Moving Beyond Bhuttoism: Reconfiguring Politics in Sindh‏ – Abdul Samad

November 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ever since the hanging of Bhutto, the political fortunes of Sindh have been confined solely to the party he founded, the PPPP, which came to power twice under the leadership of his daughter, the late Benazir Bhutto, and now under her husband, the infamous Asif Ali Zardari. Bhutto has now ironically become a brand, one that can be packaged and repackaged and sold to party loyalists or an affluent feudal or simply, to the highest bidder. Consider how Bilalwal, the son of Zardari, changed his name to include the remnants of his grandfather’s legacy, a move that has secured his political future for the foreseeable future. It is colossally ironic to witness how the PPP has withered into a family heirloom.

Cyril Almedia, writing in the Dawn, captures the gist of the problem:

Bhuttoism may have given the people, the ordinary people of interior Sindh, a sense of self-worth, but did it also brainwash them into supporting a party that no longer has — or may never have had — an interest in their material and social progress?

But it’s also true that Sindh is Bhutto and Bhutto is Sindh. The PPP dominates the political narrative here in a way that no party has or will in the foreseeable future.

So, travelling through Sindh, seeing a society held back, a people still suffering, a ruling class that is distant and aloof, you can’t help but wonder: could the people’s love for Bhuttoism be part of what’s holding them back?

The crucial question emerges: Is Bhuttoism part of the problem, a component of the feudal structure that holds Sindh back, binds it to traditionalism and backwardness, or is the legacy of Bhutto, one of empowerment and consciousness of the masses, of political awareness to hitherto benign and subjugated people. Some contend that Bhutto rules from his grave in Ghari Khuda Bakhsh, that his sacrifice, one of blood and life, has immortalized him in the Sindhi political sphere, in the imagination of the impoverished peasants and laborers. It took me some time to understand the complex and mulch-faceted(at times, contradictory) personality that Bhutto undoubtedly was, from his fiery speeches in the Security Council to his sycophancy and fawning of then dictator Ayub Khan, from his role in the breakup and eventful separation of East Pakistan(Idhar Hum, Idhar Tum) to his crucial role of uplifting a de-moralized West Pakistan after 1971 and bringing back the POWs, from his Oxford and Berkeley education and feudal background to his ease of interaction with the ordinary masses. While it is true that Bhutto became progressively authoritarian in his ways (consider the rigged election of 1977), the false murder charges leveled against him and his subsequent hanging remains a blot in the history of Pakistan, in that a democratically elected popular leader was unconstitutionally removed from office. The tragedy of his hanging remains afresh even today.

Bhutto was undoubtedly a complicated individual and so is the legacy he has bequeathed to the nation, and to his native province of Sindh, where politics, even today, revolves around him, his very name. The people still love him, after all these years; the man who promised them Roti, Kapra and Makan, the one who electrified a crowd of millions with his speeches and eloquence, who told the peasants and laborers that they too had dignity and rights. And yet if Sindh has to progress, it would have to detach itself from the memory of Bhutto, from his promises, his eloquence, his brilliance, as painful and difficult as that might be. The present generation of leaders are merely exploiting the name of Bhutto for their own bigoted political interests, to finance their exotic lifestyles, to plunder the exchequer. Politics in Sindh remains mired in an advanced state of stagnation and degeneration, owing to the emotionalism that is tied to Bhuttoism, as has been witnessed over the past three decades, with the PPP emerging victorious in spite of its dysfunctional and corrupt character. The complete absence of an alternative political voice for the Sindhi people accounts for the near monopoly enjoyed by the PPP in the political arena. Sindh would have to forget arguably it most favorite son and the populace would have to bury him finally in their collective imagination and do away with the slogan-Zinda Hai Bhutto Zinda Hai. Let him, for once, rest in peace.

Separating ‘Muslim’ and ‘Pakistani’

September 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

In freshman year of college I wanted to set up a Pakistani students association to network and interact with other Pakistani students in the area and also to promote and share our rich culture with the diverse student body in the United States.

As I finished writing the constitution and prepared to launch the organisation, I was approached by another Pakistani student who was thinking of relaunching the Muslim Students Association. She met with me and suggested that we merge our organisations and simply call it the ‘Muslim Students Association’. I asked her why and how that made any sense. Very puzzled, she looked at me and said,

“What would be the difference between the name ‘Pakistani’ or ‘Muslim’?”

Three years ago, at that time, I flared up about this and argued for weeks over it. I eventually did start an independent Pakistani Students Association, but of late, her question has been haunting me.

If Pakistan was a ‘Pakistani Students Association’, then slowly it is turning into a ‘Muslim Students Association’. Our country is being separated from any ideology that is even remotely of minority, and is losing any philosophical or religious diversity that may still exist.

But why? Why is it happening?

I think there are two reasons for this.

The first is the student I met with.

In other words it is the utter inability of educated Pakistanis to distinguish between ‘Muslims’ and ‘Pakistanis’.

‘Your club is going to be about Muslims from one country only?’

‘Shouldn’t you combine all the Muslims from all over the world?’

Why should I? Pakistan is country with its own history and its own culture. We’re not Arabs, neither is our food, our attire, our music or our style of living. Pakistanis are people of the subcontinent; our culture is that of India which was one and the same as Pakistan 65 years ago.

Pakistanis and Indians are Muslims, Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Christians and more, with different majorities splitting differently. The subcontinent was a place of different religions with its own different cultures blending together. I recently visited the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore which was constructed in 1673 and learned in order to preserve religious harmony the mosque included elements of various faiths.

The domes of the mosque were made to resemble the domes of Sikhgurdwaras; the arches inside were inspired by Cathedrals; there are drawings of the lotus flower which represents Buddhism and there are Hinduism-related elements too all present in a mosque. There is not a single crescent on any of the minarets of the mosque as per usual for Muslim places of worship. My tour guide said that was also done intentionally to make the mosque seem like a landmark for people of all faiths.

The second reason is apathy.

For those of us blessed with a sound enough mind to tolerate different ideas, and desire a multicultural Pakistan with people of a variety of faiths, especially public office holders and political leaders, watching all this transpire is a crime. The problem is not a mystery. The mystery is our reluctance to do something about it. There can be no denying the polarisation of thought in Pakistan, nor can there be denying the tendency for extremist ideas in people.

 

 

Education standards are miserable, especially for the poor. The rise of sectarian groups has been documented and studied and the violent things taught in some religious madrassas have been well reported. Despite all this, no meaningful action seems to have been taken to tackle these issues by government officials, law enforcement, or civilians.

If we let things progress the way they are, then we should fear the worst. The portion of society affected most by lack of and substandard education, lawlessness and deprivation of justice is the lower class and those in poverty. Unfortunately this makes up the vast majority of Pakistan and these are the people we are poisoning. The bad thing about poison is that it spreads. If someone from this segment of society actually manages to afford solid quality education for their child, there is still a good chance that his or her parents have brought him up with an intolerant or narrow mindset. An example is the student I was referring to earlier who didn’t just think, but actually believed that all Pakistanis were Muslims.

This poison then goes into our media from where it spreads like wildfire, and then one fine day a governor is shot 22 times in broad daylight for protecting a Christian woman and his murderer becomes a national hero.

In this situation, the ideology prevalent in the majority will work to slowly wipe off all others. Our population is one that heavily dictates their life through religion, and religion thrown upon an ill-informed, substandard schooled mind can do things to it that begs the imagination. From a country for the minorities of India, Pakistan could slowly become a country strictly for Muslims, then strictly for Sunni Muslims and then strictly for Sunni Muslim men and who knows what else after.

One thing must be understood though, that it is not too late. The problems are clear, the solutions are not simple, but are still obtainable.

I do not want to live in a country that forces Hindu families to migrate away. I do not want to live in a country that has police raiding restaurants for serving lunch indoors in Ramazan. I do not want to live in a country that forces religious conversions and even televises them, and I do not want to live in a country that decides for itself who is, or isn’t a Muslim.

To fix Pakistan, we must fix the society. The mindset must be changed. We need to control our school syllabus, we need to eliminate sectarian groups, we need to monitor religious scholars and we need to monitor who is allowed to appear on the media.

There is a reason why people like Aamir Liaqat continue to appear on television and get great ratings. There is a reason why Zaid Hamid has a growing fan base. There is a reason why minorities are being persecuted, why sectarian groups are operating and why people are killing in the name of religion.

It is because most people actually approve of the aforementioned things , and the rest of them, if put simply in three words,

let it happen.

Columnists, Burger Babies, Tsunamis

May 31, 2012 § 2 Comments

Imran Khan and the PTI’s ‘Tsunami’ are ever present in today’s online, print and social media in Pakistan. Views however, vary greatly between groups but its two groups in particular I want to speak about. On one hand you have Pakistan’s regular columnists who heavily criticize the Tehreek-e-Insaf, and on the other hand you have the PTI Facebook fans and Twitterati; the newly politicized Urban Youth or famously titled ‘Burger-Baby Revolutionaries’ that support and defend the party.

I don’t want to generalize too much so to be clear when I say columnists it includes a newspaper regular who has criticized the PTI in some capacity, and when I say Burger-Baby, it includes the young, well-educated upper-class PTI supporter who isn’t a ‘troll’.

Getting back to the point then who seems to be winning the argument? Who seems to understand the PTI better? As a person who has been supporting the party for a good 6 years I feel like the columnists are a little off the mark.

In 2011 Mosharraf Zaidi criticized Imran Khan for not having a team and termed his political influence in Pakistan as barely anything. Later in the same year George Fulton criticized Imran Khan for not being able to attract any political talent and being an egoistic one man show. Yet before the very same year ended a headline in this newspaper read, “Imran’s Dream Team wows Karachi”.

In June last year Fasi Zaka complained that Khan was riding on anti-Americanism and was the only person that ‘treats the Taliban as a legitimate entity that has tangible demands that can be accommodated with negotiations.’ Imran Khan’s view is to talk to all groups to separate retaliating Pashtuns from real militants who would be then eliminated. He has repeatedly said that no militant group or any group that wants to impose a theocracy on the tip of sword will be allowed to operate in Pakistan under any condition. The tangible demands he says are of the tribal locals reacting against violence done to them initially by America and its allies. In the later All Party’s Conference regarding the war in the tribal areas all parties agreed to start negotiations with the tribal people and ‘give peace a chance’. The view is also somewhat shared by elements in Washington, many of whom have come out and said that they would not be against Imran becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Before the 30th October rally in Lahore a major criticism of the PTI was that the majority of its support was on facebook and from sit-on-the-couch ‘burger-babies’. Feisal Naqvi called Zohair Toru ignorant and said that any revolution depending on people of the likes of him would be a long time coming. Knowing Toru personally from our time in school together I can say he is far from ignorant, and most would agree that the ‘inqalaab’ he was talking about a has come a long way from the infamous ‘garmi mein kharaab’ video to now. He obviously had more faith in the party than the critics and columnists and they’ve had to eat their words.

I’ve been called a Burger-Baby many times myself. Before this year, in arguments I’ve been called a supporter of a ‘tanga party’, a supporter of an Imran fan club and even a religious fundamentalist – all for standing by the PTI.  But what people don’t realize is that in their sweeping, over generalized judgments, they had closed their eyes. When the PTI woke the youth of the elite class up and politicized it, it wasn’t the party’s only step; it was the party’s last step. For the elite youngsters in Pakistan, the state of the country barely affects their living. To invoke a sense of responsibility, patriotism and revolutionary passion in this part of society was the real sign of victory. It is easier to reach out at the poor, and weak, who have been deep at the receiving end of the declining state of the country. Not easy – just easier. But if you have gone as far as to reach to the affluent Urban Youth, it can only mean the message you are carrying has something unique that strikes a chord.

Since 2007 I have been witnessing a movement of epic proportions. I have literally seen Pakistan change underneath my eyes. My driver in whose village the elders would hurt the youth that would not vote for the PPP today says the entire community is with the PTI. Rikshaw drivers, tailors, gardeners, laborers, lawyers, engineers, students, doctors, artists, overseas Pakistanis – I have interacted and spoken to people of all kinds because of the luxury I have to travel easily and the vast majority I have spoken to is in support of the PTI today.

In an article a couple of months ago something I had never witnessed before happened. Saroop Ijaz called Imran Khan a liar and questioned whether he was even genuine in his cause. This is where the critics lose. There was no argument to back up the premise, just realism. That it cannot be done, because it just can’t. And that’s where the difference is. Imran Khan through his life and his message taught us to be idealists and that’s why he is who he is today, and that’s why so many years of supporting the PTI is coming off today. The Tehreek-e-Insaf in the latest IRI survey was the most popular party in Pakistan.

I got to spend 30mins at the 13th August 2011 Tehreek-e-Insaf rally in Islamabad which was a few hours before my flight to Chicago and during those moments I was convinced for good that change was inevitable. That rally was not on television. Maybe if it was the columnists would not have been shocked on October the 30th, because the burger babies certainly, were not.

Published in the Express Tribune Blogs on May 31st, 2012

‘Accepting’ and ‘Allowing’ Sectarian Discrimination

February 25, 2012 § 3 Comments

In recent times extremely saddening news was reported that involved what were clearly sectarian acts of violence, hatred and discrimination. On January 26th three lawyers; a father, his son and nephew, were gunned down who were Muslims of the Shia sect. On the same day three other professionals from the Shia community were killed in Quetta. This all follows the year of 2011 where hundreds of Shias were murdered and it seems as if nothing has, or will change.

 The Shia community is not the only minority Muslim sect that is being targeted. For a couple of weeks, a mosque that belonged to the Ahmadiyya community is being attempted to get shut down, and incredibly a few days ago the food and beverage brand ‘Shezan’ was banned from all court premises by the Lahore Bar Association for being owned by people from the Ahmadiyya movement.

 This is just recent news. Sectarian violence and discrimination in Pakistan sadly sparks up from time to time. Some argue that perhaps Pandora’s Box was opened in 1974 when extremist Sunnis clashed with Ahmadis until they were declared non-Muslim by Pakistan’s constitution, though sectarian violence was reported in as early as the 60s. But I believe the reason for rising sectarianism is the increasing subconscious acceptance of it by the majority of society.

Discrimination amongst sects is openly publicized in Pakistani today. I can confirm that the Islamiat textbook I was taught with in high school preached religious inequality and even anti-Semitism. Because of lack of quality education and teachers, irresponsible textbooks in our schools, things religious scholars say, things some of our elders say and a combination of these things that have carried on for years, society in Pakistan has made assumptions based on people’s religious views. For many people being Jewish is a crime and an act of infidelity. Being Christian is only slightly better, and then the fact that you are a Muslim makes you superior and a better Pakistani. Amongst Muslims people belonging to each sect feel they are ‘better’ than the others. I once sat in a majlis at a Shia mosque only to hear a long, loud speech explaining all that was wrong with the Sunnis, and heard similar sermons about Shia Muslims at Sunni mosques.

 Keeping in mind the stories shared above and other incidents from the past, I find it safe to say the Ahmadiyya community receives the most hatred and discrimination. Some clerics have gone so far to announce the justification and permission for their murder. In fact in 2008 the leader of the anti Ahmadi movement was invited to the infamous Dr. Aamir Liaqat’s TV show on which he repeated exactly that. The next day two Pakistani citizen’s from the community were killed.

 The problem we face in Pakistan is this extreme holier than thou attitude; A strong feeling of self-righteousness and moral superiority. People hold that their personal beliefs are of greater virtue than of those with others, and through a biased study with an ill-informed, poorly educated mind have curbed words of Holy Scriptures to justify violence against those with differing religious views. This is completely against what religion actually teaches. Because of the Express Tribune’s policies I can’t quote the Quran directly but I can say that verse 64 in chapter 3 (Family of Imran) asks to approach people with different beliefs by starting on the points of agreement or equitable words. The Quran further in chapter 109 (The Disbelievers) says to accept that the believers and non-believers both have their own religion and worship their own Lord(s) and in chapter 2 (The Cow) verse 256 forbids any compulsion in religion.

 Extremist groups that I believe we all know about are behind these attacks on the minority Muslim sects. It seems like they may be targeting the Shia and Ahmedi community to incite fear within the sects and hence reduce, and eventually finish their ability to practice openly. Keeping in mind the targeted killings in broad daylight last month, it is understandable that many people from the communities have fled the country as a result, meaning the tactics are working.

 It should also be brought to light that the rise of these sectarian extremist groups is well-documented since their inception in the 1980s but since that time they have split up and regrouped under different titles and movements. The worrying thing is that they have spread all over the country from their starting point of Southern Punjab taking their radical ideas to all parts of the state. Much needs to be done to stop this. The country’s intelligence agencies need to find out how these groups operate, where they operate and observe and keep a check on local madrassas and the content of what is taught there.  A strategy must be devised of how to isolate and tackle them. Why we have waited so long is a mystery and something we should all be worried about, but in my opinion these groups are only half the problem.

 The other problem is our radicalized society. This polarization in my view is due to a combination of the spread of these sectarian groups, and the lack of impartial quality education. With more than half the country today under the line of poverty the vast majority cannot afford decent quality education which is only available in Pakistan’s private schools that only the elite can afford. This leaves a colossal portion of the population exposed to sub standard schooling, if any at all, and hence vulnerable to the acceptance of extremist ideas and versions of religion bestowed upon them. These are the people the sectarian groups feed on and this is where their support comes from, without which they would not be able to sustain themselves.

 It may seem absurd, but I have personally witnessed many educated people agree with the fatwa that allows the murder of Ahmedis. After everything he has done and said, countless people have undying unconditional support for Dr. Amir Liaqat and after the celebrations for the murder of the former Governor of Punjab and the hero status given to the murderer, it would not be naive to think portions of society are also okay with the targeted killings of Shias.

 And that is essentially the problem. People accept it. But I don’t think you can entirely blame the people. It is our governance that is educating these people. Pakistan is the only state to declare Ahmadis non-Muslim. When the state has numerous discriminating laws and education against entire sects, how could you expect people to be any different?

 How many of our text books proudly mention Dr. Abdus Salam was from the Ahmadiyya community who put Pakistan on the map by becoming the county’s only Nobel Prize winner but then left the nation in protest when his sect was declared non-Muslim? His gravestone was also modified after his death so that it would not read ‘Muslim’. How many of our textbooks tell us that our founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a khoji Shia which was a minority community in an already Muslim minority in India? How many of our textbooks tell us that our first ever foreign minister Chaudhry Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan who Jinnah referred to as his ‘son’, was a scholar of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, drafted the Pakistan resolution, represented the country at the United Nations and served as a judge at the International Court of Justice? The answer is not many.

 Once a man asked Jinnah if he was Sunni or Shia and Jinnah responded angrily that he was just a Muslim. He was against sectarianism. That’s why Jinnah wanted faith, discipline and unity. Unity is what we lack the most. Sunnis Shias and Ahmedis all truly think that their take on the religion is perfect as do practicing people from any faith in general, and since none of us is God, no one should be allowed to judge personally who is correct.

 The sectarian groups must be eliminated, madrassas monitored and education heavily reformed to make this mindset in people possible. If not, Pakistan will be contaminated with far too many fanatics. The Quran asks to show kindness to people of all faiths and calls Christians and Jews ‘people of the book’. Today Muslims in Pakistan can’t even be civil to sects of their own religion. It further says that when you see any injustice, then fix it. If you can’t fix it, then raise your voice against it. And if you can’t raise your voice against it, then condemn it in your heart. I think and I hope Pakistan could at least start with the latter.

*Written Exclusively for The Express Tribune Blogs and posted February 26th, 2012

Distorted History and Religious Justification

November 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

Like the vast majority of Pakistanis, I was raised a Muslim. Being ‘raised’ Muslim means, to my best knowledge, that during my childhood and as I grew older, I was exposed to Islamic teachings. I had a ‘maulvi sahab’; I read the Quran, learned how to pray and was taught the history and fundamental principles, or pillars of the religion.

 Till my teens, I was in my opinion a good Muslim. I found it very difficult to lie, I gave charity, I prayed, I fasted, I respected my parents and forgave those who hurt me. I was satisfied with my religious beliefs because they supported the good nature that I believed I had, and promised rewards for acts of kindness and worship which I enjoyed doing.  This all changed a bit later.

 As I grew older, I started paying more attention to mosque sermons on Fridays. That’s when I received my first shock. I remember it crystal clear even though I was only fourteen. The Imam said all non-Muslims were infidels and that the entire world was to be brought under the banner of Islam even if it was by force. The feelings that overcame me after are hard to describe. I barely got through my prayer. I decided to ignore what I heard and just move on, but as time went on it got worse. Hatred against Ahmedi Muslims gave me headaches especially because one of my closest friends was from an Ahmediyaa sect. Discrimination against Jews and western culture was a favorite in most mosques I visited, and above all justification and celebration for acts of terror like 9/11 is what brought me to my point of saturation.

 

The point of saturation was me going up to my parents and grandparents to confess my thoughts about what it seemed Islam was preaching. I was terrified. I didn’t want to sound like an ‘infidel’, but rather discuss perhaps the truth regarding religion and violence. That’s where it all changed. My grandfather who was a very religious and quite terrific man told me of the bigotry of modern maulvis. He told me that a major message in Islam is to educate one’s self. He then told me a quote in Urdu from the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) (translated), “Philosophy is like the stray camel of the faithful, take it wherever you go”. These words stuck to me like glue, and after that day I spent many hours every day studying Islam, reading various translations of the Holy Quran and also the hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) to the best of my ability.

I want to clear that not all Imams at the mosques I prayed in Pakistan spoke so violently.  Many were moderate and chose not to speak on terrorism or tolerance, but instead talked about good deeds and forgiveness. However, they were a minority. After my own study I realized so many things in the society I lived in were cultural practices disguised under the banner of religion. For example I learned that Islam calls for modesty when one dresses publically, yet in many families women were forced to cover their entire bodies. I researched this back to a practice called “Purdah” in medieval India which was to restrict the movement of women and subordinate them at a time where there was immense gender discrimination. I never found an Islamic teaching asking for such whole layering of a woman.  Another thing I noticed was women being married against their will and forced to leave their homes and live in their husband’s household with his family. Islam categorically forbids forced marriages and gives the wife the right to refuse to live with her husband’s parents or siblings if she chooses. But if a woman should make such a demand in parts of society today, she can expect the worst. In cases I have heard, a woman was once told that God would give her misery for denying her husband’s home, even though she was married forcefully and her mother-in-law was torturing her.  Honor killings and violence against Ahmedis are justified in Pakistan today using religion as well. The latter in my opinion is due to a lack of education, radicalism and misguidance, but the former is another cultural practice. I am certainly no religious scholar or expert on Islam; far from it, but nowhere in any part of the religion have I come across justification for such horrid acts of violence and lunacy.

 The idea of writing this blog came to me ironically during a Friday prayer at my University here in Illinois in the United States. In our prayer hall we had a special guest Imam. He was from Turkey and delivered an exceptional sermon on religious harmony, tolerance and equality. After the prayers I wanted to go speak to him. I broke the ice by telling him my last name was also ‘Agha’ and had family roots in Turkey. That turned out to be a good idea and we engaged in conversation. This man supported every argument I made about religion, peace, tolerance and equality. In fact he improved my arguments. He made several references from the Quran regarding force and religion;

There is no compulsion in religion”. (2:256)

“The Messenger’s duty is to but proclaim the message”. (5:99)

 He told me I was quite right about societies preaching culture as religion. He explained how religion was one of the few things that required faith in the unseen and that meant believing something that could never be ultimately proven scientifically. He said that because of this some people developed an unshakable trust in their religion and so if taught religion irresponsibly could find justification of immoral practices that were a violent part of their ancient culture. It all started to make sense. People in positions of power could mold religion in ways that they wanted, to support their ideas or practices because no one questions religion. In a similar way our history is often distorted in ways that make us feel good about ourselves, hide our mistakes or represent the past in a way we prefer. This is why we never hear of a Pakistani aggression in a war against India, or massacres by us in East Pakistan. This is why a man like Jinnah who owned so many suits is always in our memory wearing a kurta and a hat. It’s all because the way we are taught history and religion is wrong. It is not impartial and it is evidently biased and presently the only way to realize the absolute truth is to educate ourselves. The difference between Molana Agha and the imams and maulvis back home was that he was very educated and put his religion before his culture.

 The Islam I came to know made me liberal and tolerant. I have unshakable egalitarian values and I believe in freedom and justice for all. Yet simply because of my religious beliefs people call me a hard core rightist. I blame this on governance. Religion is a very sensitive issue and in my opinion only people tested and qualified should be permitted to educate people in matters of religion. Why do parents trust maulvis with the task of teaching their kids Islam? What qualification do they have? Sure some may be well learned in the matter and do it well, but how do we know? Thanks to my maulvi sahab until I was 16 I thought according to Islam, the devil, or Iblees, was an angel. After self study I discovered he was actually a Jinn, and he could never have disobeyed God as an angel because angels do not have free will. This says enough about most maulvis and Imams. My contention with education in Pakistan is similar. I just want the truth, and I want it from people properly qualified who are willing to tell even the ugly truth, but they must be impartial. The truth needs to be told and maybe by doing this the true spirit of religion will come forwards too, which talks against force, hatred and intolerance. Maybe then one day we will not be looked down upon for promoting religious beliefs and it will not be in fashion to stray away from them.  But for this major reforms need to be made in administration and more importantly syllabi. Until then we will never know our true history, we will never learn about the mistakes we made as a country, we will never know the true personas of our forefathers, and the world will continue to learn about the version of our religion that represents none of Islam’s fundamental values which forbid compulsion and promote peace.

Say: I worship not that which you worship. Nor will you worship that which I worship. Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion” (Quran 109: 1-6)

Posted on The Express Tribune Blog (edited for policy) on November 29th, 2011

“On Imran Khan: Messiah or Demagogue” – Abdul Samad

November 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

Imran Khan has emerged as the Messiah for a nation long clamoring for the arrival of a noble soul, who would, with sincerity and clarity of vision, uplift millions from the abyss of poverty, despair and disrepair and propel Pakistan into the ranks of ‘developed’ nations. And his arrival on the political scene- termed as a “Tsunami” by the man himself- that has taken 15 years in the making, is indeed a welcome and timely development. And yet, those 15 years boiled down to a single moment, that protracted struggle could be captured in that one powerful image that floated around in social media websites, where a prominent Imran Khan, empowered by the thousands that had gathered around Minar-e-Pakistan, his hands raised in a show of defiance against the status-quo, announced his arrival in the arena of Pakistani politics, his fiery speech assailing the corruption and lethargy of rival political parties. Previously, he had been dismissed as indecisive, vacillating, even somewhat confused and thus a small fish floating anxiously in a big pond. All of it changed on October 30. Yes, the “youth quake” changed the landscape of Pakistani politics. But, one may ask, will this outburst of political energy translate into tangible change for the masses? And this, above all else, is the most vital question.

Given the harrowing conditions the nation is going through- load shedding, the incessant violence, the creeping inflation- anyone of reasonable pedigree can charm the masses and capture the public imagination. For now, Imran khan can berate and castigate the policies of the current regime, stockpiling the entire burden on their heads-not that they are not culpable- and gain mass support of the embattled masses. Pakistan- and I feel bad saying this- is a mess, a real bad one, with the economy barely afloat, sectarian tensions boiling up and the United States breathing down our necks in Afghanistan. To get out of this hole, we need to first recognize that we are entrapped in one. Despite the theme of change Imran Khan so readily endorses, we should, as informed citizens, recognize the rhetoric in his speeches. I don’t blame him for resorting to tall claims for in order to captivate the masses; one does have to show them big dreams, convince them that change is just around the corner. But then again, change won’t be easy, and it surely won’t be abrupt, if anything, it’s going to a long path towards recycling Pakistan. And Imran Khan needs to tell this to the people who deserve to know the truth, however painful and excruciating it might be.

Imran Khan stands for hope as our gullible youth are led to believe. Imran Khan stands for hope because we have no other alternative, as the Zardari’s and the Sharif’s have been tried and tested, one too many a time. When asked by my friend who I would rather vote for, I feel silent. I just could not think of one person, one political party who had my confidence, who had my vote. Such was the nature of my quandary. And then after a reflective 2-3 minutes, I blurted out” Imran Khan”. And then it struck me, as much I am sure it struck my friend, that I had no other viable option. So Imran it was.

In the end, politics is about, as it ought to be, about the welfare of the masses. We, as denizens of the land of the pure, are asking for real tangible change. While the rhetoric employed in political speeches can be terribly exciting, all of it comes to naught if the common man remains trapped in the tentacles of poverty. Promises have been made and broken in the past. Imran Khan needs to provide his party manifesto that details exactly the policies his party wishes to undertake to alleviate the suffering of the majority. If he does that, he has my vote.

I personally contend that Imran Khan is incorruptible, a rarity in a political culture that thrives on bribery and pilfering and among the others stands as the most articulate, gifted with charisma and a jocular nature. But, then again, giving fiery speeches or cracking anecdotes in front of throngs of impassioned followers, does not translate into real change. He needs to do much more to prove his credentials; he is considered mercurial and tentative in his policy making, and has more a reputation of a playboy than a politician, at least in the West. PTI, under the lingering shadow of IK, is a one man show, and as I recall, the party fared rather poorly in previous elections, garnering less than 1 percent of the total vote cast. The party does not have the stature or the expertise or the experience to battle Pakistan’s endemic problems. Consider the following excerpt taken from an article in Dawn:

The current PTI secretary general is Karachi-based Dr Arif Alvi, a dentist for the city’s elite who has pots of money and a techie son who lets go of no opportunity to promote his father’s political party through purportedly non-political ventures. The main policy advisor of the party is Dr Shireen Mazari, who for years ran a government-funded think tank in Islamabad before serving for a short period of time as the editor of the Lahore-based English daily The Nation. If she is known for anything, it is certainly not a non-jingoistic understanding of Pakistan’s foreign and security policies. The brain behind Mr Khan’s latest makeover as Pakistan’s savoir in the making — one more time after a failed earlier attempt — is Haroonur Rashid, a columnist with the daily Jang who once wrote the authorised and laudatory biography of Gen Akhtar Abdur Rehman, an intelligence czar under Gen Zia and one of the many architects of Pakistan-backed militancy in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Imran Khan may have mesmerized on the cricket pitch, anchoring Pakistan to cricketing glory, but this is, as we should all recognize, the real word of diplomacy and public policy. While I respect his leadership and oratory skills, I believe that he does not have the acumen to survive in the political arena, let alone carve out a distinct destiny for Pakistan in the community of nations. Don’t take me wrong, I am not an Imran basher, far from it; I was delighted when he managed a staggering 100,000 people in his historic Lahore rally. I feel a sense of pride welling up inside me when he takes a firm stand on the drone strikes that are infringing our sovereignty. I see hope in him, that four letter word wholly absent in the last two decades. But one must deal with the facts, not get carried away in the spur of the moment. We Pakistanis are an excitable bunch, to be painfully honest, and have clung on to Imran as if he embodies the Messiah we have been long waiting for. But is he the Messiah or a demagogue feigning to be one? Only time will tell.

Yes, Imran does have the backing of the youth, but whether this ‘Face book’ following translates into real political capital remains to be seen. Will these same people turn up at Election Day-the all important day- to cast their votes? I have my doubts about him, were you to seek my opinion. For the sake of our country, for the millions living below the poverty line, I hope I am terribly, horribly, colossally wrong.

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Credit:

Abdul Samad

Georgetown University

School of Foreign Service

as2393@hoyamail.georgetown.edu

Why I Chose Imran Khan – II

November 3, 2011 § 8 Comments

In July I wrote a blog explaining why I would vote for the Pakistan Movement for Justice, or Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Opinions in the comments varied, but the most frequent hitch people had with Imran Khan’s party was their belief that it was politically insignificant, unelectable and more of a fan club. These arguments were presented to me numerous times before the post but I always disagreed, and after Sunday’s rally I feel many people have finally turned side.

 The enormous turnout at Minaar-e-Pakistan was not a surprise to me, or my friends. Regardless of what we feel about policies, Khan still stands head and shoulders above his opponents in terms of financial transparency, honesty, statement consistency and has the cleanest criminal record. In addition to that he is one of the greatest living Pakistanis and is a national hero because of both sport and philanthropy. His credibility and honesty as a politician had been well established over the past few years during the wiki-leaks saga, and at the same time Pakistan reached new lows. What helped Khan was that almost every other major Political party was/is in power in some capacity, and hence could all be held accountable for the country’s dismal state in some manner.

 Thanks to the free and independent media, nothing went unnoticed. Every error by the provincial and federal governments was highlighted and reported and soon the truth was in front of everyone. The country had become extremely politicized and when the likes of my friend Zohair Toru went to the streets is when I realized times in Pakistan had changed. For most people Khan, with his track record in social work for his country was incomparable to the likes of the status quo, under who’s rule people were facing unprecedented poverty, unemployment and injustice. Hence support for his party increased exponentially, while everyone else’s decreased.

 Perhaps naively, but then that is indeed why initially ‘I chose Imran Khan’. I did not know much about his party’s policies, but at the time they quite frankly did not matter. What mattered was that criminals taking charge of the country was unacceptable, and I and many like me would rather have a national hero take that honor. This was followed by an immense nationwide membership drive, multiple rallies, demonstrations and sit-ins against U.S drone strikes and also very importantly the removal of 35 million fake votes by the Supreme Court thanks to the party’s petition. The hearts and minds of the Pakistani people were won way before October 30th, and the Sit-in in Islamabad on Independence Day should have convinced analysts and pessimists that the PTI was a force to be reckoned with.

 With all this in mind, in the weeks before the rally I could not understand the countless columns I read and current affair shows I watched in which analysts and guests alike played the down the possibility of a successful rally in a place like Iqbal Park. None of the ‘experts’ gave PTI a chance, but myself and so much of the urban youth who are so often labeled as ‘naïve’ and ‘politically inept’ by the same experts, expected nothing less than the successful rally that took place. While so many have finally confessed to have underestimated the party’s strength, some analysts still hold the opinion that the rally was a failure with not more than 60,000 people present at the venue. I think it’s safe to say that any sane person would admit that estimating a crowd of the size of 60K present at the location is absurd. I have been to the Minaar-e-Pakistan, I have been to stadiums that hold 100,000 people and I have been to an open concert where 175,000 people have attended. The area in front of the Minaar-e-Pakistan for the attendants was roughly 1200x1200square feet, which should accommodate at capacity at the very least 300,000 people estimating a single person takes up over 4square feet. Pictures and reports suggest that the area mentioned was beyond filled and people were standing even by the roads. In all honesty I could not care less if 100,000 or 500,000 were present because the purpose was fulfilled, but math and logic (both of which I major in) tell you that at the extreme very least, the attendance to the PTI rally could not possibly have been less than 200,000.

 Getting back on track, Imran Khan’s and other senior party member’s speeches at the rally focused on why my support is strongly with the PTI. Some of the usual rhetoric was avoided, and issues like women empowerment through an education emergency, peace in Baluchistan, religious tolerance and minority rights were promised. The party also stated that they would cooperate with the U.S as equals instead of slaves and help them in a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Somehow this ended up as anti-Americanism as were the stories about the rally in the international media. Nothing was discussed in too much detail, and I do concede that some personal remarks about opposition leaders could have been avoided.

Why I support Imran Khan is because his party represents what I believe in most strongly, justice. I remember Imran Khan visiting Ahemdi victims in hospital after a violent attack on their mosque, I remember a wing of the PTI protesting against the killing of two innocent Christian brothers on charges of blasphemy and I remember when he sided with Salman Taseer on the case of Asia Bibi. Imran Khan has clearly stated that his party’s position is to repeal the Hudood Ordinance of rape and debate it in parliament and he strongly condemned the hero’s reception of Mumtaz Qadri. He even dared to speak about the intolerance of homosexuality in society. These kinds of gestures are what make my trust and belief in him and the party so strong, apart from other policies which I touched on in the last post.

 To some the rally was a failure, the PTI is still a political minnow and a fringe party. To others Imran Khan is still a terrorist sympathizer and a Taliban stooge. As far as I’m concerned I don’t think anything can convince someone who is bent on not being convinced, but slowly, especially after the rally even the most pessimistic onlookers of the PTI’s progress have had a change of heart. Others display remarkable characteristics of madness and blindness. I guess critics search forever for the wrong word, which to their credit, they eventually find.

(Click Here For Part 1)

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