Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009 Happy Pakistan Series – Get Out of Self-deception

2009 Happy Pakistan Series – Get Out of Self-deception

Columnist Irfan Husain writes exclusively for Pakistan Paindabad.

[Text by Irfan Husain; picture by Azlan H]

When you hit rock bottom, you have no place to go but up. The year 2008 has been a turbulent one for Pakistan, starting with the riots that shook the country after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, to the economic meltdown that had Asif Zardari’s government asking for a bailout from the IMF. But the high spot of the year was Pervez Musharraf’s exit and the induction of an elected government.

While the Mumbai attack was a tragedy for India and a disaster for Pakistan, it also provides an opportunity for the latter’s leadership. Hopefully, the horrifying incident has opened the eyes of Pakistan’s establishment to the dangers our home-grown terrorists pose, not just to India, but to ourselves.

Having pushed the two nuclear powers to the brink of armed confrontation, the bloody terrorist assault might yet focus minds in Islamabad.

My hope for 2009 is that there will be a firm consensus about battling the menace of extremist terrorism, and that the civilian government will form a durable partnership with the army high command to eradicate this domestic and regional threat.

Rather than live in a permanent state of denial, I hope more Pakistanis will emerge from the self-deception they live in, and face facts.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Special Editorial – A Happier Pakistan in 2009

A Happier Pakistan in 2009

Eminent Pakistanis to share their optimism with Pakistan Paindabad.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; picture by Kashif Qadri]

Afternoon, December 29, 2008. This is a time of transition. The year we are living in is about to die. How will the New Year be?

2008 had started on a gloomy note for Pakistan. The nation was in mourning following Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Now, after 12 months, the nation still seems to be in mourning. The wound still appears to be fresh.

On December 27, Bhutto’s first death anniversary, a friend from Lahore sent this sms:
It (Bhutto’s death) is a loss for all time to come.

The friend maybe right but can a nation survive by constantly feeling the absence of a leader? A leader who was both loved and hated with an almost equal intensity?

I talked to other Pakistanis, too, asking them about all the good things that happened this year. Most shrugged their shoulders and said nothing nice happened.

Really? Doesn’t it register to anyone that Pervez Musharraf, that seemingly death-defying invincible dictator, was forced to relinquish his power this August? Not by another coup but by the popular will of We The People.

There was more good news: democratic elections, a new government, a new President. This year also saw author Nadeem Aslam’s new hauntingly beautiful novel The Wasted Vigil. Another Pakistani author, Mohammed Hanif, made his impressive global debut with the funny, provocative and teasing A Case of Exploding Mangoes. Moni Mohsin’s The Diary of a Social Butterfly fluttered quite a few butterflies of even the faraway Delhi.

Who says there was no good coming out from Pakistan in 2008?

What about 2009?

Pakistan Paindabad regrets to note that both sort of people – those who love Pakistan and who don’t – are of the opinion that there won’t be much to look forward to.

Pakistan Paindabad disagrees.

In order to find out what good can be expected from Pakistan next year, this blogsite has invited several eminent Pakistanis like Irfan Husain, Ardeshir Cowsajee, Hassan Abbas, Sehba Sarwar and many others to share their optimism. This special series will start from the first day of 2009. Watch this space.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Remembrance - 6:16 pm, December 27, 2007

Remembrance - 6:16 pm, December 27, 2007

On Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s first death anniversary.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi; picture by Kasper Olsen]

December 27, 2008: It’s been one year since Pakistan got a Benazir-shaped hole in its body politic. Much has changed in the country and yet it appears nothing has fundamentally changed. Pakistan Paindabad relive the fateful moment that hit the world this day last year.

Begum Nawazish Ali, TV Host, Karachi

I was in Karachi, sitting at Aaj TV’s director-entertainment office. In fact, it was Aaj TV which first broke the news. We all screamed and could not believe it. I have met Benazir thrice in my entire life and she was always extremely gracious towards me. I owe my career to her. As a child I always wanted to be Prime Minister. I could not become PM but I became an actor by mimicking Prime Minister Benazir. Her death has been a great loss.

Professor Ishtiaq Ahmed, Columnist, Singapore

I was watching the first India-Australia cricket test match at Melbourne when a woman journalist from the Singapore Asian News Channel called me and broke the news. She wanted a telephone-based interview for my reaction. I was quite shaken to hear the news but it was nothing surprising. I just felt very sorry for Benazir.

Ardeshir Cowasjee, Columnist, Karachi

I was watching TV in my bedroom. The obvious reaction of a human being about the violent death of a fellow human being – enhanced because one had known her father and met her.

Khalid Hasan, Journalist, Washington DC

I was in Burlington, Vermont, when a morning TV programme I was not quite watching was interrupted for the flash announcement that Benazir Bhutto had been injured in an attack. She was also said to have survived. But the sense of relief was short-lived because the next announcement said she was dead. My reaction was (and remains) utter disbelief.

Shandana Minhas, Novelist, Karachi

I was in my apartment with my sister and her four-year-old daughter, visiting for a week from abroad, when my mother called with the news. I thought she was joking. Then I turned on the TV and realised she wasn't. I was shocked; half convinced it was a hoax. It took a day to sink in. BB wasn't a saint, but that doesn't make what happened to her any less tragic or horrific.

Kamran Shafi, Columnist, Wah

I was recording a long TV programme at Dawn News in Karachi with some other people. At first the news did not sink in - when it did, 3 minutes later, I just burst out howling. I am devastated.

Raza Rumi, Blogger, Lahore

I was in Ajmer Sharif, India, on my annual visit to pay respects to the great Khawaja when I heard about this ghastly incident. Having returned from the famous dua-i-roshnaye (the pre-sunset prayer), the state of calm, my friends and I were jolted by this news. For the first few minutes I could not believe it and hoped that this was a repeat of the October 18th suicide bombings where BB was miraculously saved. But it turned out to be horrifyingly real and painful. I was numb for a few minutes and thought of my beloved homeland and our collective lives.

To say that this was a great loss would be an understatement. Benazir was always a symbol of hope and change; and to imagine a country without hope is pretty drastic. Thus the shattering of the individual and collective hope, the faces of her three young children and her larger than life, and beautiful persona mingled with tears and a deep pain that refuses to go away.

My leader is not dead, she is immortal now - she faced the bullets with grace and proved that she was the most courageous Pakistani politician of the recent time. Pity for Pakistan that lost her.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Karachi Diary - In Love with Arundhati Roy

Karachi Diary -  In Love with Arundhati Roy

A young Pakistani besotted with an Indian passport holder.

[Text by Kazim Aizaz Alam; picture by Pradip Krishen]

Arundhati Roy epitomises intellect, boldness, righteousness, beauty and character.

The strongest desire that I harbour is that I meet this wonderful woman in person and let her know how much I revere her.

I heard her name first perhaps when I was in the university. A friend told me that she came to Karachi in April, 2002, for the launch of Najam Sethi-Salmaan Taseer’s Daily Times. I will always regret that I didn’t go to listen to her speech. I did not go because I did not know. I did not know because I was always pre-occupied with (and looking forward to) saying my three-time prayers at the local Shia mosque.

By the time I graduated I had become a liberal. I also remember purchasing Roy’s Booker-winning The God of Small Things from a second-hand books’ dealer. But I returned it the next day since I couldn’t appreciate (or understand) her language. It was only after I got a chance to know about socialism that I, sort of, rediscovered Arundhati Roy.

Just Google “Arundhati Roy interviews” and there comes a dozen or so web links. One by one I read each of them with the glee of a six-year-old. Roy’s sentences are like, as they say, pearls turned into a necklace. She is sharply critical of the exploiting classes and that too with a caustic touch.

For instance, in one of her interviews, she says: “(The Indian state) has a lot to teach the world about how you manage dissent. You just wear people down, you just wait things out. When they want to mow people down, when they want to kill and imprison, they do that, too. Who doesn’t believe that this is a spiritual country where everybody just thinks that if it’s not okay in this life it will be okay in the next life? Yet it is one of the most devastatingly cruel societies. Which other system could dream up the caste system? [It is equally true of Pakistan where caste system is in full action, particularly in rural Sindh and Punjab — Kazim] Even the Taliban can’t come up with the way Indian civilisation has created Dalits.”

Ghalib said the following verse probably keeping someone like Roy in mind:
Dekhna taqreer ki laz’zat ke jo uss ne kaha
Mei’n ne ye jana ke go’ya yeh bhi merey dil mein tha


Today, the door of the my room has a photograph of Roy along with that of Che Guevara, besides a poster of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s everlasting poem, “Bol ke lab azad hain tere”.

One couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty of Arundhati Roy. Ignorant friends often confuse her be an actress when they see her photograph in my room. One guy asked me what was the use of her photograph (in which she looks stunningly beautiful) in my room. “If you like her thoughts, why can’t you just admire her by reading more of her stuff,” he asked. “Why put her photograph in your room?”

“Why didn’t you object to Che’s picture that is hanging next to Arundhati’s?,” I shot back. “ Maybe I’m a bisexual and I like men as well as women.”

Just because Arundhati Roy happens to be an elegant woman, besides being a radical intellectual, it shouldn’t mean that I stop being myself. Who should I remove photographs of all those people who I feel closed to?

By the way, the photograph under question is exceptionally well and portrays the natural beauty of Arundhati Roy. Maybe because it has been taken by her husband. He knew the real depths of her beauty and was thus able to bring out the purity and charisma of her sensitive soul.

It is people like Arundhati Roy who make the world a livable place. I wish we had a few like her in Pakistan, too — but alas, we have none.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Viewpoint - Should Pakistan Hand Mumbai Suspects to India?

Should Pakistan Handover Mumbai Suspects to India?

A look at the costs and benefits.

[Text by Gaurav Sood; picture of the Pakistanis protesting against Indian allegations by S.Murtaza Ali]

Columnist Irfan Husain, writing in Dawn on 26/11 Mumbai attcks, finds Pakistan government’s denial of access to 20 terror suspects to India on basis of legalese, patently disingenuous.

“While defending Pakistan recently, our foreign minister was quoted as saying that we were a “responsible state”. And when India presented our government with a list of the names of 20 people accused of terrorism against our neighbour, spokesmen immediately demanded to see the proof against them. This legalistic approach would have carried more weight had the Pakistani state shown this kind of respect for the rule of law in the past. But given the frequency with which ordinary Pakistanis are picked up and ‘disappeared’ by organs of the state without any vestige of due process, the claim to responsibility rings a little hollow.

Indeed, a responsible state would hardly allow the likes of Maulana Masood Azhar of the Jaish-i-Mohammad; Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar-i-Taiba; and the Indian criminal Dawood Ibrahim to run around loose.”

While Mr Husain focuses on the hypocrisy of a ‘responsible state’, a stronger argument can be made on basis of rather minimal costs for such an enterprise.

Benefits

Handing over suspects will likely strengthen the hands of moderates in India, and perhaps dampen the chances of BJP coming to power in elections next year. This argument is reasonably important given negotiating with sane people is a necessity, though arguably BJP at least for some of its time in power was predisposed to following a sane strategy.

It will be a potent gesture towards extremist organizations (domestic), India, and US. I believe any such handover ought to be accompanied by negotiations with India and US and perhaps getting some guarantees on issues of interest, and it ought to be done in blaze of media glory to burnish Pakistan’s image.

Handing over 20 people to India – even if they aren’t involved in the attacks – is probably the most painless of the gestures that Pakistani government can make to address the media inflamed demands of India and US.

Costs

As Mr Husain says, the arguments made about inability of handover aren’t real – not because of legal issues, and not because of stated weakness of Pakistani political establishment. Pakistani political establishment lacks power due to two reasons - lack of public support for measures which may be seen as blatantly catering to Indian whims, and existence of a powerful military with interests that are different than the political establishment.

Politics is often circumscribed by incorrect perception of political costs; Public opinion constituencies can be ‘shaped’ to line up behind cogently argued, and aggressively marketed policy initiatives. It is lack of political entrepreneurship behind good policy – which probably stems from rampant cynicism and preference for ‘safe’ choices - that dooms most policy exercises.

There is perhaps a genuine opportunity for some Pakistani leaders to craft constituencies by taking an appropriately framed response around handover of the 20 people to appeal to vast majority of their countrymen.

The second point would about weakness of political forces vis-à-vis military establishment is powerfully highlighted by Army Chief General Kayani’s refusal to allow ISI chief to travel to India. However, it is but one instance and ought to be considered in lieu of the following facts – ISI chief is probably directly under the protection of the military, India’s demand for ISI chief was mostly a political maneuver and India would have used the visit for primarily political point scoring.

On the issue of handing over suspects, it is quite likely that the PM and president can use the leverage provided by Indian and US pressure, and the media brouhaha, to negotiate some kind of deal.

Even if we assume that handing over all 20 people may be a particularly costly strategy for Pakistani establishment given its weakness, it is always possible to ferret out more than a few of these people by negotiating deals with others. I say this because we know that the interests of even ‘jihadi’ organizations are often contraposed.

I believe handing over terror suspects is perhaps an optimal strategy to quickly firefight the situation at limited cost, and to likely benefit Pakistan's long-term interests.

[This piece appeared here in a longer form]

Friday, December 05, 2008

Viewpoint - Pakistan After Bombay 26/11

Pakistan After Bombay 26/11

Policy shift needed, not war.

[By Raza Rumi]

The dastardly attacks in Mumbai have irritated the old wounds and replayed the familiar, jingoistic tunes across the Indo-Pak borders. The Pakistanis, clamouring for friendship with their larger and problematic neighbour, have condemned these attacks in no uncertain terms.

Who could be a worse victim of terrorism than Pakistan in these extraordinary times? Yet, the Indian media and sections of its establishment are quick to involve 'Pakistan' as the key perpetrator of the terror regime. This has obviously angered some and allowed a few Cold-War practitioners to call for self-defence and fighting with India till the last.

The truth is that much of Pakistan does not want war. Hopefully, the Indian citizens are also not looking at war as a solution, or so it seems.

It is almost a cliché to state that war is not a solution to the current imbroglio despite the hysterical calls by the Hindu right to 'neutralise' Pakistan. The saner elements in India have already pointed to the implicit and deep-seated issues of misgovernance, short-termism and the mess of Partition that were neither carefully deliberated nor rectified during all these decades.

The non-state actors in both India and Pakistan have gained ascendancy due to the power distance of the Raj induced steel-frame structures of governance. If there are dozens of districts in India that operate beyond the writ of the formal state, there are areas in Pakistan that are not just outside the scope of the formal state but in a state of rebellion due to the war on terror.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, an ignored persona in Pakistan, termed the partition of India as a partition of Indian Muslims. Whether we like it or not, this tragedy has happened in actual terms, leaving scars and wounds that will take years to heal. As if the 1947 bloodshed was not enough, the 1971 war of liberation fought by the Bengalis against the Pakistani state further divided the mass of Muslims into three distinct categories under tottering, imagined nation states.

Kashmiris are up in arms once again in India – this time Pakistan cannot be blamed for the excesses of the Indian state noted by the international groups and the bold sections of Indian intelligentsia.

The inimitable Arundhati Roy has already called for India's 'azadi' from Kashmir. The rise of the Hindu dominance movements allegedly to correct the wrongs of one thousand years of misdoings by the Muslims; and the concurrent branding of Muslims as terrorists have further fuelled the alienation of Indian Muslims. This is not just a Pakistani position but a fact recognized by many Indian thinkers themselves.

In Pakistan, years of misguided policies using Jihad as a policy instrument have also brutalized the society with a dogmatic interpretation of the lofty Islamic notions of struggle, change and self-improvement. Thus we have bigoted and political jihad factories that appear to be drifting away from the central hold and assuming a life of their own.

So we have a self-fulfilling cycle of violence, hate and war-mongering. Acts of violence in India are blamed on Pakistan, and groups of Indian Muslims thereby adding to further profiling of a beleaguered community that is huge in numbers despite being a minority.

Pakistan plays up this trend and attracts the criticism of the Indian extremists for sponsoring terror by misleading the minority youth. And, any insurgency in Pakistan is immediately traced to Indian intervention, real or fabricated. The wound festers and bleeds unabated.

Things have come to such a pass that we have jihadist state officials, especially a few retired ones who use war as a road to Pakistani (read Islamic) glory, TV presenters who predict that India will be ruled by Muslims once again and madressahs that preach stuff that can put most of us to shame.

On the Indian side, the involvement of serving and retired army officers in communal, barbaric violence is also a matter of public record. In addition, you have serving chief ministers and leaders of political parties who preach hatred and talk of 'fixing' the Muslims within India and beyond through regional and global coalitions that would make Gandhi and Nehru turn in their graves.

Religion and communalism sell where economic opportunity is short supply and where the modes of governance reinforce exploitation and alienation. This is the crux of the problem that is faced by India and Pakistan and to some extent by Bangladesh as well where abuse of religious sentiment has gained currency much to the horror of the secular Bengalis.

Therefore, the need of the hour is for India and Pakistan to acknowledge that they have to cooperate and address the menace of poverty, social and cultural exclusion and rethink their eagerness to espouse the neo-liberal mantra of growth at any cost and identifying consumerism with general prosperity.

This requires fundamental policy shifts within these states. Calls for war and revenge are mere ruses to avoid taking the hard route to reform and social transformation. The entrenched civil and military bureaucracies would need to take a backseat in the policy-setting process.

Pakistan's current and former presidents have presented India with some unprecedented proposals that include shift from the traditional positions of Kashmir, trade-facilitation and responsible agreements on the use of nuclear warheads, among others. The recent Mumbai attacks have occurred right after President Zardari articulated bold and fearless proposals on a long-lasting peace.

This is why the Indian establishment needs to review its current spell of belligerence aimed at the domestic, pre-election milieu and understand that this is what the miscreants are aiming for: a breach and reversal of what was optimistically named as an irreversible peace process.

The Pakistani state needs to ensure that it provides full cooperation in future investigations to allay the fears of Indian public. This is how the cycle of violence, hostility and war-mongering will start to break. Any kind of war – surgical, targeted, small-scale or large scale – is not the answer.

The sub-continental states have to reinvent themselves after six decades of independence and re-examine how the colonial legacies of social and economic exclusion, the great games and communalism have to be done away with.

If we as a region fail to act, history shall be brutally candid about our collective illusions, suicidal streaks and the shared contempt for history.