Thursday, February 28, 2013

PMLN Stands A Bright Chance to Win the Elections

By Saeed Qureshi
The credible indications are that Pakistan Muslim League under its leader Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif would capture maximum seats in the forthcoming general elections and thus emerge as the majority party. Since it is entering into electoral alliances with ANP, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pir Pagara’s functional Muslim League and National People’s Party, it may form the next coalition government at the center.

It appears that since presently, the PPP does not enjoy the traditional popularity with the masses; it may not be able to win adequate numbers of seats in three provinces of Balochistan, NWFP and Punjab. In Sindh, it could have a split mandate to be equally claimed by MQM in Karachi and Hyderabad. 

The level of disenchantment is quite high against the incumbent government in the center and also in the Sindh government. But since MQM vote bank is always safe due to ethnic unity and because of severe backlash against those not voting for the MQM, it may win all or most of the seats in their controlled constituencies.

It would be desirable for the PPP to take the backseat and re-formulate its strategy for the next elections in 2018.  The PPP leadership should go for introspection as to how it could not robustly deliver this time and therefore reorient its programs and policies to gear up for the next election season. If PPP returns to its pristine image and reboots the manifesto unfurled by the chairman of the party ZAB in 70s, it has the potential of staging a comeback.

Despite PMLN being betrayed after initial political alliances with the PPP, it has been vehemently opposing hijacking of power by the army. It opted out of the coalition with PPP and preferred to play the role of the so-called friendly opposition that facilitated democracy to survive for five years.

Despite a chaos ridden five years period of PPP in power, the PMLN refrained from making efforts to oust the PPP from power or proverbially fish in troubled waters.

Now elections must be fair and free and without malpractices. There is a danger of turmoil if the parties that lose allege rigging or fraudulent practices against the party that carries the day. The country cannot afford further agitations and protests and lockouts and mess and crisis. The parties that lose should accept their defeat in good grace and in the supreme interests of the nascent democratic caravan to move forward.

If Pakistan can sustain another five years’ democratic spell, it would by all reckoning, have a safe and glorious future. Democratic bond is the strongest bond in the contemporary world to keep the nation together and govern the country with consensus. It is an effective recipe to foster internal cohesion and unity. It commands universal respect.

Notwithstanding, the bitter political rhetoric and scathing polemics, the glaring fact is that the PMLN government in Punjab has achieved several milestones for the progress and advancement of the province. Chief minister Shahbaz Sharif is sincerely trying to make the social environment better by providing indispensable facilities like infrastructure, roads and comfortable transportation.

He has zealously labored to promote education and health facilities in his province. The lawlessness and violence that is relentlessly endemic in other provinces, is much less in Punjab.

The Sharif brothers have learnt bitter lessons during their exiles in foreign lands for almost 8 years. It is hoped that the stiffness of disposition and punitive tendency in Nawaz Sharif must have mellowed down after spending many grueling years out of Pakistan. 

Now he should, for the sake of the democratic order to continue, learn to accommodate divergent opinion and not jump to reprisals, such as attack on the supreme court of Pakistan in 1997. He should desist from removing one army chief after another unless there would be inevitable grounds for doing so.

Nawaz Sharif is a true son of the soil whose merits are quite a few and studded with landmark laurels. He was one prime minister who despite inexorable multi-dimensional pressures both internal and external, went ahead with atomic tests following the Indian explosions. 

He was the one in whose tenure Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee travelled to Pakistan by bus and recorded indelible pro-Pakistan views at Minar-e- Pakistani. The signing of Lahore Declaration for mutual peaceful relations was a landmark achievement for both the countries.

Pakistan and India were well on the way to mending their fences and enter into a new phase of good neighborly relationship. There could have been the possibility of cutting the ‘Guardian Knot’ of Kashmir, had he not committed the blunder of sacking the then COAS, Gen.Pervez Musharraf in a clumsy manner resulting in the advent of military rule once again.

It would be safe and objective to hazard a guess that a quid-pro-quo would be possible between him and the religious extremist groups including Taliban. That might come as a soothing and most sought-after turn of events in the troubled and violence marred landscape of Pakistan.
During the times of Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto, Karachi was bedeviled with violence and the outlaws and criminals of all sorts were at the rampage.

There were, thugs, rogues, killers, desperadoes  and brutal ethnic militants playing with the city’s peace and the situation was horrendously precarious. But when the state machinery was mobilized with full force, the peace and normal life returned. Although many an innocence citizen may have perished in the cleanup operations yet a greater good was much better than a little infringement of the established rules.

One would hopefully believe that if PMLN forms the government, it would herald a new era in the troubled and chaotic history of Pakistan. The new Nawaz Sharif would not be a nonchalant and emotional young man of 90s but a much reformed, diligent and sober person who would do the right things for Pakistan.

He may not indulge in money making scams and shun bending laws and amending constitution for self perpetuation and for serving interests of party cadres. If he comes clean, he would make history both for himself as well as for Pakistan.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Kashmir is a Lost Case for Pakistan

By Saeed Qureshi

India and Pakistan have been dueling with each other since 1947 for accession or occupation of Kashmir. Both are stuck up on the line of control ever since and presumably would remain so in the future as well. The Kashmiri nation, ethnically different from the people of Pakistan and India cannot travel across the artificial border.

India makes a legal case for her occupation of Kashmir by citing the agreement reached with the Dogra monarch Hari Singh ruling Kashmir at the time of partition. Pakistan’s claim on Kashmir is based upon the partition formula stipulating that the majority of the religious population would be basic criterion for a state to join either India or Pakistan. 

In simple terms it means Muslims majority areas to join Pakistan and the Hindus majority areas with India. India’s claim for annexation of Kashmir is based upon the then monarch of Kashmir Hari Singh’s hasty accession to India.

Because of the unrelenting insurgency and continuous internal unrest in the Indian occupied part of Kashmir, India started deploying security forces through 1990s under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act ( AFSPA) that continue to remain camped on the Indian side of Kashmir ever since. Lately their number has reached 700,000. This is the highest number of armed forces deployment by any country in the post world war in the disputed territories.

The stationing of such massive military presence is a counterpoise to the Pakistan much smaller military deployment in Pakistan’s controlled Kashmir. The deployment of Indian military and para military forces   is aimed at suppressing any riots and internal liberation movements launched by the freedom fighters from time to time. The Indian army has been accused of gross human right violation and perpetration of civilian casualties.

The population of Kashmir in both parts under India and Pakistan is around 16 million. Out of this 12.5 million live in the Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir and the remaining 3 million in the Azad Kashmir part of Pakistan. With the phased addition of 700,000 Indian security forces the population in the Indian part of Kashmir has soared to over 13 million thus changing the demographics.

Such a colossal presence of army means that India does not trust the local Kashmiri Muslim population. It means that for every 20 citizens there was one Indian soldier. There are no confirmed reports that the army officials are entering into matrimonial relations with the local girls. But with the army camps all over, the contacts between the local population and the army rank and file cannot be ruled out.

 The Indian army is free to arrest, kill or incarcerate any person or group suspicious of being anti India militant or covertly to overtly involve against India in a liberation struggle. There have been unmarked graves that are alleged to be the insurgents killed by the Indian army and buried there. But on the positive side Indian army has engaged itself in education projects and provision of social services to win the sympathies of Kashmiris and to mitigate the anti-Indian sentiment.

Pakistan and India have fought four wars over Kashmir but none has been conclusive in favor of either by way of total invasion or conquest of Kashmir. These wars were fought in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999(Kargil). The Kashmir territory is occupied by three regional countries. India possesses 39000 sq miles, Pakistan 33000 sq miles and China occupies 14500 sq. miles.

Pakistan controls the North West region that includes northern areas and Azad Kashmir. India occupies the central and southern portion of Jammu, Kashmir valley and Laddakh. The areas under Chinese sway are the northeastern tracts, Trans Karakorum and Aksai Chin. In addition, major portion of Siachen glacier including Saltoro ridge passes are held by India. The lower portions of Saltoro Ridge are under the control of Pakistan.

Following the initial skirmishes between India and Pakistan, during 1947-1948, a ceasefire was agreed upon between the two belligerents under the UN auspices (resolution 47). The resolution called for holding a plebiscite for eliciting the opinion of the Kashmiris whether they would opt to join Pakistan or India. However, such a plebiscite has never been conducted.

The final, yet abortive military incursion was attempted was made by the president Musharraf to get hold of the Kargil heights. Due to a drastic divergent of stands between the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and president Musharraf, as well logistic bottlenecks, the mission resulted in a terrible fiasco for Pakistan. Although in the initial stages Pakistani forces occupied strategic locations but then had to vacate those under massive Indian response as well as under the intentional pressure.

The stalemate over the final resolution of this most lingering dispute between the two inveterate neighbors is likely to continue indefinitely until both agree to earnestly find its mutually acceptable solution. But such a solution can remain elusive as the Kashmiris nation itself is divided on a consensus formula that could bring an end to this tricky impasse entailing appalling loss of human lives besides prolonged bondage of a nation through use of force.

One faction of Kashmiris wants to align with Pakistan, the second want to join India and the third asserts for an independent Kashmir. India tacitly prefers to convert the existing line of control as a permanent border. Perhaps Some Pakistani rulers such as Nawaz Sharif were also in favor of such a solution. But even this more pragmatic way-out would still not be adequate to quell the anti India-sentiments and uprising in its entirety in the Indian held Kashmir.

The ongoing times are not conducive or fruitful for a conventional wars in which one would subdue the other by sword or through better fighting skills. Nor is it a time for the lion hearted to prevail because even a meek or faint-hearted can shoot others from a hidden location. 

As such neither country can attain a military victory unless one of these has superior weaponry and larger force. In this case it is India that enjoys both these upper edges. Traditionally Pakistan has seldom proven to be a matching fighting force, though its military have fought well in 1965.

In the initial stages after the partition there was reportedly an offer from India to swap Hyderabad Deccan with Kashmir Valley. But this offer was spurned by the then Pakistani leadership. India thereafter annexed the princely state of Hyderabad by a military operation. Thus an invaluable option for resolving the Kashmir dispute was wasted by Pakistan. 

India’s use of force for annexation of Hyderabad carried the argument that since it was a state with majority Hindu population, India had a right to forcibly annex it. But paradoxically this formula was set aside in the case of Kashmir where Muslims are in majority.

Even if by some miracle Pakistan wins the Kashmir case in the international court, India would never relinquish her hold over that enchanting and strategically crucial valley. Nor would India care to ever hold a plebiscite in Kashmir fully mindful that such step would go in favor of Pakistan. 

Israel is one example in such a scenario which occupies the Palestinian territories by brazen violation of rule set out by the UNO charter. Yet Israel cannot be forcibly pushed out by the rebellious Palestinians or by dint of international opinion. Pakistan as such should treat Kashmir issue as a closed or lost case.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Slaughter of Shias in Pakistan

By Saeed Qureshi

Pakistan was created for the Muslims of the sub continent to live in peace and to be immune from the domination of the Hindu majority. I would not prefer to go into the rationale and justification of that decision on the part of the Muslims leaders then fighting for an independent Muslim state.

What I want to emphasize is that the treatment that Muslims of the subcontinent feared from the Hindus, the same awful treatment is being meted out to the Shias that patently are a sect within Islam like many other sects, including Wahabis, Brelvis, Deobandis, Ismailis, Qadria, Chishtia, Naqshabandi and Suharwardi.

The Shia –Sunni fratricide however started following the death of Prophet Muhammad on the issue of his successor. Thus Islam was divided forever, into two branches.  The Sunni claim that the appointment of first three caliphs was right. The Shias believe that the caliphate which they term as Imamate was the divinely ordained right of a member of the bloodline of prophet, who they claim was prophet’s son-in-law and cousin brother Hazrat Ali.

The day Pakistan was declared as the Islamic Republic, the seeds of the sectarian discord were sown. Not only was that but the country pushed into the lap of the cruel and merciless religious bands getting stronger with the time passage. With the time passage, the religious animosity and cutthroat sectarianism has attained new horrendous heights.

Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) is a Sunni Deobandi Pakistani organization. It was formed in 1985 by a conservative Sunni cleric Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, in collusion with the then military dictator Ziaul-Haq. Its tacit and declared goal then was and is to stem the spillover influence of 1979 Iranian Revolution in Pakistan. When Pervez Musharraf banned it in 2002 as a terrorist organization, it reemerged under a new name “Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat.

The Lashkar-e- Jhangvi is a breakaway faction of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. It was established in 1996 by two former stalwarts of SSP namely Riaz Basra and Malik Ishaq. LJ has ties to the  Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan( IMU), Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Al-Qaida, and Jundullah. 

These and other religious militant factions have been wreaking havoc by fomenting sectarian wars and forcing the respective government in Pakistan to accept their dictates. Since its establishment, the SSP and LJ have launched countless attacks on the Shias, their religious processions, shrines and mosques killing them in innumerable numbers.

Recently, in such sectarian attacks, the LJ have claimed responsibility for 10 January 2013 bombing, killing 125 Shias. It has also claimed responsibility for the latest 16 February Quetta bombing killing 81 and wounding 178, mostly Shia people.

The Shias have also been retaliating from time to time in launching counter attacks and killing the prominent SSP and LJ leaders. Some of the prominent LJ leaders, targeted by Shia attackers are mentioned here. Jhangvi was killed in 1990.

His successor Zia-ur-Farooqi died in a bomb explosion on January 19, 1997 at the Lahore Court. Farooqi’s successor Azim Tariq was killed by gunmen in October 2003. Riaz Basra was also killed in 2002 in a cross fire between the Shia militants and police on one side and his fighters on the other.

In August 2009 Maulana Ali Sher Hyderi, the fourth chief of SSP, was killed by Tehreek-e-Jafaria extremists while traveling by car through Khairpur district in Sindh. Another leader of LJ Abdul Rauf was killed by extremists in February 2010. All these killings were carried out by the Shias to avenge the death of their community members.

In regards to Balochistan, while the peace in that volatile province is nonexistent for a variety of factors for several decades, no serious efforts have been mounted to establish writ of the government and restore much needed law and order. The most a government could do was to hand over the governance to the armed forces of Pakistan.

The Baloch separatists received a new fillip after the cessation of former Eastern wing of Pakistan. Also with the killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the insurgents and separatists got a new lease of life to continue their covert violent activities. The rebels wanting independence of Balochistan may be small in numbers but they possess the capacity to create mayhem because they operate clandestinely.

Politically no meaningful efforts were made in the initial phases of the simmering insurgency and initiation of the movement for an independent Balochistan. There is no doubt that India and other foreign powers are interested in further truncating Pakistan to serve their respective agendas.

India and the western countries including America would not want the Gawadar Port to be fully functional and handed over its charge to its builder China. The latest devastating killings sprees of the Hazara Shias seem to be the warning shots or a revenge action for handing over the administration of the Gawadar port to the Peoples Republic of China.

The inimical powers that want further partition of Pakistan, also want a buffer zone between Iran and Pakistan so as to launch the operations against the Islamic republic of Iran. It is understandable that Israel along with Saudi Arabia and other conservative Sunnis states would not like Iran to emerge as a strong partner in the Middle East.

The only way to keep a close eye on Iran is to have an enclave from where the anti-Iran insurgency can be effectively launched. There can be no better place for that than Baluchistan.

Baluchistan has been grossly mishandled by the successive governments in Pakistan. Balochistan voluntarily joined the federation of Pakistan when the Indian subcontinent was partitioned into two independent states. It is still a part of federation. In case of East Pakistan, it was due to inept handling of the Pakistan army under Yahya Kahn that led to the bloody insurgency and thus that vital part of Pakistan broke away from the federation.

The brutal treatment meted out to the Shias is now assuming frightening dimension, further undermining the   fragile law and order situation in Balochistan. It can explode into a full-fledged sectarian war that can be exploited by such powerful groups as Balochistan Liberation Army and anti- Pakistan foreign powers.

The maintenance of adhocism or the status-quo or handing over the control to the army is not a permanent solution to that incendiary situation. It is a colossal issue that needs to be resolved with utmost sagacity, statesmanship and objectivity.

The incumbent government falls short of that criteria. Admittedly, under the 18th amendment, the provinces particularly, Balochistan got more powers, resources and independence. However, that remarkable measure would remain counterproductive, unless the flames of insurgency are doused and the uprising is nipped in its bud.

There is a dire need for a comprehensive and far reaching strategy to be put in place by all the stakeholders including the local patriotic leaders, the army, the political parties and the religious sects of all hues and cries to restore normal life in that strategically important province.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

If PPP is voted out of Power!

By Saeed Qureshi

Let us first of all give due credit to the chairman of Pakistan People’s Party( PPP), also the president of Pakistan Jinab Asif Ali Zardari for achieving an historic milestone despite heavy odds and visibly insurmountable obstacles.

The bandwagon of the democracy that took a fresh start with the 2008 general election was somehow saved from being derailed or ambushed. There were several occasions for the army to step in and reestablish military rule. One such elephantine occasion came upon the assassination of Osama Ben Laden on May2, 2011.

The army could have exploited the collusion of the government with the United States for providing vital information to the latter and sidetracking the army and indirectly creating a subterfuge to malign the army for its inability to intercept the helicopters carrying the killer navy seals.

The internal deteriorating law and order situation, the lingering Karachi mayhem, the sectarian strife, the depleting civic amenities, the soaring cost of living, the mounting stories about the unbridled corruption of the PPP  ministers and standoff with the judiciary were some of the grave right or wrong pretexts that could have enticed or impelled the army to take over power.

There was also a strong possibility for the PPP government to be divested of power, after the PMNL left the government at the center. Mr. Zardari very shrewdly erected another coalition with the smaller parties MQM, ANP and later with the PMLQ to sustain the democratic set up. Although in such an endeavor, PPP’s own interest was involved. 

Yet to save democracy from being short-circuited either on the call of the adversaries or clamor of the proponents of the army rule or under pressure from rampant violence was indeed accomplishment of a proverbial Herculean task that is simply admirable.

But beyond that marvelous achievement, the PPP government and its ministers have earned more flak and infamy for willful misuse of power and all kinds of massive malpractices such as gulping nation’s funds, manipulating kickbacks and extracting commissions.  President Zardari has earned the singular notoriety of being the most corrupt head of state, having scores of offshore accounts to launder or conceal the wealth earned through dubious and questionable means.

The PPP coalition government, in the overwhelming public view, is not an efficient and honest dispensation. It is a common perception that its stalwarts were obsessed only with fattening their kitties and bank accounts. The ill-gotten money pours in buckets from top notches greedy traders, the stock holders, the land grabbers, the importers and exporters, the industrialists and similar midnight dacoits.

Many a national organization, running in order and were profitable, were closed down or were deliberately made to suffer egregious losses to the tune of billions. Out of many, let us name Karachi Steel Mills, the national power grid, the railways, the national airline PIA.

All these glorious establishments fell prey to the unbridled greed, willful incompetence and studied negligence of the ministers and bureaucracy.Rather bureaucracy and special interests groups have been hand in glove with the cabinet ministers, the members of the national assembly as well as Senate for a gruesome historic rip off of the national exchequer.

Due to rampant and unrelenting lawlessness, the inexorable anarchy and religious militancy, Pakistan has immensely suffered both economically and socially during the last five years of the democratic rule than earlier periods both political and military rules. The PPP government has failed to restore peace and order. Even now mayhem of bloodletting spawned by the sectarian or criminal gangs is vigorously rife taking away lives of the helpless citizens.

There is a lurking suspicion in the minds of so many Pakistanis that some stalwarts of the PPP along with army conspirators were behind the broad day light murder of the PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto on 27 December 1977.  This apprehension also involves the ferocious Taliban but they have defiantly debunked the charge of being responsible for BB’s assassination. One thing is good about Taliban that they do not mince words and state stark truth.

Then rental power units’ mega scam might be another stumbling block for the people to vote for the PPP candidates in droves and with traditional fervor. The incumbent prime minister is seen as the main culprit in that billion dollars rental power scandal crafted with great dexterity.

Mercifully, due to the robust intervention by the superior judiciary, that all time high fraud had came into the public limelight. Pitiably, the man who was responsible for such a mammoth financial fiasco was elevated to the highest office of the premiership.

Bu the most overriding complaint that the people of Pakistan nurse against the PPP under the incumbent leadership is that it failed to address the most urgent and pressing problems of the downtrodden people of Pakistan. As we all know these relate to power outrages and black-outs, the escalating poverty, the mounting cost of living, the adulteration in every everything for human consumption, be it sugar, flour, the food products, the medicines, spices, gas and oil.

Rape, homicide, mugging, snatching cars and mobiles, torching opponent’s shops and factories and extorting money are now common crimes that the PPP government has been taking lightly. One vital step of confiscating illegal weapons has not caught the attention of the government. Obviously, if there is no check on guns, the killers would use them to kill the peaceful citizens.

With this backdrop of dismal performance and poor track record of serving the people of Pakistan, how would the PPP return to the power with the popular mandate? For these five years Pakistan has been in a state of inertia because of the morbid status protected and maintained by the rulers. Or else it was seized by a virulent commotion because of the burgeoning violence and a civil war.

Sindh province considered to be unassailable forte of PPP seems to be cracking and there are strong indications that the votes would be divided between PPP and other political outfits. In other provinces the turnout would not be very promising for the PPP because of the entrenched disenchantment with the miserable performance of the present government and the widespread impression of its being corrupt and devious.

With supposedly PMNL taking the lead and forming the government, the political chess would be juxtaposed. All those cases adjudicated by the courts and verdicts handed over but stalled by the PPP regime could be reopened and enforced. Many of the linchpins of the PPP would have to face the consequences which could be grave.

All the hushed up money scams and sleazy scandals would resurface and the PPP cohorts and others involved would face the jarring music. Zardari’s offshore accounts cases, the Memogate case and rental power bombshell, Benazir’s mysterious murder, several similar outstanding cases could also be revived.

The perpetrators of all those crimes and gross dereliction of duty would try to flee away to safe havens abroad where they were, before the proclamation of the NRO. They might be declared absconders and could be brought back in Pakistan to face the ominous consequences.

But there would be one disheartening development. The legendary chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry would have retired by time and perhaps no one could replace him for the courage and conviction that he possesses to safeguard the dignity of the judiciary.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Ingredients for a Glorious Pakistan

By Saeed Qureshi
Throughout its existence since August 14, 1947; Pakistan has perennially remained in troubled waters. From the anarchy of the initial years to the interspersing of democratic stints, to military dictatorships, it has been overshadowed by a constant threat of disintegration as a state. This disintegration came off in 1971 when its eastern part then known as East Pakistan was truncated.

 While East Pakistan changed her nomenclature to Bangladesh, the West wing came to be known as Pakistan. It was a cataclysmic event that happened in contemporary history when a state dismembered barely 24 years after its birth and independence from the colonial rule.

All these years, Pakistan earned strictures such as a failed state, a country not viable to stay on the world map and a nation moving towards eventual extinction or another disintegration a la East Pakistan. Pakistani society is infested with myriad chronic problems that range from poor social and utility services to unstable or dysfunctional institutions and sway of reactionary cutthroat religious militants. The competent, efficacious, egalitarian and public welfare oriented governance has ever remained elusive.

The mutual bickering and intolerance of the politicians kept the functioning of democratic form of government fragile and vulnerable to army intervention that always stepped in as an interim arrangement. Yet in due course the army would consolidate its rule as long as it could hang on.  As such a stable democratic culture could not take roots.

The state governance and power wielding alternated between a non-representative military set up and the political power grabbers who were more concerned with their power and pelf than the national interests. In this pernicious musical chairs game the welfare of the people and development of the country was always kept on back burners.

Pakistan is in dire straits once again. The people favor a popularly elected system of government as was evidenced in the February 2008 general elections. This election was more of a no confidence vote against the Musharraf quasi dictatorship. 

Yet at the same time, it vividly demonstrated that the people of Pakistan were aware of the importance of a system of governance based on adult franchise contested between the political parties. At the moment when the incumbent government is managing to hold on to power, the country has been turned into a war zone by latter day Islamic warriors.

The PPP landed in trouble no sooner than it came into power. It is also trying to maintain and buoy up the rotten status quo. At the outset, it was locked in a political tussle with its coalition partners over restoration of deposed judges, choosing the president and the strategy to deal with the ballooning insurgency and upheaval in Northern areas and tribal zones of Pakistan.

Over all these five years, the PPP government with the help of the armed forces has failed to rein in the militants. Even if the militancy is finally nailed and wiped off in Pakistan, the price would be too high to imagine in terms of disintegration, loss of human lives and economic ramifications.

The incumbent coalition government has been embarking on the same track that was being traversed by Musharraf in combating the religious militants. Pakistan army has been braced for over a decade now against the radical religious bands to honor Pakistan’s commitment with the international community to annihilate terrorists. Pakistan has been reaffirming her role as an unflinching ally of US in latter’s war against Islamic extremists.

In such a bleak and murky scenario, the amelioration of the appalling socio economic problems of the people cannot be effectively addressed with the urgency and seriousness that it merits. The economy of Pakistan is in doldrums and seriously impaired to an alarming extent as evidenced by an all time high inflation and parity rate between dollar and Pak rupee. Apart from other countless maladies we have seen a whole panic stricken nation waits in long queues for a bag of flour.

A nation is decaying and dying on account of hunger, disease, deprivation and poverty and rotten civic life. All these afflictions fallen on a Muslim nation of 190 million still struggling for its survival are the consequences of the wrong doings of the leaders, lacking vision and sincerity. The motives and agendas of successive leaders have been to capture power and milk the national exchequer.

Every year loans of billions of rupees are so conveniently written off. These loans are granted to robber barons whose bellies and bank accounts are already bulging like swelling balloons. There is least accountability for rapacious robbing of the national wealth which must be spent on people’s welfare and country’s advancement.

Pakistan is in emergent need of a new revolutionary social contract that should encompass radical remedial changes in every domain and dimension of our society. It should start from abolition of feudalism and Sardari system to abundant and adequate availability of civic facilities namely electricity, water, transportation, good roads, railways, jobs etc. Social and legal justice should be liberated from the onslaughts of the pressure groups and influential individuals.

There is an appalling mess everywhere that instead of diminishing is accentuating. Democracy is the finest system of government provided it can ensure social justice and equality of opportunities and basic services. We need dedicated, visionary, and honest leadership that can put Pakistan on the way to economic and institutional stability, as we witness in the Western countries.

It all depends upon the quality, sincerity, and caliber of the leaders whether they make or break a nation. We in Pakistani have been having gangsters, thugs, custodians and savior of an exploitative system with such despicable manifestations as feudalism, elitism, untouchable military and civil bureaucracy and so on.

It is therefore; absolutely imperative that Pakistan’s socio- economic and political landscape must be completely reoriented and refurbished. The status quo must be quashed, and new vigorous radical and revolutionary agenda should be evolved. A new social contract must be written that brings about structural and institutional changes in all spheres of society.

The change in attitudes, social behaviors, the modernization of civic facilities and social services should be accorded the utmost and top priority to ensure a decent living. The Pakistan nation is mired in a primitive mode of life with rampant superstitions, myths of mystical healings and fanciful stories of the past beguiling the people to remain mentally backward.

Pakistan is stuck in a morass of abysmal degradations of all kinds: open sewage lanes, cattle stalking, pollution of smoke and noise, human and animal excretion blanketing the entire country, pervading stink in the air, traffic madness and overstuffed public vehicles, life threatening adulteration of food and medicines, vermin infested water, power cuts et el. 

The officialdom and the departmental network are corrupt, too ill equipped, too poorly financed and too outdated to take the bull of these stupendous problems by horns.

Here are a few broad outlines of a social contract or an agenda that can be instrumental in initiating the much and long coveted transformation in Pakistan. As already stated only a leadership that is genuinely sincere and dedicated to making Pakistan a modern, progressive, prosperous, democratic and egalitarian state can enforce it. 

There might not be immediate and forthcoming results but a direction and course would be set in motion and the first momentous steps could gradually change the whole dismal scenario into the resplendent one with hope and a will to move forward.

  1. The galloping growth of population should be restrained both by persuasion and official caveats. Two children recipe is certainly desirable and ought to be made binding.
  2. For devolution of powers, rapid and optimum progress, Pakistan needs to have more provinces. The existing administrative divisions should be changed into province. Besides creating more provinces out of existing four provinces, the FATA, Kashmir and Northern Regions should also be designated as provinces with maximum autonomy, permissible under the constitution.  
  3. The constitution should be re-written with necessary additions and subtractions. All those caveats should be expunged that bar Pakistan from being a true federation, a genuine democracy and modern polity. The present government has introduced a few meaningful amendments in the constitution but more are needed such as abolition of feudalism and separating religion and state.
  4. While the Feudalism, Sardari and clannish over-lordship in all shades must at once be abolished, the taken over lands should be effectively and veritably distributed among landless peasants. People should be freed and liberated from the centuries old vestiges of land-based fiefdoms and indigenous colonialism by taking away the privileged positions and royal status of super land lords against their tillers and bonded labor.  The divisions and discriminations of being high and low between citizens should be replaced with equality for all. This is what our religion warrants and this is what a modern civil society demands.
  5. The pivotal role of judiciary must be ensured and strengthened at all costs by creating an independent judicial system consisting of intrepid, clean, conscientious and upright individuals who cannot be influenced by any trickery of bribe, pressure, political influence or similar other questionable and dirty means. All court fees should be abolished. The Accountability courts should form part of the judicial system. Pakistan can take a cue from other modern societies for establishing a strong and transparent judiciary.
  6. The entire civic and municipal system should be completely revamped .The civic problems are directly related to the people’s lives and their mental and social awareness. People are desperate to have their pressing and local irritants such as orderly traffic, trash collection, encroachment and cattle free footpaths, streets and roads to be addressed effectively and regularly. For these fundamental reforms the “City and County” system of local governance should be adopted whose blueprints can be borrowed from the United States or any western society.
It would be an epic milestone if the people in the coming elections vote for the candidates and parties that relatively have a clean record and a fair name in the public service. If the same chronically corrupt leaders and highway robbers return to the assemblies, Pakistanis will forfeit a unique chance for a big leap forward and a rare choice for a better future, although physically it may still remain on the world map.
The esteemed readers are welcome to add their input to these measures.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Was Pakistan destined to be a Theocratic State?

By Saeed Qureshi
Was a country that came into being in the name of religion destined to be a theocracy in the longer run? And that is what exactly happened with Pakistan. Pakistan is awash with radicalism and fundamentalism. The religious militants have taken Pakistan hostage.

The sectarianism is assuming monstrous proportions and running amok with the social peace and stability of the country. The founders would have never imagined that in the state they are striving hard to create, the religious sects would slaughter in public view their opponents and still get away from justice.
The civil liberties in the Islamic state of Pakistan are fast disappearing. The national institutions like police, courts, municipalities, post offices, banks, schools, hospitals, water and power, transportation, taxation and revenue collection are in a state of continuous decay and dysfunction.

All these state building departments are infested with unremitting maladies of corruption, malfunctioning, red tape, disorder, and lawlessness. The visible progress that one can witness is the number of mosques growing; the religious traditional events celebrated every year with renewed passion and fanfare and sectarian vendettas escalating.
If this nascent country was supposed to be rampaged and taken over by bigots and religious reactionaries with no vision of civility and the need of a civil society, then better it was not created. The cut throats fundamentalists force the people to remain stuck up in the past, follow the rituals and then feel free to indulge in any conceivable villainy, wickedness, lawlessness and rioting.
A good citizen, a good human being and a good Muslim are the benchmarks to be set in a civilized society specifically in a country like Pakistan with an official religion. Perhaps in Islam and in other religions, all these three facets merge in varying degrees.

In Pakistan, unfortunately, we are neither of these. The religious robots are being manufactured by the preachers, clerics and upholders of theocracy that are mentally barren about the imperatives of a modern society and its fundamentals.
The conflict between state and religion has started after the state of Pakistan came into being. Prior to that, under the British rule, the sectarian bad blood and mutual annihilation, the sway of religious factions and the ensuing massacres were almost nonexistent.

This is one of the great tragedies of the modern times that a state that came up in the name of religion, is now hostage to the religious lords and fanatics who brook no mercy and no humanism. They forcibly drive the people to adopt a way of life that is out of sync with the imperatives of a modern civil society.
The Islam that they project, profess and force down the throats is not the real Islam. It is a distortion and deformed version of Islam depending upon the sect one belongs to.  In Pakistan the religious fundamentalist are serving Islam in getting it a bad name.

A liberal and progressive Islam could be the answer to integrate the tradition with the modern. But the emphasis of the religious clergy is on a kind regimented theocracy that did not exist even in Medina during the time of first four caliphs.
Now an orgy of bloodletting is sweeping across the whole country. The barbarous religious militants equipped and armed with all kinds of deadly weapons have managed to strike terror in the hearts of the citizens with loathsome and bestial acts. They kill at will; kidnap for ransom, slaughter kidnapped captives if the ransom is not paid or if they belong to a different sect.  They target mosques, shrines and funeral processions, destroy schools, publicly flog outgoing women and behead the religious rivals.
The Islamic radicals pick up the youth from the religious seminaries and train them into suicide bombers. They do not feel any qualms of moral or religious conscience in marrying underage girls with old bearded Jihadists and militants.
This is how they spread the Islam: by intimidation, by fear and hair-raising punishments and by bombing and brutal vendettas. They do so because they earnestly feel that what they were doing was religiously justified as for them killing of infidels and modernists was a religious obligation. Now if the saner and educated Islamic scholars bear with these distortions and defacing of Islam, how a true Islamic polity could emerge that could be the envy of the non-Islamic world.
But the tussle between a progressive (Ijtehadi) Islam and the orthodox with improvisations by the opportunistic, ignorant, illiterate clerics fixated on rigid rituals and traditions has been there for centuries. There has never been a consensus on a unified code of Islamic creed or set of beliefs. 

Within Pakistan the cults of Taliban and the Jihadist groups profess and follow another kind of Islam that looks barbarian and savage in contrast to what the prophet of Islam preached and passed on to humanity under the divine command.
Just picture if you can, every male having a long beard, with a heavy turban over the head, every female confined within the four walls of the house. She can come out only if covered from top to bottom in a baggy veil with holes in front of the eyes. 

The modern gadgets as cell phones, computers, and televisions are all banned as instruments of Satan, and impiety. The children permitted to attend solely the religious schools for cramming the Quran or Suras or learning the etiquette for praying, fasting and performing rituals.
The other branches of knowledge from Sociology to Physics are banned for being Unislamic. The human and fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, expression and pursuit of religion, the choice of job and entertainment would be effaced from the society.  The pagan justice of beheading even for the minor to major crime would be imposed.
If you are ready for this kind of life in Pakistan, I am ready too. If this is the antithesis and negation of the pristine Islam and creation of an island of ignorance, oppression, medievalism, and robots to stereo-type certain dictated rules then let us accept it or challenge it.  Can we, born in an enlightened age, wage a war against such antiquated and pitilessly rigid way of life?
There is a dire need to reinterpret Islam by fusing its fundamental obligations and beliefs, with the ingredients and imperatives of the modern society. We should not opt and resign to a frog’s life living in a well.  The lethal sectarianism within Islam has undermined its conceptual and doctrinal unity and sublimity since the beginning.   
Now Islam is divided into various sects. Can we make it possible that all the sects coexist and follow their tenets without fear and hindrance? Can we make a broad-based and tolerant civil society where there is freedom of practicing any religion? Why Pakistan should be singled out to be the citadel of Islam. Before partition in 1947, no parts of the undivided India or Indian Muslims were ever looked upon as the only defenders of Islam. Islam does not need custodian in particular areas. It is universal religion and would remain so on its own strength and merit.  
Why can’t Pakistan be a progressive modern state with an Islam that is permissive and goes hand in hand with the basic imperatives of a modern state? Should we become another Saudi Arabia or another Iran for implementing strict and orthodox versions of Islam at the cost of a free society and by sacrificing sectarian harmony? Shall Muslim societies remain backward intellectually, scientifically, technologically and socially under the misconceptions that such dimensions were against Islam?
The indispensable need of the present times is to cast away conservatism and embrace also what was beneficial for the Muslims as human beings and citizens of a modern state. Pakistan has got to be liberal, enlightened, and secular state within the framework of Islam.  Islam was there when Pakistan was not born and would be practiced if God forbids Pakistan disappears.
The religious right groups want political power and then forget the remarkable aspects of Islam and humanitarianism. Their narrow agenda is to freeze or turn Pakistan into a medieval state.
The newly elected Egyptian president Morsi of Muslim brotherhood is caught up in the same dilemma. The majority of Egyptians do not want a rigid and reactionary Islam. we in Pakistan need an enlightened and forward looking Islam, not the one that looks like an island of ignorance and primitiveness catapulting brutal sectarian feuds, bigotry and ruthless cults like Taliban.