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.

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