The journey has only started for PTI

May 14, 2013 § 8 Comments


The elections are mostly over and the final verdicts are pouring in, sealing a decisive victory for PML-N and sufficient seats to put PTI down as a significant opposition player. Where lion-bearers are very joyous, vowing to bring back the glory days of Pakistan, PTI supporters look utterly saddened and dejected.

However, now is not the time to pout or be sad. Now is also not the time to deny the fact that PTI did not get a sweeping majority. Rather, it is time to gracefully admit defeat, hail the 30+ odd seats that PTI has secured and learn a few critical lessons from the voting season.

What PTI achieved?

PTI has emerged as a political force to reckon with. At the same time, Imran Khan can be given the absolute credit for prompting the youth of this nation to become an active part of the political process. I was a part of the D-chowk jalsa on May 9; I actively engaged in political discussions with others of my age group – and the sheer hope and optimism they expressed and the renewed vigor of nationalism that twinkled in their eyes and in their conversations, was absolutely awe-inspiring.

This was the first time in Pakistan’s history that such a huge portion of youth has gone out on the streets, stood in lines for hours and cast their votes. This is also the first time in this country’s history that expat Pakistanis have flew back in such huge numbers to stamp the ballot paper.

Finally, PTI is currently the second-largest political party in Pakistan. The struggle that started 17 years ago, at the hands of a single man with no hopes but a rock-solid ambition, has now turned into a huge force. This is the time for celebration of a really good start, not that of disappointment.

What PTI needs to work on

However, it is also time for the party to look inwards and discern its short-comings. The chief among these is the fact that PTI has turned out to be a party that is primarily focused on the urban middle-class youth. This objection is true to a certain extent – the detachment of the party from rural pockets is what decisively turned the tables against it in Punjab. Then there’s also the issue that PTI didn’t really do any ground-level mobilization in Sindh or Baluchistan – both are critically important for this country and are becoming increasingly so. PTI needs to reach out to the population at large and go beyond urban dwellings.

Secondly, PTI must use the next five years to mature itself as well as its supporters. There are those amidst PTI who refuse to discern the critical importance of democracy and tend to undermine it at times. There are also such who tend to dwell on the negative, call the mandate of others a fraud or useless and similar other bold statements – PTI leadership needs to communicate to their young, hot-headed, yet politically active voters, that such ideas are terribly adverse to the democratic process in Pakistan at large.

Youth in Pakistan is here to stay and will form a majority of the population until 2052 or so. And this youth vote will become an increasingly dominant phenomenon in the coming years. Although this youth seems to have kicked into the political arena, it is undergoing disorientation. One can understand that to carry out a huge election campaign, you need to have a foe you can cite as a failure. So PTI’s criticism levelled towards PMLN was an election strategy.

But elections are over – a huge populace, comprising of the youth, is waiting for Khan to show them the way now. This path must not be that of hatred, intolerance or destructive criticism. It is high time for PTI to rally the youth around someone more grand and more inclusive – namely, nationalism. I have seen the hopes in the eyes of those who have been utterly disappointed in their country; I have seen the so-called mummy daddy kids stand on streets for hours, in blistering rain and under rains. This passion, this fervor must be used to fuel a nationalism and reinstate our pride in being Pakistanis.

The flawed argument in favor of reserved seats for women

December 18, 2012 § 11 Comments

Imran Khan recently kicked up yet another melee in Pakistan’s media when he declared that he would have women contest elections rather than enter the National Assembly on reserved seats. Before weighing the plausibility of the argument, many were quick to jump the bandwagon of unqualified criticism simply because it was Khan who said so.

For the uninformed, women in Pakistan’s National Assembly currently have 60 reserved seats. How exactly are these seats filled in? Well, since the seats are allocated to each political party based on their proportion in the legislature, the said political parties have the sole authority to figure out who will fills these seats.

The result is simply that the wives, daughters, sisters, relatives of the bigwigs of each political party smugly position themselves on these seats, clamouring out about women rights yet being utterly incompetent to launch the least effort to that end. Seats are allocated purely on political connections with nary a thought spared to any merit or qualification.

There are plenty who dished out a tab bit intelligent criticism to Khan’s proposition by stating that letting women contest elections is nearly impossible in a conservative country like Pakistan. The argument is quite valid and yet it is utterly inadequate to reach the conclusion that the reserved seats shouldn’t be tampered with.

In my view, yes women contesting elections still seems a remote possibility. However, things are on their way to change with ECP pushing for a greater number of party tickets given to woman candidates. Meanwhile, what we CAN do is to ensure that at least the women who find their way to NA on reserved seats merit some minimum qualification.

Just like I would never vote Hamza Shahbaz for being Shahbaz Sharif‘s son, I wouldn’t want a woman to represent Pakistani women simply because she is the wife of an eminent politician. Is that principally wrong? No. Is that too much to ask or somehow impossible? Absolutely not. So why the mindless ruckus then?

Rather than expending their energies in rabidly attempting to defend the reserved seats, I would suggest that the women rights activists can do a far better job if they tried to coordinate with the authorities and somehow devise some kind of minimum qualifications for the women who get to be appointed on the reserved seats. A proven record of working for women, some political insight into policy-making for the said gender – anything tangible that may make sense for a person who gets to be on one of those reserved seats. And I really don’t think that is too much to ask for.

PPP apologists and intellectual dishonesty

December 12, 2012 § 8 Comments


Most of the times I read an op-ed about PPP in an English daily, it’s almost bilious – especially if it’s meant to eulogize the party. Normally this is how the course of such articles go: high words fly, lofty ideals are cited, arbitrary versions of historic incidents are recounted with more than a tinge of bias, grand titles and appellations are quietly slipped into what is pitched as a balanced opinion piece and the masses are told, yet again, that in PPP is embodied the ultimate saviour of this nation.

I have often read such pieces and tolerated them, hoping year after year that the party that is so revered by the liberals of this country may perhaps someday live up to those expectations. But the last five years have been an abysmal disappointment, even when I know well the adage about history repeating itself.

Let’s, for once, be honest. PPP is not a liberal party. It has never been a liberal party. It is a political party that is as opportunist as PML-N, ANP, MQM, PTI or JI. From Zulfiqar Bhutto’s decision to render Ahmedis infidels to PPP’s cowardly silence over Salman Taseer’s murder, I utterly fail to see how this party is any different from others who play to the gallery and use populist rhetoric to score points. PPP has proved liberal at times, yes, but only when it was most convenient. And the same goes for all other political parties. I simply fail to see how one is any better than the other.

The liberal coterie has long lambasted PML-N for its electoral alliance with extremist organizations such as SSP. However, I don’t hear no caustic words from the jayalas-in-guise over PPP’s decision to form an electoral alliance with Sunni Ittehad Council. Let me remind those with poor memory retention powers that SIC is the same party which openly hailed and eulogized Salman Taseer’s murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, and campaigned for him all over the country.

What is even worse is that the fiercest apologies for PPP emanate from those who profess in being rationalists and unbiased analysts. Time after time, they would defend the feudal culture that breeds in the very lap of PPP, the dynastic politics that is the hallmark of the party and the other follies that are silently glossed over with what can best be termed as intellectual dishonesty. They would tell you how PPP has passed a bill in the assembly which will finally bring deliverance to such women who are victims of domestic abuse – yet they wouldn’t tell how the bill has zero practical value due to an utter lack of implementation and serves merely to earn PPP precious political points. They would tell you how PPP is committed to the elimination of all kinds of religious extremists – yet won’t say as to why the party would take the likes of Maulana Fazlur Rehman under its fold every now and then.

Recently, many of these ‘intellectuals’ have taken to defending the up and coming ‘heir’ to the party’s ‘throne’ – Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. I have nothing against Bilawal – he may be a bright, young man for all I know. But what I do know for certain is the fact that to this day, he hasn’t played any political role in Pakistan, has spent little time in his homeland, and feels a lot more comfortable speaking English than Urdu. The primary, and sole, merit for a politician is the work he has done, or not done, for the people – not the family he hails from.

How does one pre-qualify Bilawal as a great politician when he doesn’t have a day’s worth of actual political experience? If he contests elections, enters practical politics, bags some worthy achievements, I’d be more than happy to vote a youthful leader. But until he has done that, I fail to see how can one extol him without being dishonest.

I have no grudges against PPP except that it is the one party that was not based on religious claptrap or stifling ideological premises. Yet, it has failed to deliver what many had hoped it would. And in doing so, it has stooped to the prevalent mediocrity of the political arena.

How is Abdul Qadir Gilani’s win a victory for democracy?

July 21, 2012 § 2 Comments

(Cross-posted from ET Blogs)

Yesterday the by-elections on NA-151 were held in Multan. This was the very seat from which Yousaf Raza Gilani was removed as the Prime Minister. Ever since PPP was elected and Gilani was appointed as the Prime Minister, Gilani’s sons, Abdul Qadir Gilani and Ali Musa Gilani have been doing exceptionally well. We found a few hints of this in the ephedrine case in which Musa Gilani is currently implicated.

But I digress.

So, in the by-elections Abdul Qadir Gilani scored a win. No surprises there – the Gilanis are a Pir family with a huge number of followers and a lot of influence in Multan.

What was surprising for me was that our very dear Twitter liberatti started cheering for PPP the instant news came in of AQ Gilani’s success! They started hailing this as the victory of democracy, the voice of the masses, the apt answer to the judiciary’s ‘aggression’ and what not. Naturally I was amused, but not so much at the hollow grandeur of these words as at the very stance taken by many friends and colleagues.

As it is, a lot from our liberal coterie tend to support PPP for some very obscure reasons. They term it the ‘true face of democracy’, the party which has sacrificed a lot for the sake of democracy, the only party with a liberal manifesto and the list goes on.

I personally hold most of this to be plain untrue.

Whereas PPP may have made a lot of efforts towards the restoration of democracy and for its continuity, for which I sincerely commend the party, it is still far from being a truly democratic party.

Abdul Qadir Gilani’s win is case in point.

Hereditary and family politics has become a sad norm within PPP. With is shocking is that this is getting support from people rather than critique.

Log on to Twitter for a second and you’d see hoards of tweets stating how AQ Gilani has proved democracy is the true winner. Really? The son of a Pir (a religious equivalent of a typical feudal) who was able to swoop the seat of the Pir once he was disposed, is a victory of democracy? Either there’s something very wrong with this argument or I’ve had all my definitions wrong.

My only contention in all this is that many liberals – some of whom I deeply revere and respect – have become more of a reactionary force. In trying to belittle PTI, oppose Imran Khan and somehow ridicule the party, they are trying to justify a whole lot of equally despicable evils. For instance, a gentleman on Twitter was found stating something like:

Since grapes are sour, PTI fans would now say that voters in NA-151 were illiterate.

Through such sarcastic remarks, he thus effectively discarded what is a very valid argument. You can take that from someone who has lived in Multan for the last 15 years.

AQ Gilani’s vote bank indeed comprises of a lot of tenants and such people who are directly favoured, affected or controlled by his family. This has been true for feudals and for Pirs, but suddenly it’s no longer true for Gilani because, well, he is opposing PTI and his win could be rubbed into the judiciary’s face.

Then there is the regular argument of putting PPP’s (on-paper) liberal stance against PTI, PML-N and others. My question to all of those who do this is:

Wasn’t Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto the one who branded Ahmedis as non-Muslims and initiated a vicious cycle that still continues to this day?

And exactly what liberal policies have PPP been able to enact practically throughout its three governments? Merely passing bills in the parliament is barely an achievement.

Moreover, the way our present government has handled all issues, from the energy crisis to inflation, I have absolutely no love lost for this government, but yes I would really want to see it complete its term and continue the democratic process.

Having said as much, I would also want others to justify the rhetoric of PPP being the best ever political party. This is a claim which needs to be propped up on facts and achievements and not mere words.

Published originally on Express Tribune Blogs.

Image Courtesy: ET Blogs

The curious case of angry liberals and Imran Khan

January 8, 2012 § 4 Comments

Pakistan’s political environment is electric with Imran Khan’s ‘tsunami’ that has swept across provinces and parties alike. It’s just about two months ago when political pundits were claiming that PTI is a non-entity and that Khan’s claims at bringing about a change are nothing but hogwash. They would sweep their hands in a condescending manner, mid-air, and laugh off his chances in the future politics of Pakistan. I must give them that since his jalsa in Lahore, they have accorded him a little respect at least.

The political environment in Pakistan, which has been stale with old slogans and tried faces, has suddenly turned electric and alive. People, youth, political recluses and hermits are suddenly thronging Imran Khan’s jalsas. This may be perhaps one of the very few and rare instances in Pakistan’s history when a political cause has struck such a chord with all and sundry.

The most interesting aspect of this ‘revolution’, however, can be seen in the liberal coterie of Pakistan. While some select few have chosen to side with PTI and be a part of this change which may be in the coming, others have only grown fiercer in their criticism leveling newer and more advanced allegations against Imran Khan. Here, by liberals we can assume two distinct groups.

One is the group that claims to be the leftist set, clinging stubbornly to an age-old, tried and failed model, stuck to the pre-cold war era and breathing a belief that they can bring about a communist revolution in Pakistan. They are perhaps the smallest political ideology in Pakistan. They read Noam Chomsky by the day, smoke Marlboro whites in anti-capitalist seminars by the night and discuss Lenin and Marx with their ‘comrades’ which, in a given gathering, rarely exceed the figure of ten. Their sole criterion for one’s merit is the extent to which that person conforms to their narrow, set ideology. And anyone who stands contrary to that is a pro-capitalist, elites’-serving, establishment-implanted thug. Period. That’s pretty much the argument.

The second set of critics from amongst the liberals is those who genuinely believe in human rights, separation of state and religion and desire to see Pakistan moving towards a more humane political model, without necessarily sticking to a definite ideology. I tend to believe I am a part of this group. However, I have stark disagreements with these liberals, at large, over PTI and Imran Khan. Most of the criticism that has been mounted against Kaptaan by them is more or less articulated in my earlier article ‘Imran Khan – to vote for or not?’And I absolutely agree to this part of their stance that from a purely liberal view-point, Imran Khan is definitely not a good choice.

But the present political discourse is more of an argument of ideal vs practical. They wish to have a person who is the epitome of secular humanism and would lead them right-away to a Pakistan where religion and state are entirely aloof, rights of all minorities are well protected and military suddenly has absolutely no role in politics. Well, here’s the bitter pill: that’s insanely utopian.

The immediate analysis, by the liberals, after the Lahore jalsa was that Imran Khan gathered people from all around Pakistan and that such a huge crowd after so many preparations wasn’t that great an achievement. The Karachi jalsa pretty much trashed this argument. But then some new arguments surfaced during Karachi jalsa, which were equally ridiculous. A fellow tweeted that security personnel had been ‘instructed’ to attend to jalsa. None of my acquaintances from security agencies corroborate this allegation but that’s not a proof of no-guilty. What is a substantial proof to the contrary is that a mere look at the crowd would have convinced any sane analyst that this was a jalsa where people from all walks of life, all ethnicities and all kinds of backgrounds were present. Even if security personnel were instructed as per the claim, that would have contributed barely a fraction of a percent of the crowd on site. An insignificant contribution to a popular cause at best, if at all, but nothing more.

I also am unable to comprehend the tacit approval and support extended by fellow liberals to PPP. A party that, yes, may have a rather liberal manifesto but one which rarely ever contributed to make Pakistan a more humane state. A party that has been involved in perhaps the worst corruption scandals of all times, with the exception of unearthed billions gobbled by our military, that is. And a party that has been ridiculously adamant in pursuing politics merely for the sake of politics. Why would a sane person in his right mind support such a party any more, especially when BB is no longer leading it and persons with feeble intellects and absolutely no political vision continue to be at its front. For my part, I think supporting PPP any more is hazardous both to Pakistan and to democracy. The other major player, PML-N, too has failed to do anything significant in its current spell. It has merely played the role of an opposition for the mere sake of playing that role. And its subtle approval of the right-wing extremists, the likes of Jamat-ud-Dawa and Sipah-e-Sahaba is as clear as the day! So no, I won’t support the Sharif brothers either.

Incidentally, only a year ago, I was planning on writing an article where I thought I’d propose a mock government with kind of ideal persons (from amongst the available lot) in all positions. I placed IK as PM, Javed Hasmi as Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi as Interior minister and similarly, all best-of-the-worst politicians at a position which best suits them. A year forward, IK is pretty much realizing the very plan. The allegation that IK is suddenly bringing all the ‘used’ baggage to his party is not good enough, to me. I think that on the contrary, may be a lot of people are jumping the PTI bandwagon because things have gone so wrong that they really want to work under someone who at least speaks of bringing about a positive change. And in IK, all these ‘spent’ cartridges have found their salvation.

The case of Javed Hashmi is definitely not that of someone hoping to ‘gain’ political power or someone who’s been ‘advised’ by ‘deep state’ to go join IK or any of the other standard motives proposed by liberals about those leaving their parties and joining PTI. His case is, at least, one glaring fault in the arguments put forth by most analysts. But yes, there are some who have joined PTI as opportunists. And such morons will always do so during every major political transition.

And as a matter of fact, PTI doesn’t have much choice in this. If IK chooses unknown, never-heard-of candidates to contest elections for PTI, PTI will once again lick the dust in the elections. But if IK takes these eminent politicians within the folds of PTI and at the same time, manages to stick to his vision and proposed policies, this can well mean a definite step forward. Not the best move, mind you, but a step forward. Let’s not forget even a politician of Bhutto’s stature did end up including Khar in his league.

Also, if IK was someone with a liberal manifesto and PTI a party well divorced of all things religious, as our liberal coterie would have him, I don’t think they could have bagged more than a seat or two. The liberals ‘need’ to understand that if they keep looking for an ideal person and stand aloof from the ground realities of a country whose masses still are steeped deep in religion, they will never find anyone good enough. But if they are looking for the ‘better’ of the ‘worst’, they may find, in Khan, the very choice.

On a concluding note, criticizing from the distance and trashing virtually every political entity by counting out the flaws while never endeavoring to be a part of the setup and try and improve it, pretty much renders all arguments from the ones who merit the aforementioned qualification, illegitimate.

Imran Khan – to vote for or not?

November 3, 2011 § 46 Comments

To vote:

• There’s no doubt in the fact that he has magnetized the youth, especially the urban youth, to abandon the comfort of their homes and move forward from mere words; Imran Khan brought them to the streets and no matter how or what he is, he at least unfolded a new chapter in our youth’s political activism which is a dire need today.

• On a neutral stand-point, Imran Khan is someone who hasn’t been tested yet. Despite all the talk about Imran Khan being the ‘suicide’ option, even worse than status quo, the fact remains that so far, Imran Khan has never been found involved in any corruption charges. And the feats he has achieved in the past, from leading Pakistan to a run for World Cup to establishing the hospital and a university, all these clearly tell that here is a man who wants a social change and who has tried to bring it as far as he could. So, after all give and take, Imran is still someone who one seeks out as a possibly better option. In short, his past record shows him a man who is honest and incorruptible.

• Imran Khan does not come from a political background or hasn’t been launched by one of the major political parties and then took his own stage. He’s self-made, in so far as his political achievements are concerned.

• Imran Khan is a face well-known internationally. He is a person who knows how to speak well, how to get his point across and how to adjust to different kinds of audiences. Just ask yourself, who would the world take more seriously when addressing at UN General AssemblyMian Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari, Altaf Hussain (just saying) or Imran Khan? Plus, his British connections may let him sale relatively smoother in the rough waters of foreign diplomacy. That, of course is an assumption but a fair comparison lends it weight.

• Not only youth but a number of intellectuals, media personnel and a constituency of literate populace sides with him. While you will see men shipped from rural regions and ‘patwaris’ are the gatherings of both PPP and PML-N, the jalsa at Minar-e-Pakistan had people from all walks of life, most of the politically conscious, at least in comparison to the voters of PPP and PML-N.

• Thus far, Imran Khan hasn’t pitched in any ethnic-centric, region-centric or any other exclusive rhetoric. He claims to be fighting for elimination of corruption, all over Pakistan. Whatever the manifesto of PTI encompasses, it speaks for the entire Pakistan. And that is manifest in both the words and actions of PTI thus far.

• Imran Khan talked about women rights, about educating Pakistan and similar other objectives which pretty much constitute much of what’s wrong with Pakistan today.

Not to vote:

• The chief problem that I find with Imran Khan is his anti-US rhetoric and pro-Taliban stance. Of course he hasn’t openly supported Taliban like JI and others, he has never spoken against him. He speaks of talking to Taliban by ending war or terror and thus restoring peace but all this is a highly impractical as well as illogical. Taliban are not ready for talks, their Shriah-aimed ambitions are not regional but universal and they are not to be told to ‘give up’ their demands just like that. A recent proof to that can be found in the example of the fate Rabbani met in Afghanistan.

• Another great concern is about the personnel his party has been embracing. From Hamid Gul to Jamat-e-Islami rightists, his party has well catered to all sorts of members without disagreeing with their ideology. PTI has also been indiscriminate towards accepting such politicians who have abandoned other ships or were kicked out, some of them even on corruption charges. So whereas yes, Imran Khan comes clean on the issue of corruption, his party seems to be taking a somewhat relaxed stance towards it.

• The worst, of all things leveled against Imran Khan, is his alleged involvement with the deep state or what we know as military establishment. There has been talk of agencies supporting his cause and Imran’s tacit approval of army’s actions since he never talked against the army or it’s exploitations in Pakistan. And this allegation gains much currency when one sees that right now, PTI is only hurting PML-N’s vote-bank, the only party in the political arena who aims to bring army to accountability. Naturally, the logical path for army is to support Kaptaan and that is understandable – but Kaptaan’s support for army is what perplexes many since corruption simply can never be eliminated from Pakistan until army, too, is brought under accountability.

• Recently, PTI arranged a demonstration in Peshawar where it blocked roads to barr NATO tankers from going across. According to media reports, the demonstration was attended by a number of extremist right-wing parties. Also, on the way back, Imran stopped by at the Maulana Sami-ul-Haq’s seminary, the great madressah which has the ‘honor’ of having first launched Taliban who were students there. This is not to hand-pick a single example and lambaste PTI over it – rather, this is simply a proof to the aforementioned assertion that Imran Khan seems to sport pro-Taliban sentiments – now whether these sentiments arise purely out of his anti-US strategy or are these a result of some military minds working to shape PTI’s orientation, one cannot say. But those are the facts.

While that pretty much sums the chief features of both sides of the mirror, let me add that I haven’t absolutely ticked off Imran Khan. He has made his presence known and he may well have a political future, perhaps a significant one. What makes me wonder is that in recent days, in fact within a week of his jalsa, a number of intellectuals have been won over by him – they are optimistic, liberal, humanists and they see a hope in him. My sole hope with Imran Khan, however, is that the mistakes he has made thus far and the errors he has committed in the estimation and ideology of the Taliban and other right-wingers is a result of his naiveté and political immaturity, further bolstered by the ‘patronage’ of JI hawks and exploited (?) by the military establishment. One can only hope that once the liberal coterie abandons its distanced criticism and joins the flock, Imran Khan may have a chance of bettering his views and consequently, his policies. I, personally, think he will be the last man to concede to the implementation of Shriah.

How do you like em bananas?

October 14, 2011 § 25 Comments


There comes a point in the spiritual journey of a man when things no longer are what they seem. Whereas others look at things in the same ordinary fashion, you have a deeper understanding of them and discern other, deeper meanings of them. For example, the other people be looking at apples and calling them apples but nay, you be the wise one, knowing that what they see is a banana, looking like an apple. Such is the profundity of true wisdom. And when such true wisdom transpires to others who can ‘see’, they are elated and instantly rush to you to congratulate you at having achieved that height of spiritual excellence. These like-minded wise men then shower you with all sorts of accolades so as to prompt you onto your path of wisdom so that you may reach that pinnacle of human intellect whither you can discern that an apple is both an apple and a banana. The-duality-of….fruits phenomenon, as they call it.

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