Lords and Masters

There seem to be two common ideas that PTI walas are pushing in their support for their Kapataan: One is that Pakistan needs Dignity, Integrity and Self Respect. The other is that PTI has achieved a sweeping popularity, or to use the unfortunate choice of metaphor of PTI General Secretary Arif Aliv, a ‘tsunami’. The first issue I have dealt with before. Today, though, I want to address the issue of PTI and democracy.

Last weekend, Islamabad lawyer and PTI wala Babar Sattar wrote another ode to the rising Kaptaan that made some curious claims about the role of democracy in Pakistan. According to Babar, “support for democracy in Pakistan is waning because people are losing faith in the electoral system as a mechanism for change”. I found this very puzzling. How can people lose faith in the electoral system after only one election? Thankfully, Babar explains it for us mere mortals.

If all that the electoral process can do is either maintain the status quo or redistribute power in varied proportions amongst the same discredited players, should we not brace up for a long dark night with no stars on the horizon? If democracy continues to be defined by this garbage-in-garbage-out politics, how will continuity of the process help?

In case you have not had the privilege of legal training, let me decipher this for you. The electoral system is a failure because people are electing the wrong leaders. Democracy is only good if it results in the right outcome. And who decides what is the right outcome? Apparently, Babar Sattar does.

But Babar is no dummy. The problem, he explains, is that the people have not had a choice that represents pure, selfless good. According to Babar Sattar, “this is where Imran Khan offers a glimmer of hope”. Because unlike MQM which is “out of ideas”, ANP which has “lost its ideology and its soul”, Babar Sattar says PTI offers the following:

  • “[Imran Khan] has positioned himself right of the centre in the company of good-for-nothing religious parties company of good-for-nothing religious parties”.
  • “The structure of [PTI]…can’t boast of reputable second-tier leadership, transparent decision-making processes and internal democratic mechanism that would prevent it from evolving into another autocratic party masquerading as a champion of democracy”.

The good news, according to Babar Sattar, is that despite the fact that his party is filled with a third-rate anti-democratic leadership that keeps company with good-for-nothing religious parties, Imran Khan brings a lot to the table. For example, Babar lists the following:

  • “Celebrity”
  • “A career of distinction as a sports hero”
  • “Philanthropy”

Babar admits that these are not “not endearing” qualities, so he goes on to list what I guess are supposed to be Imran Khan’s “endearing” qualities. Please allow me provide a brief translation for those who have not been fully indoctrinated into the ‘Cult of the Kaptaan’:

  • “Ability to speak unhesitatingly with candour” (Translation: He speaks without thinking.)
  • “Dogged faith in his own ability to foster change” (Translation: He’s an unrepentant narcissist.)
  • “His perseverance in politics despite being dismissed by pundits as a viable alternative to the mainstream parties” (Translation: He refuses to learn from his mistakes.)

According to Babar, Imran Khan believes that “ordinary people are the lords and masters of Pakistan”. Of course, it’s these “ordinary people” who keep electing “garbage”. One would think that if Imran Khan truly believed that ordinary people are the lords and masters of Pakistan, he would respect their decisions in elections.

And this brings me back to the question of this transparent attempt by PTI supporters to put into people’s heads a belief that PTI has massive support even though they can’t seem to win any elections. Does PTI believe their own hype? Or are they preparing to take another beating in the next elections by preparing to term the elections as bogus when they don’t win?

In an ironic turn of events, the American Ambassador to the UN Susan E. Rice yesterday congratulated the people of Tunisia on their elections.

Finally, the United States congratulates the Tunisian people on the reported high turnout in Sunday’s elections for a Constituent Assembly. This is a milestone on the Tunisian people’s path from dictatorship to a democratic government founded upon respect for the will of its citizens. We look forward to working with the people and government of Tunisia, including the new Constituent Assembly, over the next phase of their country’s historic transition.

The Americans are congratulating Tunisia after the people elected a moderate Islamist government (surely not their top choice), while PTI terms the people elected by Pakistanis as garbage. It makes you wonder really believes that the ordinary people are lords and masters of their own fate?

Pakistan’s Black Water

The Raymond Davis case continues to be passed around like a bowl of sour milk that no one wants to end up with. After the Foreign Office neglected its duty to determine the American agent’s diplomatic status and passed the case on to the LHC, the LHC has now determined that it too does not want to be responsible for making the determination and has passed the case on to the trial court. Meanwhile, religious groups continue to use the case to organize protests and conspiracywalas in media are making a picnic out of fears of American agents roaming the country and undermining Pakistan’s democracy. But while the hue and cry against American agents interfering against Pakistan’s sovereignty, hundreds of foreign fighters have been entering another Muslim country to undermine its own democratic movement and nobody seems to be paying attention.

Bahrain protesters attacked with tear gas on 13 Mar 2011

The people of Bahrain, following the example of Tunisia and Egypt, are attempting to rid themselves of a corrupt and brutal regime. The country’s rulers have responded by cracking down on pro-democracy protesters and declaring martial law. But those enforcing the corrupt government’s rule are increasingly foreign agents recruited to stamp down on pro-democracy protestors. But these foreign agents are not from the US – they are from Pakistan.

According to the Ahlul Bayt News Agency, a classified advertisement entitled “Urgent Requirement: Manpower for Bahrain National Guard” was recently placed on the website of a prominent Pakistani human resource firm that has close ties to the Pakistani military.

The advertisement said Bahrain was seeking to hire several categories of ex-military personnel, including anti-riot instructors, Pakistan Military Academy drill instructors, retired infantry majors, and military police.

The advertisement added that a delegation from the Bahrain National Guard would be visiting Pakistan for the purpose of selecting the Pakistani personnel from March 7 to March 14.

It is difficult to confirm the exact number of former Pakistani soldiers who have been recruited in response to the recent ad, but sources claim as many 800 Pakistanis have been hired in the past few weeks.

Human rights activists have long complained about the controversial practice of hiring large numbers of foreigners to serve in the Bahraini security forces to suppress political dissent in the kingdom.

Bahrain’s police, military, and national guard are staffed in large part by non-Bahraini citizens, mostly from Pakistan, Yemen, and Syria.

It is bad enough that the complaints against foreign agents in Pakistan are shown as sheer hypocrisy on the world stage, but there is a much more dangerous element to this story that must be examined. Pakistanis recruited to serve as pro-regime agents in Bahrain are not only undermining democracy in a Muslim state, they are also stoking sectarian tensions.

Earlier this year, Syed Nadir El Edroos asked ‘Will Bahrain’s sectarian divide impact Pakistan?’ In his post for Express Tribune the author makes an important point.

What makes events in Bahrain relevant to Pakistan is the sectarian divide in the country.

The Sunni minority in Bahrain has monopolised power while the Shia majority is systematically marginalised from public influence and control. With Saudi Arabia’s support, the Shia population has been systematically oppressed, as the fear of Iranian influence in Bahrain is considered a strategic liability.

Bahraini security forces recruit from across the region. Pakistanis, particularly from Balochistan along the Makran coast, are favoured recruits.

These Pakistanis are viewed as instruments of state oppression by the protestors. If the Bahraini regime were to fall, Pakistan as a willing supplier, nay ‘facilitator’ of Bahraini recruitment will not be viewed favourably by a new set of leaders.

Pakistan’s involvement in sectarian tensions in Bahrain could result in an even more dire outcome for our own country because it threatens to worsen sectarian tensions not only within our borders, but with our neighbor to the West the Shia state of Iran.

Pakistan itself is no stranger to sectarian violence, which has intensified in recent years. If the Bahraini regime falls as the Saudis and American’s fear, it would be seen as and portrayed by Iran as a victory of her interests. This would push the Saudis to intensify support for organisations that share it’s goals of containing Iran.

Such support for organisations in Pakistan, could lead to sectarian attacks and reprisals.

Though Nadir warns of this outcome in his post, I fear he misses the more important point. The correct strategy to protect Pakistan’s security is not to prop up the corrupt and anti-democratic regime in Bahrain, but to support democracy and the people of Bahrain deciding their own government. We must not take part in the same interventions that we complain of within our own borders.

We must face the fact that we have our own Black Water and that our own agents are propping up corrupt and anti-democratic regimes in Muslim countries. This not only undermines any moral authority we have to complain about foreign agents on our own soil, but in the worst case it threatens to undermine our own security as we experience ‘blow back’ from sectarian violence.

Lessons from Tunisia: Familiar Faces After a ‘Revolution’

Tunisia protestersIt has become as predictable as the sun rising each morning. Some country will grow tired of corrupt and heavy handed leadership, mass street protests will arise, and a plane carrying the head of state will depart for Paris, London, or Rihadh. BBC will broadcast the celebratory gunfire and the ‘soft revolution’ will be awarded the name of some colour or spice. Then the same cast of characters in the media will begin asking why this same ‘soft revolution’ doesn’t happen here. But does such a ‘soft revolution’ make sense for Pakistan? Or is it just another excuse to avoid the hard work required by democracy?

Now that the celebrations are starting to wind down and the people of Tunisia are taking a look at their new government, what they’re seeing looks a lot like what they had before.

The prime minister said opposition leaders would have cabinet posts, but the ministers of defence, interior, finance and foreign affairs would keep their jobs in the new government.

He named Najib Chebbi, founder of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), which opposed Ben Ali, as minister of regional development. Ettajdid party leader Ahmed Ibrahim will be higher education minister and Mustafa Ben Jaafar, head of the Union of Freedom and Labour, health minister.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, really. A couple of years ago when it became fashionable among the intelligentsia to long for ‘the Bangladesh model’, the unspoken truth is that even after the caretaker government there, the new government was led by Sheikh Hasina Wajed – the head of the Awami League, former Prime Minister and daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The main opposition, the Bangladesh National Party, is still led by Khaleda Zia who was outgoing Prime Minister when the Army intervened. So, the Bangladesh Model resulted in the same people in power even in…Bangladesh.

This makes sense, really – a government has to be run by people who know what they’re doing. Bureaucrats are highly trained, specialized careerists. You wouldn’t ask just anyone off the street repair your mobile or your computer, so why would you think that anyone off the street could run a country of 180 million people?

Throwing out everyone and starting from scratch was tried once, and it was a lesson well learned. When the Americans invaded Iraq, they proceeded to undertake a process they called ‘de-Ba’athification’. Anyone who had been a Ba’ath party member under Saddam Hussein’s government was sacked and not allowed to hold a government position.

As a result, the government became dysfunctional because it lacked the skilled bureaucrats necessary to provide adequate services to the people. Additionally, the broad sweep sacked individuals who were competent and good at their jobs. Most government workers are not corrupt, so getting rid of them was eliminating the good with the bad.

Tunisia is not making the same mistake, but that’s not satisfying the unrealistic expectations that always come with these ‘soft revolutions’.

“We do not trust this government because there are the same faces, like Ghannouchi … and particularly Friaa,” said passerby Mohamed Mishrgi. “It’s as if Ben Ali’s system is still there. It’s for that reason that the demonstrations are continuing in Tunis. We want a new state with new people.” Another passerby, Hosni Saidani, added: “It is difficult to trust these people because they participated in Ben Ali’s system but they did not have the courage to say to him, ‘Stop.’ So how can they make a change towards democracy?”

The problem here is similar – instead of looking to ourselves for the solutions, we keep looking to someone else. We keep saying, “let’s get a new government” without realizing that WE are the government. It’s a natural mistake to make after living for so long under the rule of dictators to treat democratic governments the same way – something you can swap out for a new one.

But the only way we’re really going to see the progress in economic development, security, and governance is going to be if we do the hard work required to strengthen the democratic process and the rule of law. We’re making progress on this, but some people are impatient to see faster results. That’s understandable, but we can’t let it threaten to undo the progress that we’ve made so far.

As the people of Tunisia are quickly learning, their is no magic solution in government. It takes time, patience, and the willingness to come together to make things work. We have already done the hardest part by casting off our dictators and taking control of our destiny. Maybe the changes do not happen as fast as we wish, but it’s better than the alternative. Just ask the people of Iraq.