Compromise versus principles

Yesterday on NPR I was listening to a report from Burma about NLD’s decision to boycott the upcoming elections. To be fair to them, Burma’s new election laws require anyone convicted by a court to be disqualified from all parties which would disqualify NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi since she was convicted last year of violating her house arrest. But the person reporting from Burma quoted an oft-quoted Burmese proverb about how when two buffaloes fight, the grass gets trampled and that the people of Burma feel crushed between two uncompromising forces.

By contrast, PPP has always been criticized for its excessive compromising in favour of returning to power. The terms of its 2008 return to power were especially costly, with almost everyone criticizing the NRO. Even today it would be very difficult to find someone willing to put themselves on the line by offering a defense of the NRO. Kamran Shafi’s column this week is an exception. However today’s consensus on the 18th amendment draft owes its existence to PPP’s willingness to compromise, even when its opponents – most notably both the PMLs and the Supreme Court have shown themselves to be utterly shameless in their opposition, sinking to truly despicable depths in their opposition to the proposed constitutional reforms.

Even today, the compromises made might have been too costly. By agreeing to add a seventh member of the Judicial commission (a retired Supreme Court justice), the Raza Rabbani committee has essentially guaranteed a majority vote to the members of the Commission almost 100% likely to be allied with the Chief Justice, thus defeating the purpose of having a judicial commission in the first place.

By the way, spare some sympathy for Nusrat Javed who just wanted to celebrate the 18th amendment draft signing but no one would let him. (The funniest was the angry guy who called in (for the sixth time) about the faulty transformer by his house and said he didn’t care what they called NWFP). And read this column by IA Rehman, one of the angriest sounding columns I’ve ever read by him. Some excerpts:

THAT the constitutional reform package should have come under attack in some quarters did not cause any surprise because the concept of democratic consensus is alien to Pakistan’s political barons. What is astonishing is the degree of freedom from good sense shown by some elements while demonising parliament.
[…]
Both matters could have been discussed in a civilised way but quite a few personages prominent for their weight and girth deemed it prudent to flaunt their incapacity for a rational discourse.
[…]
Similarly those who have reservations about the presence of a parliamentarian or two in the proposed judicial commission could have argued their case without parting with reason and temperateness. Instead, members of parliament have been subjected to a barrage of unwarranted abuse and slander. They have been condemned en bloc as a lot of cheats who have been living by fraud
[…]
The chief of the lawyers’ association, who is respected widely for his white hair, has questioned the notion of parliament’s supremacy and challenged anyone to show where this idea is mentioned in the constitution.
[…]
The unwise friends (self-styled) of the judiciary who are playing up the case of parliamentarians’ fake degrees need to be reminded that failure to decide the madressah degrees case for five years is a dark blot on the fair name of the judiciary
[…]

OK one last thing – a lot of people have wondered what motivated PML-N’s U-Turn and no one’s been able to give a suitable explanation. Personally I think the best explanation is the one described by kalakawa in this awesome post about the inner workings of Mushtaq Minhas’ mind. See, in the captions provided by kalakawa, Mushtaq Minhas has a certain emotive reaction to Nighat Orakzai but he can’t express what he’s saying because he’s somewhat constrained by what’s PC in today’s discourse. So he has to invent some crazy sounding roundabout pretext in order to justify what he really wants to do which is to condemn Nighat Orakzai as a godless, Islam-hating lady. Similarly, there were things about this constitutional reform package that just caused Nawaz Sharif immense pain. How could it not – provincial autonomy, the abolishment of the concurrent list, 100 constitutional articles reformed. But in today’s parlance you can’t condemn provincial autonomy and it would be difficult for Nawaz Sharif to outright renege on the Charter of Democracy. So he had to invent some stupid excuses that didn’t even make any sense to anyone. Hence the reason why no one could understand the stated reasons for his u-turn. The thing is, the underlying issues and preferences haven’t changed. The Sharif’s are still Punjabi-centric autocrats with a deep distrust of Gorbachev-like moves by the PPP to Balkanize Pakistan. The Army still has nightmares about Balkanization and “ethnonationalism”. What’s changed is that there is some kind of pretense at a politically correct discourse. The result of that is that people still have the same gut reactions to events but have to lie about why they are acting the way they are.

I guess that means Pakistan is becoming a normal country.

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mob violence – an incoherent response to organized terrorism

Here’s some truly awful footage of the mob violence in Faisalabad which occurred immediately after the attack by Sipah-e-Sahaba on the Eid-e-Milad un Nabi procession. Here is a mob burning down the house of local SSP leader Zahid Qasmi (of Jamia Qasmia seminary and Gol Masjid Faisalabad):

Here is the mob breaking down the gate of the GM Abad police station where they then proceeded to burn dozens of vehicles:

In Dawn, Huma Yousuf has an interesting article about the police not doing enough when given advance notice of such incidents (in this case the planned attack by Sipah-e-Sahaba on the Eid-e-Milad un Nabi procession). According to Yousuf, Zahid Qasmi had announced in sermons given at Gol Masjid that he and his followers would stop the Eid-e-Milad un Nabi procession from taking place at any cost:

On Feb 22, Qasmi even had the gall to pre-emptively justify participating in sectarian violence: in a letter to the city police officer, he alleged that participants in the same procession had provoked him a year before (a subsequent police investigation confirmed these allegations to be baseless). Despite being in possession of a written testimony stating that a sectarian attack was imminent, the local police did nothing.

Given the above background of public threats and the police inaction there is little wonder that the mob violence was directed specifically at three places 1) The house of Zahid Qasmi 2) the mosque in which he had promised to attack the Barelvi procession and 3) the police station.

Back in Karachi, Mufti Muhammad Naeem of Jamia Binoria, in a press conference, laid all blame at the un-Islamic practice of Jaloos which he appealed to the government to ban immediately (he also gave a little sermon on how it was ironic that the practice of singing which god had sent the Prophet Muhammad to crush was adopted by so-called Muslims.) On Talat Hussain’s show, some guy shared some platitudes about how there are no sects in Islam and Ahmed Ludhianvi of SSP and Fazal Kareem of JUP both called for the Chief Justice to take suo moto notice of the incidents of February 27.

So is the problem purely a law and order one? If there was less collusion (or at least willful looking the other way) between the Faisalabad police and the influential SSP members would this situation not have occurred? Obviously that’s a large part of the problem but there is also the issue of an absolute incoherence and paralysis on the part of society as a whole in dealing with sectarian attacks. If the guests on Talat Hussain’s show are any reflection of our societal reaction to sectarianism (platitudes about how real Islam has no sects and all violence is to be equally condemned) then the Faisalabad police can hardly be blamed for its equally paralyzed reaction.

See, the problem is with a strain of thought running through society which is clearly articulated by Ahmed Ludhianvi in this clip on Mubashir Lucman’s show:

To Ahmed Ludhianvi, the main issue at hand is the government of the Islamic republic of Pakistan needs to ensure that the anti-Islamic activities occuring on the Eid-e-Milad-un Nabi Jaloos need to be put to an end. The crime that he sees is not the gunning down of the participants of the Jaloos, but the perceived insult to the Prophet and Islam by the participants. Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi and his followers felt confident enough of the state’s support of their point of view to actually notify the Faisalabad police in writing that they expected action to be taken against the anti-Islamic activities that were going to take place on Eid-e-Milad un Nabi by the Barelvis.

As Maulana Azam Tariq said on an interview in PTV in the 90s, it’s a matter of perception of wrong – to him the situation of someone insulting the Prophet or Sahaba is like someone is throwing a brick on someone’s head and when the person at whose head the brick is thrown at responds with a request to punish the perpetrator he is told by society that he should not hurt the feelings of others by raising his voice in protest.

The issue is that (at least certain sections of) Pakistani society has not yet decided what constitutes the throwing of the brick. In most societies in the world today, the gunning down of peaceful participants of a religious procession would be seen as the brick-throwing activity, but in the case of Pakistan we are still on the fence about whether “insults” to the persons of the Prophet and Sahaba are equal to acts of violence. Moreover, it seems that many people have a far stronger emotional response to perceived “insults” to their religion than to the loss of human life. Also, there is the little problem that it’s a crime to indulge in blasphemous conversation. As a result a conversation about the merits of allowing free speech at the expense of the possibility of allowing certain insults to religious personalities is not going to occur on any of our news channels any time soon. I think it’s fair to say that there can be no expectation of a coherent police response to acts of terrorism by SSP until this issue is resolved by society. In the meantime, sadly, the only reponse will be frustrated mob violence.

Never thought I’d say this

But good work by Kashif Abbasi for categorically speaking out against the PML-N’s press conference today. Especially on the issue of judicial appointments. Another way to look at it is that you know you’re in trouble if you’re PML-N and Kashif Abbasi spends an entire program criticizing you.

Najam Sethi had a theory on his show that – because everyone but Chaudhry Nisar (who was grinning broadly) at the press conference looked so sad – that Nawaz Sharif’s hand was being forced by the establishment. That may well be the case, but in my opinion people are underestimating the constraints on the major parties and the costs that they pay for compromising politically. We’ve seen the pressure from Sindhi PPP leaders when PPP compromised with MQM on the issue of local government in Karachi. Similarly, PML-N is facing stronger than expected internal dissent from NWFP PML-N on the question of the renaming of Pakhtunkhwa. PML-N’s Hazara base is very important to it and it experienced a resurgence in the area in the 2008 elections. There is really no way for PML-N to proceed with the NWFP renaming without causing extreme alienation among its voters in Hazara. Like the PPP, PML-N can ill afford to lose support in a stronghold, especially since this is one of the few regions outside of Punjab where PML-N is strong.

Also, there is the issue of the lawyer’s community. The SCBA has repeatedly expressed its complete disapproval of the Constitutional reform committee’s chose method of judicial appointments. Having cultivated the judiciary for the last two years to the exclusion of almost every other party, this really puts PML-N in a tight spot. Just like PPP was compelled by the circumstances of the NRO to do a U-turn on the issue restoration of the judiciary, PML-N has had to do a humiliating U-Turn on its support of a more egalitarian method of judicial appointments as sketched out in the Charter of Democracy. Akram Sheikh’s open letter to Nawaz Sharif even baldly stated that the Charter of Democracy was for a specific context and time only and was not applicable to the present situation!

This is not to dismiss the role of the military establishment, but it doesn’t make sense to play down PML-N’s own internal reasons for having problems in accepting the constitutional reform committee’s proposals.

I don’t know why PPP and PML-N always end up in these do or die situations in which they are faced with a choice between taking the high road for political reconciliation vs. satisfying their various special interests. (In a cynical sense, it shows the futility of “principled” politics since principles always end up being violated due to conflicting interest groups and pressures). Quite clearly it’s related to the political brinkmanship that both are fond of practicing. (Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just Zardari that does this). The brinkmanship is a lot easier to criticize than to come up with a constructive alternative to, however, given the limited space in which political parties operate and the justifiable insecurity that they constantly have to contend with. There was this really interesting study I read about political violence in Karachi and its relation to the transient and ill-defined nature of land ownership in all areas except those administered by the military. In many ways, political space in national politics works in exactly the same way as land ownership in Karachi. The only group secure enough to practice (at least cosmetically) “principled” politics is the military. That’s because the ability to practice principled politics (and come up with high quality power point presentations) is directly related to security with regards to ones political space.

Anyway, one thing is for sure and that is that PML-N is ultimately going to back down and it’s going to have to back down humiliatingly soon. This has been a godsend for the PPP because any subsequent objections raised by the PML-N during the course of the 18th amendment discussions are going to be clouded by yesterday’s press conference. If this government can push through significant reforms without having to resort to anything as horrific as ZAB’s use of the Liaquat Bagh massacre to cow his political opponents into submission in order to achieve consensus on constitutional issues, then this will be nothing short of a miracle. (Now watch me say that and be horribly disappointed).

ethical questions surrounding Jamshed Dasti’s resignation

While I am no fan of MNA Jamshed Dasti whose various gaffes and chauvinistic statements have been well-documented by Tazeen and Cafe Pyala, the return to public attention of the graduation requirement for lawmakers raises some ethical questions.

First, the ethics of the requirement introduced via Chief Executive Order No. 7 in 2002 (and later validated by the parliament and the Supreme Court) by Musharraf in 2002 whereby an individual had to be a graduate in order to stand up for a seat in the provincial and the national assemblies:

a person shall not be qualified to be elected or chosen as a member of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) or a Provincial Assembly unless he is at least a graduate possessing a bachelor degree in any discipline or any degree recognized as equivalent by the University Grants Commission under the University Grants Commission Act, 1974 (XXIII of 1974)] 2[or any other law for the time being in force.]

In the detailed judgment to the petitions filed against the graduation requirement in 2002, the then Chief Justice Riaz Ahmed had justified the upholding of the requirement based on the claim that the requirement was a positive step towards reforming Pakistan’s toxic political culture. (In this regard, he saw fit to provide a brief narrative of Pakistani politics in the 90s culminating with Musharraf’s takeover at which point the nation breathed a “sigh of relief”)

In the light of what has been narrated above, it is crystal clear that the political scenario in Pakistan is a sad tale of failures on the part of the public representatives. We may not go into the past but the 11 years history of the political events is an eye opener. Four National Assemblies in succession were dissolved on the ground of misdemeanour on the part of the government and the party forming it. The grounds on which the Assemblies were dissolved and which were upheld by this Court are sufficient for and necessitate a drastic change in the political culture of the country.

This decision to uphold this requirement was despite the fact that the judgment acknowledged that the percentage of graduates in Pakistan was less than 2% of the population and that there was no precedent for this requirement in any other country (for example neither the UK nor the US have any such requirement). Rather, the bench seemed to be motivated by a desire to shape the political culture of Pakistan in order to create a more educated political class. This was in keeping with Musharraf’s philosophy of emphasizing grassroots democracy as the “real” democracy in contrast to the poisonous national level politics of the 90s.

The question, of course, is how ethical does this Order and the subsequent Supreme Court judgment look to us now? Is any law that in one fell swoop disqualifies 98% of the population from holding office in the national or provincial assemblies a fair one? Does it violate article 25(1) of the constitution that states that all citizens of Pakistan are equal before the law or does the graduation requirement count as a reasonable classification as the Supreme Court judgment of 2002 argued.

Personally I think this is a no-brainer – In Pakistan, where barring a few extremely unusual cases of great intellectual ability, your social status and your geographical location determine your ability to gain a college education, such a requirement essentially discriminates against the poor and those who live in far-flung locations without access to secondary education let alone college preparatory schools or degree-granting institutions of higher learning. However in their eternal quest to reform the political culture of Pakistan the Supreme Court and the military rulers of the day apparently did not see the situation in the same light.

Come March 2008 and this requirement was overturned by the Supreme Court on the grounds that it was discriminatory against the vast majority of the Pakistani population. Unfortunately the detailed judgment for this decision doesn’t seem to be available on the Supreme Court website. It was widely speculated that this move was so that Zardari would not be put in a tight spot since his education qualifications are dubious at best.

Since the judgment is not available I am not sure as to whether this requirement was declared void ab initio like the NRO was. The question is, should it have been? Let’s say that there had been a similarly discriminatory law in effect that barred a certain ethnicity or religion from public office. Would it be correct, ethically, for it to be overturned but still be considered retroactively valid for the February 2008 elections? Another question that follows from that once such a discriminatory law was repealed should it be considered to be violating election regulations to have lied in order to bypass it as seems to have occurred in the case of Jamshed Dasti?

It certainly would be peculiar in the case of any other law deemed discriminatory for the Supreme Court to pursue cases pertaining to fraud related to avoiding it, 2 years after it had been repealed.

Perhaps the discriminatory nature of this law is not as clear as discrimination based on race, religion, or gender. But while it’s hard to sympathize with the Jamshed Dastis and Zardaris in this regard it is worth nothing that with this law in effect there would have been no Mai Jori either.

The enthusiasm with which the Supreme Court has pursued this issue (with Justice Ramday allegedly interrogating Jamshed Dasti on various Surahs of the Quran in order to verify his Islamiat degree and Justice Khilji Arif declaring him an embarrassment to the National Assembly when he was unable to respond correctly) suggests that the worldview of the Justices is more in line with that of the bench that wrote the original 2002 judgment validating the graduation requirement than with the bench that overturned the law in 2008. Perhaps the Supreme Court’s outrage is based on the issue of perjury and forgery rather than the issue of the graduation requirement itself. But is it ethical to so eagerly pursue a case regarding forgery to bypass an already overturned law?

Another issue is whether following the law is itself an absolute moral imperative regardless of whether the ethics of that law are deeply controversial or in this case have been assessed to be incorrect at a later date by the Supreme Court. i.e. is it really wrong to have bypassed a law that the Supreme Court later acknowledged as discriminatory? After all if there had been no graduation requirement to qualify for public office, there would have been no need for Jamshed Dasti to lie about his degree and as a result violate the Representation of the People’s Act. As a result it’s impossible to treat the two issues (the issue of the fake degree and the issue of the now-overturned graduation requirement) separately. The Hamid Mir school of thought regarding “rule of law” would consider it enough that the issue was illegal at the time and that there really should be no other principle taken into consideration. I am not too sure about this and moreover I don’t know if Hamid Mir would so meekly accept any law that he considered against his personal ethics. The question, too, arises is to what extent the judiciary should show flexibility when dealing with secondary issues surrounding an already overturned law. Furthermore, what does it show about the current judiciary’s worldview that from its actions today it appears to be chafing at the bit for someone to re-institute a discriminatory law like the graduation requirement so that it can continue with its divinely sanctioned mission to “cleanse” Pakistan’s political
system.

regarding Zaid Hamid’s article/letter in Dawn

Via the Zaid Hamid “exposition” site, I read Zaid Hamid’s letter to Dawn on the occasion of Yusuf Ali’s sentencing for blasphemy. Here it is:

FATWA-FOBIA

There are a lot of allegedly moderates pakistanis on the chowk, who believe in human rights, who have woRn out their fingers posting about kashmir, the jinnah speach, the tolerant islam in pakistan, the 2% extremists. In supporting the killing of kashmir in the guise of human rights, selfdetermination etc. they are in tune with the mullahs, who prefer the word jihad.

In the following story, if the alleged moderates criticise the blasphemy laws they will be in conflict with the mullah. No, the moderates cannot afford to do that because of the fatwafobia. The human rights blah blah does not apply to pakistani nationals.

Convicted for blasphemy

A kind, benevolent and honourable Muslim Sufi of a small order has been sentenced to death on blasphemy charges by a court in Lahore. I am an eyewitness to what happened in the court and how the prosecution murdered justice, human dignity, Islamic and contemporary law and all norms of humanity in the name of Islam. Mohammad Yusuf Ali is a staunch Muslim and a scholar of the Holy Quran. He has rendered meritorious services to Islam, Pakistan and humanity in his career. It was only a difference of interpretation which was exploited by extremist mullahs and some Urdu newspapers. Yusuf Ali had already spent two years in jail and now he has been convicted.

I was present in the courtroom to assist the defence lawyers. It was barred to the outside world. I am witness to what happened inside and how he has been convicted. The prosecution had based their case on four items: audio cassette of Juma Khutba, video cassettes of Juma Khutba, Yousuf Ali`s purported diary, and one Pir and his few followers, who claimed that he had claimed to be “Muhammad“ in front of them many years ago!

There was nothing objectionable in the cassettes, and even according to Qanoon-i-Shahadat, they were inadmissible, as the one who had made these was not known. They were highly edited, doctored and manipulated.

The diary was not of Yusuf Ali`s at all, and even the prosecution admitted that they were not sure of its origin. It had no name, no handwriting match, no owner. It was simply alleged on Yusuf Ali and was torn to shreds in its originality and credibility.

The Pir and his followers were again torn to shreds, as none of them was the complainant. They never reported the alleged blasphemy to the police or any other authority, which supposedly happened many years ago. Their credibility did not exist at all in terms of contradictions in cross examinations.

One of them was on bail on fraud charges. The complainant had all the info on hearsay. He had never met the accused in his life. All his info was through Urdu newspapers. He accused Yusuf Ali of adultery, but even in the FIR, the relevant section was not mentioned for lack of evidence, making the complainant liable to “Qazaf“. His testimony was not admissible at all.

Yusuf Ali had categorically, even before the registration of the FIR, made it clear through paid ads that he had not claimed to be a prophet and he was a staunch Muslim. Top religious scholars like Maulana Abdul Sattar Niazi had declared him a true Muslim and asked the charges to be dropped. According to all legal and Shariat requirements he had proved himself to be a true Muslim. Still the prosecution insisted that he called himself a prophet. How can anyone be the judge of someone`s faith? The prosecution lawyers went so overboard that even the judge had to stop them from committing blasphemy in trying to prove Yusuf Ali wrong. Even though Yusuf Ali was on bail, he was arrested one day earlier against all rules, laws and norms. It is extraordinary how the bail given by a High Court was cancelled by the Sessions Court and the accused was arrested.

The whole trial was in camera and the media was not allowed in to hear Yusuf Ali`s explanations, his speeches and comments. The media was also barred from seeing the hopelessness of the prosecution witnesses and their lawyers.

It was on this quality of evidence that a great living sufi has been condemned to death on so many counts that we have lost count.

Now Yusuf Ali is in the line for gallows. Will we wait and let the evil win or raise our voices for our own survival?

Z.Z. HAMID

Rawalpindi

Zaid Hamid makes a really indisputable point here which is why exactly there is such a shocking silence regarding blasphemy cases among the Pakistani media and Pakistanis who consider themselves to be liberal. Why is it that most people have never heard about the Yusuf Ali case until it was brought up again by the hardliners last year as a way to attack Zaid Hamid? Isn’t it a shame? Zaid Hamid’s account of the trial of Yousuf Ali also gives us some insight into the mockery of justice that blasphemy trials are.

As an example, how much mainstream media attention was given to the trial and conviction of Qamar David of Lahore and Imran Masih of Faisalabad who both received life sentences earlier this year? How many people are familiar with the details of Imran Masih’s case:

Imran Masih, for example, a Christian shopkeeper in Faisalabad, Pakistan, was given a life sentence on Jan. 11, according to sections 295 A and B of Pakistan’s legal code, which covers the crime of outraging religious feelings by desecrating the Koran. A neighboring shopkeeper had accused him of burning pages from the Koran. Masih says that he only burned old business records.

Will we ever know the irregularities that went on during in his trial?

And finally, why is it that Zaid Hamid – someone who has seen firsthand the damage that the introduction of religion into the legal system can do – can still support an Islamic state? Would Zaid Hamid step forward and give the same defence to someone like Imran Masih who had not “rendered meritorious services to Islam, Pakistan and humanity in his career”. Why is it that despite paying such a large price as a result of the blasphemy law, people like Zaid Hamid cannot accept the basic principle of secularism which is that in the interests of all members of society, we surrender the right to invoke the state’s authority in matters of religion. i.e. we give up the right to put the force of the state behind declaring someone a kafir and gain, in return, the security of not being persecuted by the state for our own beliefs.
.

cabinet meeting on the Punjabi Taliban

Rehman Malik acted very wisely in contradicting Musharraf’s labelling of Nawaz Sharif as a ‘closet Taliban’ in his Seattle speech and called him a patriot. I’m sure it’s tempting to join in on the get PML-N pileup that’s going on these days but I’m not sure it’s particularly productive since all it really seems to be doing is strengthening the military by pitting the two parties against each other (as usual). I mean, there’s something really strange in a situation in which the COAS meeting with the Chief Minister of Punjab to chastise him is not seen as anything but a gross overstepping by the COAS. (See this article for another example of just how far Kayani has gone). And anyway, what did Kayani say in his lecture to Shahbaz? “Shahbaz, it’s very, very bad to support ‘bad’ Taliban – look at me, I only support Haqqanis (strategic assets), Mullah Omar (strategic asset), and of course Hafiz Saeed but that’s because I am pragmatic and realize that our foreign policy must be India-centric. What excuse do you have?”

Anyway, Rehman Malik’s uncharacteristically sensible statement on Nawaz Sharif probably smoothed some of the pain of the cabinet meeting held on the subject of the Punjabi Taliban. This is an interesting account by Rauf Klasra of the meeting in which the Interior Ministry made a presentation on the Punjabi Taliban. Apparently Shahbaz Sharif was force-fed some reality on the issue:

Sources said that Shahbaz Sharif sharply reacted and wondered how could “killers, rapist, dacoits and robbers” be called Punjabi Taliban. Shahbaz was not ready to accept the statement given in the cabinet meeting that instead of finding excuses and role of Pashtun Taliban, it was high time to focus on the activities of the Punjabi Taliban who were in fact behind the recent wave of terrorism.

YRG’s interview in the Financial Times

Here.
I found this one-line answer pretty funny:

FT: What are the next steps in the war? You have talked about launching a north Waziristan campaign and you have had some successes in terms of arresting militants? What has changed in your approach?

YG: We have arrested high value targets.

But apart from that the whole interview was pretty solid. I thought it was interesting that he said that not restoring the judiciary earlier was his biggest mistake. One of the unusual things about Zardari and Gillani’s working relationship is that it’s been pretty clear from late 2008 that the two don’t agree on many issues and Gillani hasn’t exactly been shy about insinuating at the points on which he disagrees with Zardari. Despite that, Gillani hasn’t done a Farooq Leghari on Zardari. (Obviously that’s a bad analogy is because Zardari is the one with the 58 2(b), but there were ample opportunities for Gillani to undermine Zardari’s presidency which he didn’t take, especially this year with the judicial appointments crisis).

In January 2009, Ayaz Amir speculated that Gillani was a “second Junejo in the making” after Gillani had sacked his pro-Zardari secretary and National Security Advisor Mehmood Durrani, probably with the blessing of the army. I don’t think that’s exactly materialized either, in large part because Zardari is no Zia. First of all there is no earthly way he could use 58 2(b) so its usefulness as a deterrent is minimal and secondly, Zardari doesn’t have the autocratic tendencies of Bhutto, Zia, Nawaz Sharif or Musharraf. In fact one can argue that Zardari is probably (whether due to circumstance or personality) one of the least autocratic Pakistani rulers in its history. Furthermore, PPP politicians like Gillani, Aitzaz Ahsan, Raza Rabbani and Sherry Rehman realize that their political future is better served by sticking with the party, regardless of personal disagreement or ambition and (apart from the hapless Israr Shah who remains suspended from the CEC) Zardari is tolerant enough of dissent to welcome them back into the fold whenever they show up. Finally the combined opposition of the judiciary + PML-N + media + military establishment seems to have terrified/galvanized a lot of the disgruntled PPP leadership back into supporting the party. In fact the interesting thing to me is where Zardari has alienated the most PPP politicians has been the Zulfiqar Mirzas / Nabeel Gabols of Sindh for being too compromising with the MQM and Sajida Mir and others in Punjab for giving too many concessions to PML-N. But while one can have a lot of sympathy for Sajida Mir & co in Punjab, Zulfiqar Mirza and Nabeel Gabol are pretty difficult to muster any sympathy for. (it’s a whole other topic, but Mirza and Gabol’s reliance on gang connections in Lyari is an exact parallel to Pakistan’s use of militancy in Kashmir and Afghanistan – when gangsters become your only leverage they will ultimately become too dangerous for the outside world to tolerate any longer and then you’ll be left with nothing and only yourself to blame).

Gillani is often given all the credit for smoothing over confrontation and Zardari’s resistance to issues like the judicial appointments is often seen as senseless. But aside from the fact that crises like that of the judicial appointments are simply manifestations of issues that need to be resolved, someone once said to me that if Benazir had been in Zardari’s place she would not have lasted so long and I tend to agree with that assessment. Zardari’s peculiar style of alternating confrontation and ultimate backing down from the brink is not pretty but who knows how anyone else would have dealt with the pre-ordained series of crises that this government has encountered. It’s not dignified but nothing about holding on to a civilian government in Pakistan is dignified and anyone who expects it to be, or underestimates the difficulty of the task should listen to Nawaz Sharif’s speech in Lahore on March 1.

Anyway, let’s see what the constitutional reform committee comes up with. So far, Gillani and Zardari have turned out to be – weirdly – been one of the least dysfunctional president/prime minister pairs that Pakistan has had but it will be interesting to see how the changes to the constitution are going to affect this balance.

PML-N losing its mind or just feathering its own nest

Some really terrible statements have come out of the PML-N leadership in recent weeks, but this one by Shahbaz Sharif really wins the prize:

Gen Musharraf planned a bloodbath of innocent Muslims at the behest of others only to prolong his rule, but we in the PML-N opposed his policies and rejected dictation from abroad and if the Taliban are also fighting for the same cause then they should not carry out acts of terror in Punjab (where the PML-N is ruling),” he said at a seminar held here on Sunday to commemorate the services of late Mufti Muhammad Hussain Naeemi.

That being said, he does raise an interesting point – why would Punjabi militants choose this point in time to attack Lahore when the PML-N government has been publicly reaching out to to the Sipah-e-Sahaba leadership; assisting in the removal of several Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat members from the fourth schedule, etc? It’s possible that the Sipah-e-Sahaba leadership that is getting closer to PML-N (Ahmed Ludhianvi) doesn’t have much control over more hardline elements of the “Punjabi Taliban” like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. [It’s been suggested the the recent round of bombings in Lahore have been to avenge the death of Qari Zafar the leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi by a US drone strike.]

We know that the recent round of attacks in Lahore comes at a time when the PML-N has once again started speaking out against Musharraf and military involvement in politics in general. Just in March there have been unusually harsh anti-military/Musharraf statements by Nawaz Sharif and now Shahbaz Sharif and his son.. Hamza Sharif re-iterated the PML-N’s request to bring Musharraf back to Pakistan to face trial under article 6 which they’ve been silent about since October 2009 (reportedly under Saudi pressure). At the same time PML-N has also made itself virtually unassailable by its support of the judiciary during the NRO and judicial appointments crises. The question is – is the military establishment getting a little nervous about PML-N’s position of strength? Looked at this way, PML-N’s recent decision to renew ties with Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat leadership actually makes sense politically on a larger scale than just Jhang politics – the more powerbrokers that PML-N makes friends with (the Supreme Court, the Lahore High Court, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat), the more difficult it would be for the military to disrupt any future set-ups if and when the PML-N comes to power in the centre.

Disco in Pakistan

Early disco – Ko ko Korina from the film Armaan (1966) starring Waheed Murad:

Punjabi disco – Disco dildar mera from Dhi Rani (1985) by Noor Jahan, the actress is Shahida Mini:

Naheed Akhtar ‘Jise dehko maange disco’ from the film Nadaani starring Babita:

Ismail Tara in fifty-fifty skit “Disco Chor”:

Disco Dewane – Nazia and Zoheb Hassan (1981):

Disco Dewane – Babra Sharif from the movie Sangdil (1982):

‘Disco Premee’ by Runa Laila from her disco album Superuna (1982) (this is actually Bangladeshi since Runa Laila was Bangladeshi by then):

Naheed Akhtar – Main chand khwab sajaloon from Miss Bangkok (1986) with Babra Sharif:

Hasan Jahangir – Hawa Hawa (live performance):

I honestly don’t know what genre this amazing song falls under, but I must include it – Jugni by Saleem Jawed from somewhere in the 90s:

and finally this clip of Alamgir singing Ko Ko Korina live:

By the way, Alamgir is really ill and you can help him with his medical bills by buying an autographed CD from his website. I bought one and it took a few months, but it did eventually arrive in the mail.

Terrorism is not merely the failure of political leadership.

There is a tendency among the more sophisticated right-wing to discuss issues of counter-terrorism capacity and political dysfunction with absolutely no discussion of the actual origins and motivations of the terrorists. In this clip Talat Hussain spends a few minutes shouting about the dysfunction at the provincial and federal level and then adds “the terrorists are ready, of course” implying that they are some kind of force of nature that will show up whenever politicians are dysfunctional enough and that the root cause is the political dysfunction itself.

We’ve already established that Talat Hussain assiduously avoids laying any blame at the military’s door for anything. Fine. But he goes beyond that, he refuses to discuss terrorism as anything but a failure of security. To give General Tariq Khan and retired AVM Shahzad Chaudhry their due, they are two of the only pro-establishment public figures who have discussed the phenomenon of extremism in society, the fact that it’s the root cause of the terrorism, and the need to counter it. For all these other idiots, terrorism is just something that creeps onto the scene when Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Sharif’s fights get out of control.

The irony of this situation is that there is actually one area in which the civilian leadership is most certainly culpable in contributing to the growth of terrorism and that is PML-N’s recent patronage of Sipah-e-Sahaba. Would be interesting to see Talat Hussain do a show on this topic, but I doubt it since that would involve discussing how a terrorist organization holds the key to PP-82 Jhang, a deeply troubling situation which cannot be discussed without a discussion of the origins of extremism and the grip it has on our unfortunate society and ofcourse we wouldn’t want to see Talat Hussain’s brain explode all over the TV studio now would we.