corrupt politicians in PTI’, Imran Khan himself recently discovered that ‘finding angels to join his party was next to impossible’ and has lowered the barrier from ‘clean’ to ‘repentant’.

When I point out that the ‘bigwigs’ who are swelling the ranks of PTI are the same bigwigs that have been governing for years, the responses I get are interesting. Some say that these people were always clean and virtuous, but were held back by the corrupt leadership of their former parties. The usual saying is that hindsight has perfect vision, but with some PTI supporters it seems more that hindsight is perfectly blind. Otherwise, I’m usually told that, yes, these people were dirty and corrupt, but Imran Khan will teach them morals and ‘clean’ them, as if Imran Khan is not an ex-cricketer but a holy prophet. There are a few still who say that, while they continue to support Imran, they are concerned about what the new, watered down version of PTI is going to end up looking like.

It’s not just what PTI will look like that is unknown. How PTI would actually govern is something of a mystery also. We all know that Imran looks to Allama Iqbal as his ideological inspiration, but who is his governing inspiration? After all, it’s one thing to talk about what government should be. It’s another thing entirely to actually make those changes.

When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto formed Pakistan People’s Party, he too had a populist message that spoke directly to the hopes and dreams of the people. He spoke of strengthening dignity and national pride while reigning in the military’s involvement in government and of restructuring the economy so that the natural wealth of our nation was more fairly distributed among all Pakistanis. Once in office, though, he found quickly that such promises are more easily made than executed. Bhutto help guide the country to great progress, but he made some mistakes, too. Some of these, like declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims, were clearly the result of compromises made with religious groups, while others, like nationalising industries, were simply part of the populist economic thinking of the day.

Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N was born in part from deals with the religious parties and military in exchange for the opportunity to undo much of the nationalisation that occurred under PPP and implement a more capitalist economic system. While this too made some achievements, Nawaz quickly learned that structural changes are much easier to promote from a stage than from the desk of Prime Minister. He introduced laws expanding the Islamisation under Zia-ul-Haq to appease his coalition, but when he began to work to repair ties with India by signing the Lahore declaration went against certain interests and even though he started his first term with the blessings of the establishment, he soon found himself in confrontation and, finally, removed.

Today, Imran Khan too seeks to compromise with the religious right and advocates economic policies like rejecting all aid and loans from the World Bank and IMF that are also likely to result in unintended consequences. It’s easy for Imran Khan and many of his supporters to propose rejecting all American aid. After all, it affects them much less directly, if at all. But what about the poor who rely on government programmes like BISP that are supported by US aid? Last year the Americans gave $85 million to support BISP. Will Imran and his supporters pay this much extra in taxes to make up the difference? Or are the poor supposed to starve in the interests of our national ‘self esteem’?

On the other hand, Imran says a lot of things that sound really great. Imran’s apology to Balochistan at Karachi jalsa is welcomed and a much needed recognition of the situation there, but changing national policies and stabilising the region will require much more than applause lines at rallies. He says he won’t allow any militant group to operate from Pakistan. He says that if he becomes PM, the Army and ISI will answer to him. He says he will set up an “e-government system” which will “automatically eliminate corruption from society”. He promises free legal aid, free health care, free education. He promises that the police will treat everyone equally – from the lowest magnay wala to the PM himself. The tax system will be reformed so that it is perfectly just, and everyone will gladly pay. He says that if elected he will transform Pakistan into a Islamic welfare state with a civil society on par with Britain.

The most amazing thing about this list of promises is that my otherwise perfectly rational friends are accepting them with the most delusional excitement. It’s not that I don’t like some of what Imran Khan says, it’s that even if PTI’s ‘tsunami’ sweeps national elections, achieving even a fraction of these changes during one five year term would be next to impossible. Even two terms is unlikely. And how long until the same people who today complain that the present government has been a miserable failure in its three years of governing will decide that Imran has overpromised and underdelivered? Will we then find ourselves hearing that well worn slogan that democracy is a failure and the military is the only competent institution?

Lasting change is incremental, and it requires changes in more than just PM’s house – it requires changes in our own values and priorities. We’re no angels, and Imran Khan is no saint. We have been unsatisfied with the inability of every government since day one to magically transform Islamabad into London “in my lifetime”. Imran Khan is making promises that he must know he cannot deliver. It might work to win political support as the untested saviour against Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari, Altaf Hussain and the other regular guests. But what happens if Imran actually manages to get himself elected? Perhaps we should stop placing all the blame on incompetent politicians, and start thinking about whether what we want can ever be delivered by any politician, or whether we’re looking for angels.

A Judiciary Gone Awry

“Free Judiciary = PPP Hanged”. So read one of the signs held in the background of the Beygairat Brigade’s “Aalu Anday” video. Though cloaked in an upbeat tempo, it was nonetheless a chilling reminder about the 1979 Supreme Court decision to hang Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. It was a reminder that our courts are not insulated from the chaos of our political realm.

Discerning eyes in our country are alarmed at the demonstrably political direction the Supreme Court has taken on Memogate. The sordid saga has confounded all sentient people. Our able and adroit Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, resigned amid allegations he crafted a memo to Admiral Mike Mullen delivered via Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz. The memo asks the US government for help as the civilian government feared a military coup after the Abbottabad raid in May that killed Osama bin Laden. This tale of intrigue comes to us from Mansoor Ijaz himself, in an op-ed in the Financial Times. Ambassador Haqqani has strongly rejected these allegations, and stated the furor surrounding the letter was being exploited by the opponents of democracy in Pakistan. He offered to resign in order to put an end to the controversy, and vows to challenge these claims in court.

And that is where we are now. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the petitions regarding the memo. Thus far, the Court’s decisions have been very disappointing and one-sided. The Court has barred Husain Haqqani from leaving the country for the duration of the investigation it will carry out. A lead petitioner for that ruling was Nawaz Sharif, leader of the PML-N, the major opposition party to the PPP and its governing coalition. Remarking on the speed with which the Court heard and ruled in favor of Sharif’s petition, the writer Nadeem Paracha tweeted “CJP or CJP-N?” It would be funny if this weren’t scary.

There are absolutely no grounds for putting Ambassador Haqqani on the Exit Control List. He has acted in the most dignified, respectable manner from the onset of this manufactured crisis. It is all entirely based on hearsay – a fantasist’s words that cannot be substantiated, at that. If the Court wishes to intervene, it must do so fairly.

Barring Ambassador from leaving the country flies in the face of fairness, especially since the decision was taken without any consultation or testimony from Ambassador Haqqani himself. He has granted multiple interviews to various media outlets, each time affirming his love and loyalty to Pakistan, and his desire to return home to deal with this controversy. Leading Pakistani lawyer, rights acivist and first ever female President of the Supreme Court Bar Association Asma Jehangir was so outraged by the sheer bias and politicking of the court, that she has committed to representing Ambassador Haqqani in this case.

Ms. Jehangir filed a petition with the court to remove Ambassdor Haqqani from the ECL (Exit Control List), arguing that the court’s decision seemed to be highly influenced by the outrageous media, and appeared strongly politically biased. She emphasized the ECL Ordinance of 1981, which stated only the federal government could place individuals on the ECL, and as Nawaz Sharif had not filed any such petition to the government. Therefore, the court bypassed a procedure required by the law.

“Continued control over the investigation exercised by the court is prejudicial to the accused and detrimental to the fairness of the procedure apart from being without jurisdiction. The court cannot assume the role of the investigator,” the application further added.

The Supreme Court rejected the application, saying that a review petition should have been filed instead. One wonders how the Court, so interested in intricacies, could have been the same Court that didn’t know about the 1981 ordinance. “We will file an appeal against the rejection of the application before exploring the option of filing a review petition,” said the tireless Asma Jehangir to reporters outside the Court’s steps.

She also demanded to know why the Court failed to take into account Ambassador Haqqani’s repeated statements expressing his desire to cooperate and clear his name? He is working with the Parliamentary committee to investigate the details of the memo, and his wish to clear his name is evident to all. Why then, Ms. Jehangir asks, did PML-N move to take their petition to bar the Ambassador from travel all the way to the Supreme Court? It is pure politics, and it is shameful that the Court has allowed itself to be manipulated this way.

If we are to be a sustained democracy, it must come with a clear understanding of separation of powers. While we do have clearly laid out roles, it seems our institutions lack an understanding of just what exactly, their responsibilities are. The Supreme Court should not need reminding of laws, and should instead be the force in our country that upholds them. It has a hallowed role in our country’s democracy, but it is not a political one. It must be fair, listen to all parties, and rule justly. And most importantly, it should not need reminding that one is innocent until proven guilty – not the other way around.

A woman of honour

Begum Nusrat BhuttoAn era has ended. Begum Nusrat Bhutto passed away on October 23rd in Dubai. We have lost a true icon – this was a woman of honor, an elegant and fearless woman who exemplified bravery following the horrific murder of her husband, Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

She was his stunning wife of Iranian heritage, constantly at his side as a supporter and advisor. Her grace in the wake of his murder kept the Pakistan People’s Party united and strong in its darkest days yet. As Chairwoman of the PPP, she led the progressives continuously fighting for a democratic state. With her guidance, the movement for democracy in Pakistan was not allowed to fade away into the pages of history, as General Zia would hope. Instead, the PPP continued working, down but not out. She was a welcome sight often at the side of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. One can only imagine the bittersweet feeling of accompanying her daughter the way she used to her husband.

Begum Nusrat Bhutto beaten at Gaddafi stadiumThe deaths of her sons, Shahnawaz Bhutto (under mysterious circumstances in 1985) and Murtaza Bhutto (killed by police in 1996) took a toll on her none of us can imagine. After the death of Murtaza, she withdrew from public life. It was later revealed she was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. She had been living in Dubai with Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in her last years.

Nusrat Bhutto lived a life dealt too many traumas and tragedies. Through it all, she held her head up high, always proud of the work of her husband. She galvanized the PPP, not just in word, but in deed. She faced Zia’s brutal regime like a rock, refusing to back down and facing beatings by his thugs. Pictures of her being beaten outside Gaddafi Stadium speak volumes about the strength of character. She was a beacon of strength for the progressives then, as she is an eternal inspiration for us now.

It is often said Pakistan’s real strength comes from its women. If that is true, then we all work in your shadow, Begum Sahiba.

Rest in peace, noble lady.

Is Pakistan Governable?

Mohammad Waseem, professor at the prestigious LUMS, asks in Dawn today, ‘Is Pakistan Governable?‘ His piece echoes the fear and despair that has sunk into the hearts of many of our brothers and sisters as it seems we are living through a period when bullets are easier to come by than electricity. The good professor is understandably frustrated with the state of the nation, but I’m afraid his frustration is clouding his judgment.

Professor Waseem expresses his frustration by laying the blame for all society’s ills at the feet of the present government, accusing political leaders of being “grossly engaged in the game of survival in office” and unable – or unwilling – to deliver to the people. But is this true?

Writing in the same newspaper three years ago, Professor Waseem noted that the newly elected Zardari-Gilani government inherited dysfunctional institutions and an abused public.

The PPP government faces an uphill task in terms of addressing issues relating to the inflationary spiral and the much-feared economic meltdown. What is required is the qualitative input of the best available talent in the country in the formulation of policy and the allocation of resources. The ruling set-up very much needs to cultivate its profile as a government by policy not patronage. It needs to develop the potential to swim through contradictory currents of agenda in the war against terror on the one hand and the political and religious sensitivities of the public on the other. While the formal transition from military to civilian rule is complete, the government needs to address substantive issues relating to the bar and the bench and the Seventeenth Amendment.

All governments are tasked with reform. Greece is struggling with debt, India is struggling with corruption, the Americans are struggling with political gridlock, Mexico is struggling with security. Our government was immediately tasked with not one major task of reform, but all of them. Despite these challenges, the government has managed to make some progress.





National Security


The most important point, however, remains the fact that high drama projected from media, the coalition has not fallen apart, and opposition parties have chosen to use the political process and not try to upend the chessboard to seize power. Even the so-called ‘war’ between the executive and judiciary was proven to be nothing but a TV drama when Justice Iqbal declared that “all differences will be settled with consensus rather than conflict”.

Obviously, this does not mean that there are no problems still facing the nation. Law and order situation in Karachi must be solved. While the extension of Political Parties Act and amendments to FCR is a good start in FATA, still more must be done to integrate the region’s citizens. And more must be done to address concerns in Balochistan also. Questions about how the world’s most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan must be asked and answered honestly, even if the answers are embarrassing. And we need a national dialogue on the prejudice and sectarianism that underlies so many of these issues that tear at the fabric of our nation.

But just as serious problems remain, it’s not quite fair to suggest that our political leaders regardless of party are ignoring the problems of society. What Professor Waseem identified as areas that needed to be addressed by the present government have largely been addressed, even if incrementally. If the present government is bowling yorkers, the professor is moving the wicket.

In another 2008 piece, Professor Waseem noted that the nation’s institutions had suffered “an enormous beating at the hands of the fourth coup-maker in the history of Pakistan”, and warned that “If Musharraf strikes again, he will do so with the support of this unrepresentative and career-oriented elite which is imbued with a supremacist ideology rooted in paternalism”.

Today, he says “Only a strong, authoritative, confident, legitimate and responsible government can deal with the turbulence all around.” It is easy to wish for a more perfect government, but governments are made of people, not angels. The present government was elected by the people, and in less than two years, the people will return to the polls to decide who will take over and carry on. Whether that government is led by the PPP or some other party, it will face the same complicated and difficult problems, and easy answers will remain the elusive smoke of campaign speeches.

Whether the choice of the people meets the hopes of Professor Waseem, I would only remind him of his own words written three years ago: “A move backwards to the age of non-representative rule cannot and should not be allowed ever again.”