Saturday, May 31, 2014

On whose side is Allah?

Published in The Nation, December 30, 2012.

Half-cocked measures never work. Public sentiments are echoed in slogans like ‘drone attacks must end’, ‘stop supporting Baloch separatism’, ‘Black Water and the likes must end terrorism in Pakistan’, ‘stop interfering in our domestic affairs’. But these are mere public appeasement proclamations, made in a manner not to offend our masters. The people, however, know that nothing short of a total breakaway from the US will end our plight. Half-cocked measures never work. And we cannot breakaway unless the current political order is replaced with something more dynamic. They have permeated to the very roots of this system and will control any change within it. This political carousel, irrespective of new players, will continue to remain compliant to US objectives. For any positive outcome, these shackles have to be entirely removed and a new citizen friendly order created; adjustments to fit ankle size will not reduce the pain.

The fear is that any push for a new political scenario will stir up US sensitivities and activate their involvement in the course of change, to enable them to stay on top of it. Failing this, they will be forced to commence the last phase of their plan to dismember and defang us. They cannot let this, however mild, Islamic country slip out of their grip. Without the Army’s backing, whose battle cry is “Allah o Akbar”, the push for such a change would create a scenario which could unroll towards fragmentation.

Our hostility with the US will strengthen the currently stirred up extremist sentiments, while rendering our secular state vulnerable. Both will then create chaos in the country – the US to dismember it and the extremists in an endeavour to gain control over it. Between them, we will be torn apart. We cannot remain on the current secular path and seek to rid ourselves of the US. If we must close our doors to the US, we have no option but to open our hearts to Allah and go for an enlightened Islamic government. This is our only empowering option.

Pakistan is an Islamic country and you can drag it only so far from its ethos. Our support to US occupation of Afghanistan, in clear defiance of the Holy Quran, has brought forth horrifying results: bombs exploding in mosques in the name of Allah, soldiers killing children in the name of Allah; everyone is talking in such haste, no one wants to stop and ponder. Both sides are saying, “We are the good guys, let’s kill the bad guys”, without regard to the basis of our muddled criteria. In this self righteous prudence calculus, bloodshed has become insignificant and Allah has become irrelevant. The true message of Islam has been lost in this battle between the unlettered idealists and scholars enlightened by the Western sunrise.

The government and the electronic media are exhorting the people to stay on this allegedly middle course between the two extremes, and classify this as the course recommended by our Prophet (pbuh). However, the middle path does not lie between kufr (disbelief) and faith in Allah, but within the realms of our all encompassing deen (way of life in Islam). You cannot be a part time Muslim; after your namaz (prayers) you cannot fold and put Allah in the closet along with the prayer mat. He is part of each moment of our life. And that is what makes it bearable. And that is what makes it beautiful. Taking the true middle path is our only way out today.

Such a change requires dynamic and visionary leadership. However, our state machinery is neither designed to take a long term perspective, nor capable of taking decisive steps. Our decisions will continue to be based on immediate concerns. We are merely going along with the momentum of the tide, trying to stay afloat, without any clue or care about where we are headed. Our leaders sit back and indulge in petty political game-playing, which is all that they can handle. Without a bold initiative we will continue to remain amongst the trodden and never actualize to our potential as a nation. It is during such hard times that nations rise and shine.

The idea of standing up as a truly Islamic state is not as fearsome as some of us have been made to believe. The immediate image that comes to mind is of frenzied gun toting jihadists forcing the population to their version of Islam; of lashes and stoning; of a society living in fright and anguish: a Talibanised Pakistan. The reality could be far from it. This religion came to end tyranny and oppression; there is no coercion in it. Islam is a message of social justice, benevolence and peace, not only for the Muslims but for the entire community. If it does not bring tranquillity and serenity in the lives of the people, then it is not the true message of Islam but some distorted version of it.

Imposition of Islamic law will be a revolutionary change, but its enforcement will be evolutionary. And there is no fear of conflict in its imposition. These have already been resolved, since our constitution clearly expresses that laws shall be in conformity with the Holy Quran and Sunnah and that personal laws shall be according to each sect; so there is no dispute about “Whose Islam?”

Immediate enforcement of Islamic law on the entire population is neither practically possible nor socially conducive. Creation of enabling environment will take time; a system of justice will have to be established before we can talk of punishments – and all this has to commence from the top. Change in the economic order will take its own time. Social changes will certainly take longer.

Today, in this environment of chaos and hopelessness, an Islamic government can be the only guarantor of peace and stability in Pakistan. Allah has left us with no other option.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Searching for a just order

Published in The Nation, December 23, 2012.

Democracy is every citizen’s right and its every citizen’s right that his life, honour and property be protected by this democracy; that a just order be established. Our political structure and the entire government mechanism that supports it, does not show the promise. However, we are told that survival of the country lies in its continued existence, and that it needs time to grow. But it has so rapidly brought us to ruin, that we either correct it now or risk plunging into the abyss.

Parliamentary democracy is not suited to our psychosocial reality and political culture; its architects are its sole beneficiaries. Existence of political parties, which is the basis of this structure, is the foremost reason for its failure. They are, by their very nature, self-serving. We could do without them. There is the bookish aspect of different agendas, but what is the relevance of party agendas in our scenario? In any case, the only agenda we need now is a socially just order, which is the nucleus of our security and wellbeing.

Political parties divide the nation and create conflict. They create sub-nationalism, focus on disagreements and entangle us in disputes. They protect feudalism and perpetuate oppression; they play in the hands of financial mafias and foreign agents, encouraging corruption and crime. Parties produce professional politicians, who acquire hereditary rights. Public representative becomes party representative and does not speak in the interest of his voters, but in the interest of the party; and seldom the truth. Parties give political colour to the entire government machinery; they shackle the government. They do whatever it takes to win elections and stay in power. Finally, the ever expanding cabinet is composed of those whose only expertise is politicking. Half of Parliament works to malign and fail the chosen government. Party interest outweighs public interest.

In a presidential structure, where a handpicked team promises greater delivery, the system can be liberated from the encumbrance of political parties. A non-party Parliament’s only priority will be public interest and will collectively work for it. People will be elected on their personal strength and not on party strength. Neither will allegations fly, nor will Parliament become a fish market. Neither will bhatta (extortion money) be collected, nor will political vendettas result in street massacres. In our environment, public interest can only be safeguarded by a non-party Parliament - a democracy, which is free of ‘politics’. I am not suggesting a one party system, but a truly non-party presidential system.

Along with this, if we do away with elaborate provincial setups and have smaller provinces with elected governors, it will not only improve governance, but also substantially lower its cost.

We also need to reconsider the rapid turnover of governments, now an acceptable norm on the premise that the government, in any case, is not going to deliver. It takes vision and farsightedness to manage a country; and time for projects to mature. Here no one thinks beyond the next election. Good rulers are not available in such abundance that they should be wasted merely on time constraints. Minimum tenure should be increased from five to 10 years, after which the President should seek a vote of confidence through a national referendum; failing which, elections should be held. A non-performing ruler could be removed earlier.

Another critical aspect is that a government cannot be left without checks and balances. To safeguard public interest, it might be appropriate to create a non-political citizens’ representative body, with the highest authority in the country but no role in governance. This body should be composed of professionals from all fields like teachers, lawyers, commerce community, farmers, labourers, doctors, engineers, retired soldiers and government servants. This council of professionals should exist at each regional tier and upwards to the national level. People should vote within their own fields, to choose their representatives from amongst those whom they know relatively well.

The national council could be given three basic roles. First is to bring transparency in governance. For instance, the tiers of councillors of health department would monitor hospitals, pharmaceutical industry and other health related aspects, to ensure that all activities are being undertaken according to the laid down laws. They would also register all community complaints about health services. All this would be made public at each regional website and in their periodic published reports. They will also ensure that all government departments display their daily activities on their websites. Transparency will create pressure to perform and reduce corruption.

The second objective is to provide patronage to important national institutions. These institutions could be: institutions providing justice, armed forces, Election Commission, State Bank, FBR, regulatory bodies, including one for media, anti-corruption agency, Public Service Commission, Establishment Division, etc. These institutions would perform according to the law, but their appointments, transfers and promotions would not be influenced by the government. Important institutions will thus be able to perform independently, remaining outside political influence.

Third responsibility is political in nature. If the council through a majority vote feels that the government has become ineffective, it may recommend a change to Parliament. If Parliament approves, the President would be changed. If recommendations forwarded twice are not approved, the council would then be empowered to seek a public referendum. When the President is to be replaced, the council, in consultation with Parliament, will nominate candidates for national elections, according to a laid down criterion.

This council’s decisions will reflect collective wisdom of each field and will safeguard the interests of each professional segment. They will also add to national cohesion, since they will cut across all other boundaries.

Pakistan’s future lies in a system that ensures social justice. This must be the focus of our government and its leading priority. Current system, by its very design, remains focussed on politicking and needs to be replaced.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Seeking a new tomorrow

Published in The Nation, December 16, 2012

Pakistan is at its worst today. Our moral, ethical and cultural fabric has been torn apart; there is no justice, no security, rising costs, joblessness, unchecked street killings and abductions for ransom, pitiable governance with corruption at its historical peak and we are close to financial collapse. Karachi, with politically sponsored crimes, is simmering to explode. If the Army pulls out of Balochistan, a hostile takeover is imminent. Khyber still breaths because of Army’s presence. State decision has bound us to the US occupation of Afghanistan – strategic ally of a government that is sponsoring separatism and terrorism in Pakistan! For their benefit we are killing each other. Relations with India are being expanded at the cost of our business community, disregarding that they are fronting for the US in destabilizing us and blocking our only sources of fresh water. Kashmir is a forgotten story. Political parties, which thrive on creating divisions, are at ease with the level of public discontent; their only anxiety is seeking power. The nation has been deliberately divided on every issue and plunged into self pity, hopelessness and despair; there is no messiah on the horizon. Chaos prevails, but there is no sense of alarm. Sane voices are warning of a looming catastrophe at the end of the tunnel.

No one doubts that elections will bring back the same amalgam, perhaps in different proportions, to mint money and gloat over this nation’s misery, guised in sickening lamentations. The only solace is that the Army, the bastion of our security, is intact. Perhaps we are waiting for some miracle to save us. No, these are not the pangs of a growing democratic order, but rather more like spasms of death. We are in the clutches of a leech like organism which is sucking the nation dry. It has to be touched with something hot to remove it. No beneficiary of the system would like anything to change; only the deprived seek change. Whoever comes up in the system thrives on it; its survival becomes their survival. They then become the ramparts of the system, and will go to any length to save it. This system can only be changed from the outside; no meaningful effort is possible once you become part of it.

A fresh entrant, seeking change, recognises the stagnant rigidity of the system only after joining it. He is caught up with a multitude of problems and has limited experience and little time to deliver, since people expect results. His cabinet comprises of professional political elites who have no capacity of handling such complex affairs and play at the hands of a corrupt and manipulative bureaucratic mafia. If you fiddle with them, the entire machinery would come to a standstill. On top of all this there is party interest to be looked after. Now add to it the colour of compelling political compromises and rampant corruption, and the mess will become too much for the blue-eyed leader to handle. He has only two options: either keep fighting with the system in an endeavour to correct it and accomplish nothing, or keep his team happy, do whatever little he can, and cover up the remaining with false proclamations. This is the route taken. And we accept it as a political necessity – the price of democracy.

Should the nation give up the dream of a just order only to save this rot? Are we to serve this system or is this system to serve the people? Makeshift arrangements like patching up different political groupings or making some electoral reforms are neither remedial nor long lasting. Whatever ad hoc arrangements we make, will fall through. Some permanent and viable solution has to be found. The entire system has to be redesigned and a new order created. Copy-paste from abroad will not work; we need to be innovative. We have our own political culture and our own psychosocial dynamics, and we need a Pakistan specific solution. There is a lot of talent in this country; given a chance they will find a way out.

The people seek change, and change will come. If the educated middle class does not rise now to save the nation, then this thrust for change could sink us into a civil war. Perhaps that is what our enemies are seeking. We need to alter the song from ‘save democracy’ to ‘save the nation’; to give an awakening call and to unite the people across the board. Unless people unite and raise their voice for such a transformation, no orderly change can come. Yes, there is no leadership on the horizon; so then this is a time for collective leadership, for all of us to play our roles – to seek change, speak change.

A citizens’ group, something like General Hamid Gul’s Council of Elders, needs to be formed which enjoys the confidence of the public. This Council should then mobilize the masses. When people in sufficient numbers come on the streets seeking a new order, which is their democratic right, the government will be forced to step aside. The Supreme Court should then authorize the Council to constitute an interim government and task experts to draft a new system. It should be debated amongst the intelligentsia and approved through a referendum. This will be the true constitution of the people, by the people, for the people. Elections should then accordingly be held.

The Army should back up this change, without interfering in the process. Given the scars of its history, it cannot now sit idly and see the nation sink. This is the only route to redemption for this sacred institution – give the nation back to its people; let the people shape their own destiny.

“The world is an evil place not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing” – Albert Einstein.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The great divide

Published in The Nation, December 09, 2012

The Muslim world is in a surge of awakening. Rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen have been ousted; Syria is in a state of civil war and disturbances are spreading. The US involvement is visible everywhere, since it is their security compulsion to keep control over the region. They pursue this through political intrigues, financial arm-twisting, use of brute force and exploiting disputes amongst Muslims, the most potent being the Shia-Sunni divide. Consequently, the Muslims have come to view the US, backed by Europe, as ‘Enemy Number One’. A great divide has been created and the emotional gulf is widening. There is no going back now.

The current unrest, with a backdrop of years of resurgence in Islamic thought, carries the seeds of Muslim unification. We may not be farsighted enough to recognise this, but those who play at the global level think in longer terms. So dynamic is this awakening and so vital is this game to US ambitions that the coming few years might witness major upheavals. Obama’s last term is likely to be consequential for the Muslims, unless they can get their act together.

Although the reasons for these uprising have been tyrannical regimes, concentration of wealth, corruption and economic decline, but when a Muslim community comes under duress, it gravitates towards religion as a rallying point. This then becomes the centre of gravity of their resistance. The West recognises this, and for years has been denigrating the concept of political Islam. The notions of jihad and ummah being significant impediments in US design, colossal effort is directed to suppress these thoughts and shrink religion to mere private existence. However, such dynamics have now been created that the more they crush these thoughts, the more they spread. Muslims from all over the world rise to resist, and their numbers continue to increase.

For many years, our critical vulnerability has been self-centred rulers in reprehensible pursuit of perpetuating their hold; keeping the people at bay by creating harsh laws, maintaining self-serving systems and taking refuge behind religion or some national security hoax, like the so-called war against terrorism. The entire organism is based on subjugating the populace through oppression and deceit. Akin to any mafia, most of our rulers seek shelter from the bigger mobster - the US. However, given their tarnished regional history and current involvement, alignment with the US is now becoming a political vulnerability. For our government, it will soon amount to a political suicide.

Pakistan today stands precipitously fragmented, on every conceivable political, social and religious issue. The most damaging is the Islamist-secular divide, fashioned to garner support for our alliance with the US and title its fallout ‘our war’. The split between traditionalist and modernist outlook has been magnified by pushing secular ideals to the centre stage of our intellectual debate with such intensity that Islamic leaning expression stands inhibited, out of fear of being branded uncultured and backward. This perception is now changing.

The mantra is that there is an extremist version of Islam, which is generating militancy, so this war has actually to be won in the minds; and if this nation is to be saved, it has to be brought on to a moderate version of Islam, implying that jihad must remain short of militancy. These westernised thoughts, belittling religion, are reinforced by the heritage of intolerance and extremist ideals held in certain cleric circles, historical legacy of the Afghan Taliban and terrorism sponsored from across our border. Neither the legitimacy of the Afghan struggle is brought under debate, nor is our partnership in US massacre of our neighbours questioned. The trump card being brandished is the sustenance of our economy. No linkage of our foreign policy to our internal situation is shown and we are given to believe that domestic terrorism is a standalone issue. The man on the street, with greater religious inclinations, perceives this violation of Islamic injunctions an elitist trend and considers secularism to be the cloak under which we hide our new gods. Given the current psychosocial dynamics in the country, this has come to enhance the rich-poor divide, with explosive potentials.

Today we stand divided and disputing; with the nation in total disarray. Our disagreements have become more meaningful to us than the future of this country. Either we unite or we sink. Unless we hold on to our moorings, overcome our differences and carve out our own destiny, we cannot prevent a Syria type catastrophe that is looming on our horizon.

Instead of a leg in either boat, we need to decide which side of this great divide we stand on as a nation. True that there is no Muslim unity to stand with, but here is our opportunity to lead. If we want peace in the region, the US must leave and Afghanistan must get stabilised. Both these objectives are achievable, if Pakistan and Iran unite.

The embrace of historical rivals in Afghanistan is the only means of ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan as well as inside Pakistan. There is no other way of putting this genie of terrorism back in the bottle and driving the US out. Afghanistan will automatically become part of this alliance. This block will emerge as a new regional power centre. It will prevent our isolation and economic collapse, on parting ways with the US. It also carries the seed of greater Muslim unification and will be a precursor to phenomenal changes in regional and global dynamics. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad made a significant remark (offer?) during his recent visit to Pakistan, saying that Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was neither Sunni nor Shia but a Muslim, and if Muslims unite under this one point, there will be no strife or sectarian problem. The only beacon of hope for us, as for the rest of the Muslim world, is this reconciliation. And its time has arrived.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The red on my collar is your blood

Published in The Nation, December 02, 2012

My jet streaks across the cold blue sky towards Muslim dwellings. Perched up so high above the ground, I cannot see much from here; everything seems so small, so insignificant. I am glad I will not see those who I am going to kill - children with soft brown eyes. A lump rises in my throat. What am I doing here? But I am not responsible. Blink. It is not my judgement; I’m only doing a job; those who have given the orders bear the responsibility. And these children, they are merely collateral damage. Yes, this is acceptable terminology. But the hollowness in the pit of my stomach doesn't go away. 

We are now closing up with the target. I need to focus. I’m only a soldier - a killing machine doing its job. “Phantom formation, check switches air-to-ground,” I call out to my Wingman and turn my master armament switches ‘On’. I am glad I will not see their torn bodies, or hear their screams. I tip my nose down for the attack, “Phantom lead is in. Visual target.” My palms are sweaty. The houses keep growing bigger as I lose height; my soul keeps shriveling as I descend. Steady now. I take a deep breath and press the red button. A shiver runs down my spine along with a slight lurch, as the bombs are released. “Lead is off, pumping, turning right.” In a high-g turn, over my shoulder I can see the fire and smoke rising from demolished homes. No shrieks, only silent smoke. Collateral damage. And I head back home, to my children. I will not tell them about the medal I wear. I will read to them a fairy-tale.

Hissing through the air bombs hit their target. Collapsing walls, falling roof, debris, dust, smoke, calling voices searching loved ones, moans and silenced agony, all mingle to make one eerie spinning world of pain and anguish. A young man rises from dust and disentangles his sister from twisted steel and masonry; bloodied but still breathing, clasping her motionless child to her chest and murmuring something inaudible - perhaps, a prayer. The doctors say she will live, but has lost her sight and hearing. And that is a blessing; for she doesn’t want to see anything if not her baby, and she doesn’t want to hear anything if not the sound of his gurgling laughter. And what is there to see anyway, but more homes burning? And what is there to hear, but shameless Muslim rulers babbling? Is there sanity to be found here? For this young man, his madness is sanity enough. He will now cross over to the other side. He will die, but he will take along with him all those pretenders of sanity who have sold their souls to the devil. He now knows no fear and has no bounds. He now recognises the real perpetrators of terror.

Pictures coming out of Palestine have been heartrending: smouldering rubble once called home, crushed bodies being dragged out from the debris, dead infants lined up on the sidewalk, a withered grandmother crying helplessly. At each of these, I wondered if they were not from somewhere in Pakistan; if this pilot with suppressed conscience was, perhaps, not one of our own.

How strange that returning home from Palestine, we switch mode from emotional to self-serving expediency and suddenly switch sides! Can we separate emotions from prudence if it is our loved ones at stake? Souls that are not moved by the agony of others are dead. Twenty killed in Karachi, 40 massacred in Dalbandin, 80 in Dabori; only numbers to be added up. Not worth much more. And frigid hearts pursue life as usual.

The cold discussions one hears on TV channels bear witness to the callousness threshold that we, as a society, have reached. The unending exhortations to continue on the same ‘sensible’ path are deafening. We have put everything on sale - our honour, dignity, sovereignty, security and our thoughts; even God! And what have we gained in return?

For 12 years, we have been brainwashing our people into believing that this is our war. For 12 years, we have been killing each other, and rejoicing in our wisdom; while the marionette master plays with our souls. And is there an end in sight, or even a glimmer of hope? Yes, this is our war, but unfortunately we are arrayed on the wrong side.

And the worst is yet to come. They are now readying us for implosion. The era of non-violent political subjugation is coming to an end; now the time is nearing for their final move - creating sufficient infighting and chaos resulting in fragmentation of the country, as a prelude to its denuclearisation. And in this devastation, the government collaborates. Their plunder is itself part of the US game, but beyond that they play in the hands of our enemies maligning everything that is held sacred, creating fissures in the society, pitching discontent and hopelessness to its peak, burning Karachi, allowing Balochistan to be destabilised and creating terrorism on both sides of the divide. This game is not being played without subservient insidious collaboration. The perpetrators will escape; they have no stakes here. We must recognise the true worth of conspiracy theories; for what is observable is conspiracy, and what is being concealed is the truth.

It is time we got our bearings right, time to look for newer horizons. For each one of us, it is time to speak. If we remain silent, then tomorrow a new people shall rise from our ashes; people with courage of conviction, who see truth and stand by it; who do not switch sides to suit their convenience. Those who will not be afraid to say: “To Allah alone do I bow.” And they shall live!