Thursday, October 16, 2014

Malala’s Peace Prize, cynics and ashraafists

The case of 2014 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Malala Yousafzai, which she shares with an Indian Kailash Satyarthi, who has devoted himself to the cause of child slavery, may be used as a litmus test should we want to know the bent of mind of any Pakistani fellow. This will help us know whether someone is a cynic or an ashraafist or both. Ask someone what he thinks about the Nobel Peace Prize for Malala; if he tells you, ‘Please, no joking!,’ be assured that he is both a cynic and an ashraafist. Some of the refined souls may be so artful that they would argue they are not this or that and are different from the lot; but their rhetoric reveals whether they are exclusively cynic or ashraafist only.

As cynics are souls in anguish who in their mysterious, unknown, and unknowable perfectionism find fault with everything and view everything from a standpoint of negativity, it seems with the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize for Malala they have been thrown out of the frying pan into the fire, i.e. into a world which may be dubbed perfectly imperfect. So how come in such a world an honor like that of Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Malala! The cynics will never be able to be in harmony with this fact; they cannot reconcile with this “strangest” thing. What the heck it has been given to a Pakistani, a girl, and a young girl, and a Pakhtun girl!

So much so that one friend who is thoroughly a cynic, and in his deepest perceptions maybe an ashraafist too, was so much outraged that he rang me and questioned me the same evening as if it was I who made this happen. He was completely puzzled, and quizzed me: “Why, but why she has been awarded this? Is it so? Why?” So the Paki cynics think, and they believe it too, that the young girl has done nothing. She has wrongly been awarded this prize; she doesn’t deserve that. Even if she has done something; it’s not such that she be given that award. They mean: It’s all politics behind this; they are capitalists, Americans, and such, who are behind her, and it is this politics because of which she has been awarded this Nobel Peace Prize. That’s a big conspiracy. She is not worth that honor; her work is far below the prestige of the Prize. Who the hell they are who make such decisions! The Paki cynics feel helpless in the face of that “injustice;” they would stop it by force if they could!

All that rhetoric that revolves not only around the opposition of Malala Yousafzai but has found an impetus, albeit negative, in the awarding of the Peace Prize permeates with another hidden tendency. That is Ashraafism (Urdu: Ashraafiyat, or Ashraaf-Pasandi). Let it be noted here that the English term “Elitism” may somewhat be nearer Ashraafism as far its meaning is concerned; however, it is far from conveying the full range of the meanings the Urdu term carries. The Urdu word Ashraaf has a history of its own; it has two connotations: one is its moral implications; and the other, its social, political and economic implications. It’s antonym in Urdu is Ajlaaf, which similarly has the same connotations.

In its moral sense, Ashraaf means persons who are considered with high moral standing in a society; whereas Ajlaaf are such persons whose moral standing is measured at a lower or the lowest level, or they are with no moral standing. In English, they may be translated as Noble and Ignoble people. However, the social, political and economic senses of both terms are of immense significance; and in some ways, it is in these senses that Ajlaaf or the ignoble persons were considered with low or lowest moral standing or with none at all, and the Ashraaf with high moral standing.

As a matter of fact, the Ashraaf were such persons who were placed at a higher level in a society, not only socially and economically, but politically also. They were the rulers and custodians of that society. Opposed to them were their subjects, the Ajlaaf, whom the fate has situated at a lower or the lowest level of that society, and they had no power over their lives and bodies. They were the ruled and the stuff of that society.

What is remarkable about the Ashraaf or Ashraafiya is that not only was the whole of its Ashrafi paraphernalia based on but survived also via the concept of racial superiority and racial purity. Most of Lughaats and dictionaries tell that Ashraaf are ‘the people of noble birth.’ That puts a lot of emphasis on the ways marriages and blood relations were seen and conducted in an Ashraafi society. That did help Ashraaf contain property and privileges within their families and classes. For them, women were part of their property.

As against this, the Ajlaaf were such unfortunate people who were of ignoble birth. They were racially inferior and impure; they were originally, i.e.by birth ignoble. Not surprising that labor and physical work came to the share of the Ajlaaf. Thus occupations created castes, and both symbolized the Ajlaafi classes. That shuts all the doors for the Ajlaaf to go and move right or left or upward. That’s a closed society. It’s mainly two movements, Humanism and Democratismm, that transformed that closed society into a Karl Popper’s open society. But the remnants of that Ashraafi closed society still survive and thrive as well in Pakistan.

Hence the Ashraafists argue how a girl from a non-Ashraaf can be honored with such a Prize. Let it be won by a daughter or son of an Ashraafiya, and they would be all praise for him or her. Once a friend whose family lived in Gowalmandi, Lahore, denigrated Nawaz Sharif thus: “Trash him; he just used to play in the streets of Gowalmandi!” In the same vein, Paki cynics and Ashraafists feel denigrated by this Peace Prize as being awarded to an ordinary girl; they do not see and commend her courage and work; nor her fortune! In their cynicism and ashraafism, they represent a closed society as well as closed minds!

The article was carried by Dhaka Tribune, and Pakistan Observer.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

ISPR’s political semantics - II

Dictionaries and lexicons provide literal and a limited range of meanings only. Thus, they may not help understand and interpret a text until and unless it is put in its proper context and situation in which it was composed and expressed. In the first part of this article, political semantics and the paradoxes lying behind the ISPR’s August 31st Press Release were discussed. This part tries to understand the other two press releases both of which were issued on the same date.

Here is the second press release (N0. PR185/2014-ISPR), which was issued on September 1, 2014: “News being run on private channels after Chief of Army Staff and Prime Minister meeting regarding Prime Minister resignation or his going on leave is totally baseless.”

Actually, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of the Army Staff Raheel Sharif met in the heat of a very volatile situation. The moment the meeting concluded, some 3 or 4 TV channels started telecasting the news that the COAS had asked the Prime Minister to resign or go on leave. It is in this context that the above PR needs to be put and interpreted. Read the PR carefully and you would especially note how badly worded it is. What it apparently means is: ‘After the meeting between COAS and PM, news regarding the PM’s resignation or his going on leave is being run on private channels, which it is totally baseless.’

First, this PR puts COAS first and PM second in its order; and second, it precludes the apprehensions or rumors it was meant to quell that the COAS had asked the PM to resign or go on leave. However, whatever it may mean, it does not mean that COAS did not ask the PM to resign or go on leave. It simply amounts to saying that two events are not related, i.e. the real fact of the meeting between PM and COAS and the imagined fact of the PM’s resignation or going on leave did not have any connection. Thus, whether it is a fact or not, regardless of that it may be surmised that the COAS may have asked the PM to resign or go on leave!

The second Press Release (No. PR186/2014-ISPR) reads as: “(1) ISPR has categorically rejected the assertions that Army and ISI were backing PTI/PAT in anyway in the current political standoff. (2) Army is an apolitical institution and has expressed its unequivocal support for democracy at numerous occasions. (3) It is unfortunate that Army is dragged into such controversies. (4) Integrity and unity of the Army is its strength which it upholds with pride.”

Here the 1st sentence of this PR, especially its first part, is what provides a clear rejection of the assertions that Army and/or ISI back PTI and/or PAT. In the first place, it must be given a serious thought: why such “assertions” are made; what is that justifies these “assertions” and their overwhelming presence in the current opinion-environment; why such apprehensions raise their heads whenever there is any “revolt” against any civilian government? No doubt, there is a history of such unfortunate interventions and conspiracies, and the culprits have themselves confessed to their crimes. It is in that perspective that such assertions not only stand justified but validated also. A simple categorical rejection may not suffice to weaken or remove that long-standing impression.

What is more important is the second part of the sentence 1, which tries to qualify the “categorical rejection” of any backing of PTI/PAT! When it is said that ‘Army and ISI are (“were”) not backing PTI/PAT in anyway “in the current political standoff,” as far as wording of the sentence is concerned, that means they may have been backing PTI/PAT in the past or may be backing in future. Not only is the PR badly worded, it is prone to various doubts and other meanings also which may not have been the intention of its composers. Better they composed the whole PR in the simple present tense!

In the sentence 2, the PR asserts “apolitical” nature of the institution of Army. To reinforce this assertion, it reminds that on ‘numerous occasions it has expressed its unequivocal support for democracy.’ Is there any need to do so? Why is it that every time there is a “political storm” meant to weaken or topple the government, the Army (and ISI), a sub-ordinate institution, has to clarify and defend its apolitical character vis-à-vis any apprehensions or allegations for its involvement? Once again the reason for such PRs lies in and is justified by Pakistan’s political history. However, in order to wipe out such assertions, apprehensions, doubts, etc, completely from the memory and mind of the nation this or such PRs would not work; what it requires for that to happen is a practically consistent and steadfast approach to devote its resources, energies and time to meet its constitutional duties and zero involvement in any political and/or civilian affairs of the state and/or government, and it must happen to be seen in that way.

After quelling its alleged backing of PTI/PAT in the first two sentences, the PR shows its regrets on the Army’s dragging into such controversies and this fact as unfortunate. That’s really meaning! First, it’s no controversy. Second, it’s a serious allegation that Army/ISI back PTI/PAT in this political standoff or otherwise. Third, it is justified as cogent evidence from the political history of the country. Fourth, it ought to be taken as an opportunity to sit for an introspection and self-analysis by the Army and its allied institutions for the sake of broader national interest. As is the case, past eclipses one’s future, so is with Army and its other institutions. That is indeed unfortunate! Unfortunate for all those parties whom this PR addresses or mean to address, and the composers of the PR also!         

The last sentence 4 seems to be standing on the verge of mere rhetoric. Under the circumstances, what this sentence means or may mean is neither clear nor intelligible: “Integrity and unity of the Army is its strength which it upholds with pride.” The situation in which this sentence has been composed and expressed everyone knows it well; but what’s the context in which one may try to understand and/or interpret it! The one meaning which it may contain is that lest it is the “current political standoff” or the controversies the PR refers to which may be harming the Army’s “Integrity” and/or “Unity”; or there may be other such things or fears aiming at its “Pride.” Or this sentence may be taken to mean addressing itself!

In conclusion, let me repeat: words and sentences are packets of explosives or envelopes of goodwill; it is the context and the situation which determines the nature of their destructive or constructive character. That means in a highly charged situation, as the one prevails in Islamabad today, it is political semantics that matters. Chaucer the poet said: Judge not, lest ye be judged! In the same spirit, may I remind the ISPR that it needs to be too careful to let its text mean what it never intends to mean!  

This article was carried by Pakistan Today on October 11, 2014.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Disrupting the system of governance in Punjab

It does not need any political acumen to see the reality behind the results of those surveys which declare the governance in the province of Punjab as better or best in comparison to other provinces. Building flyovers or such “marvels” within a stipulated time or following the PPRA (Public Procurement Regulatory Authority) rules is no feat; that should go on on its own as a matter of routine. Reaching at any place where for instance a hapless woman has been raped, or a heinous murder has taken place, or in the midst of flood-ravaged people by no means can be termed good governance. It is at best ruling and behaving like a royalty.

Common sense does not tolerate high-sounding praises of such governance by those analysts who believe wisdom is their handmaid and it is they who are there to teach the ignoramuses. Would they ever try to understand that such kingly governance has already become part of the dusty memoirs of the royal personages! We are living in the second decade of the 21st century and there are models of governance which do not focus on personal presence, personal redressal of grievances of the citizens, centralized decision-making, discretionary powers and discretionary funds for elected or appointed / nominated state functionaries, etc. Instead, they encourage independent systemic arrangements for delivery of the services to the citizens with in-built mechanism of accountability; they include on the one hand services like security of person and property, dispensation of justice, which form the core functions of a state; and on the other, provision of social services such as potable water, sanitation, paved and cleaner streets, parks and play-grounds (etc) to each citizen, the determination of which depends on the stage of evolution the society concerned stands at.

As against this, whatever the system of governance the province of Punjab has had, it is being systematically demolished and now it is more than 10 years that this model of personal governance has taken over this unfortunate province. Not only that, the autocratic decision-making in addition to autocratic supervision of everything happening or taking place in Punjab substantiates this model. It is sickening, and one can imagine the plight of those officers and officials who are working under its monarchical set-up. It is rotten and mean. In fact, it is governance in the service of personal whims and likes and dislikes. Everything comes from the office of the chief minister and, likewise, everything goes back to the office of the chief minister. Is not it symptomatic of a deeply entrenched political disease that a number of ministries rest and relax in the person of the chief minister of Punjab; as if he is the source of everything that the government of the province is meant to deal with!

Under the circumstances, the most pertinent question is: Is this model of personal governance a model of governance at all? This question itself gives rise to many other questions: What purpose does this model of personal governance serve? Ultimately, in whose interest, does it exist? What achievements has this model recorded in its name? Has it been able to accomplish any of the above-mentioned two types of services the provision of which every model of governance aims at?

First, the model of governance being practiced in Punjab is no model of governance; it is personal, i.e. it derives its justification and effectiveness from the person who is the chief executive of the province, and not from the chief executive of the province. That may seem tautologous, but it’s not. As is the case, a chief executive is the executive head of a province, and not the whole thing himself as a monarch used to be; he heads all those domains and departments which come under his constitutional and lawful authority. He is not those domains and departments himself; nor they form his person. It is in that spirit that decentralization and specialization find their rationale.

Second, this model of personal governance exists only for the person who is at the helm of the affairs. In this case, it translates into a chief minister of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, and it amounts to saying that in order to accrue political-cum-party gains, the model of governance existing in the books of the Punjab government is being undermined. For example, when the chief minister reaches to an aggrieved person personally, it may serve that person to see his grievance redressed, but the final and the solid gain lies with the chief minister, because that personal beneficent act of the chief minister does not replicate. That’s royal beneficence!

Third, to do justice to this model, it needs to take into account what are the achievements of this personal governance. No doubt, there are certain solid accomplishments, such as efforts to bring transparency in the affairs of certain departments and introduce the e-governance. Simultaneously that raises a lot of questions as to the effectiveness of such efforts: How far these efforts are successful and how much they are trickling down! For instance, as the chief minister’s claim of annihilating the corruption from the province proves to be a fiction, it is yet to be seen how these efforts are going to improve the lot of the citizens. The fact is that the state machinery in Punjab is still as exploitative and as corrupt as it was 5 or 10 years earlier.

Lastly, has this model of personal governance scored any success as far as core functions of the state are concerned; and also what about the social services which the provincial government is supposed to make provision of to the citizens? Not only has increased the sense of insecurity in Punjab, but social life of the citizens also sees no improvement, rather there is deterioration in spite of the network of the roads, over-head bridges and under-passes, etc. On both counts, this model of personal governance fails miserably. Fear the day when Mr. Shahbaz Sharif is no more the chief minister of Punjab and whosoever takes charge from him will have to start from the scratch to put or restore a model of systemic governance back to its due place, if he wishes so, and he will be facing a Herculean task!

This article was carried by Pakistan Observer on October 2, 2014.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Why Pakistan is not a viable state?

Better to start with two clarifications: First, this piece does not raise the question of Pakistani state’s viability in the sense Pakistan’s Leftists and liberals are wont to discuss it. They say something like that: It’s unviable because it was created by the British in line with their policy of Divide and Rule; It’s unviable because it was created by the narrow-mindedness of Hindus or the Congress, or the stubbornness of Muslims or the League. They also hold that: It’s unviable because religion is never the basis of any state. The writer prospectively believes that states are not rational entities; they may come into existence, and disintegrate and disperse into more entities with or without any rational justifications. It’s like individuals or groups of human beings who want to live separately for any concrete or imagined grievances or none at all that states are born and withered. The crux of the argument is that what’s important is not how and why new entities of states emerge, what’s fatally important is how the newly emerged states live, grow and perform on the scale of their citizens’ rights and well-being.

Second clarification tries to address the universally prevailing view of Pakistan as a failed or failing state. This view derives its arguments mostly from political and economic realms. It’s a complex argument comprising many a heterogeneous theses. For instance, it raises such issues: Military’s hegemony vis-à-vis civilian and political affairs; Intelligence agencies’ role in political and state’s affairs; Absence of democratic values and democratic polity; Centre’s hold; Provincial disharmonies; Ethnic resentment; Linguistic discords; Economic subservience of lower classes; Inefficient state machinery; Separation of the East Pakistan as Bangladesh; etc. Various combinations of such politico-economic factors invite the epithet of a failing and disintegrating state for Pakistan. The writer has nothing to do with this view either.

The above-discussed factors do make sense of what has been and is happening right now in Pakistan. One may quip: The political drama being played at the moment in Islamabad proves the unviability of the state of Pakistan! The writer wants to push the argument deeper into the political abyss Pakistan has been thrown into; and, aims at going beyond the constitutional argument for the viability of a state. That no doubt applies to the first two decades or so of Pakistan’s history, when there was a display of various constitutions appearing and disappearing on the political celluloid. Why this was the case then that now a constitution was enforced and now it stood abrogated? It is here that the argument of this writer formulates itself. Certainly it was not mere geographical, political, ethnic, linguistic, or economic differences which were responsible for the lingering constitutional crisis facing early Pakistan. It was something more and other and different than that which caused that constitutional impermanence. In fact, it was that “something” which lied behind and resulted in the formation of Bangladesh.

But what about the four decades (and the fifth lapping to this day) which lived through the company of a constitution promulgated in 1973? Where had gone that “something” during that constitutional intactness? Of course, the devil did not vanish then, but became distributed in details. The constitution was verily there, but seldom enforced and followed in letter and spirit. Up till now, it has been operated upon by three openly declared Martial Laws (1977, 1999, and 2007). As is believed and upheld by many analysts that even when the army is not in the saddle, in certain matters especially and otherwise generally it keeps the reins in its hands. Be that as it may, it is politicians the responsibility lies with whom to run the affairs of the state in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, and it is they who criminally share that with others, whoever they are. Not only politicians collude with the army and intelligence agencies, but they when in power do not bother with the dictates of the constitution. Let it be mentioned here that it completely excludes the spirit of the constitution, more significant than its letter, which never finds any followers in politicians. No denying that both usurpers and lawful rulers treat the constitution in a manner as if it is there for them to manipulate and not to abide by and follow in letter and spirit. Again it is that “something” which may clearly be seen underlying here in this type of anti-constitutional politics.

What’s that “something?” I would call it that minimum consensus which is necessary for any community of people to form into a political entity, i.e. a state. May it be noted here that it touches the boundaries of the notion of a social contract, but in itself it is not a social contract. In fact, when a community of people comes to institute a state, they first need to agree as to this intention that they are to be together in a state where whatever laws are to be made they will abide by them. That is that minimum consensus! It may be termed Writ of Law. Here it is taken for granted that not all the people may be in agreement with this or that law, and that’s natural; and that those who do not agree, even they are bound to follow that law, though they may try to amend, nullify or replace it with one of their choice. So, before a people enter into a social contract, they require a minimum consensus that whatever laws are enacted, regardless of their agreement or difference with them they will follow them.

Contrary to it, now and then this or that group of people, which does not agree with a set of laws, and instead of trying to get them changed in a prescribed manner, comes to violate and challenge that minimum consensus which ensures the intactness of that political union they are part of. That makes that political entity or state unviable. It is in this sense that the state of Pakistan is unviable, and presently it is PTI and PAT which are trampling that minimum consensus in the name of Azadi and Inqilab. Pakistan’s political history of about 7 decades proves that point. Be it prior to the 1973 constitution or after it, that minimum consensus has always been at stake. It is at stake now also! 

This article was carried by PakistanToday on September 19, 2014.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Islamabad sit-ins: who is the culprit

In the matters of running the state of Pakistan, penetration of politics, politicians and political considerations have marred the capability of the state to think clearly, act accordingly and punish promptly; which has weakened it to such an extent that in most of the cases the state is conspicuous by its absence, resulting in increasing anarchy in the country. It was back in 1953 that Justice Munir Inquiry Report concluded thus: “And it is our deep conviction that if the Ahrar had been treated as a pure question of law and order, without any political considerations, one District Magistrate and one Superintendent of Police could have dealt with them. Consequently, we are prompted by something that they call a human conscience to enquire whether, in our present state of political development, the administrative problem of law and order cannot be divorced from a democratic bed fellow called a Ministerial Government, which is so remorselessly haunted by political nightmares. But if democracy means the subordination of law and order to political ends – then Allah knoweth best and we end the report.” (Justice Munir Inquiry Report 1954, P. 387)

The problem has now complicated so much so that a thick layer of confusion prevails from the highest courts to the lowest functionary of the state. The diagnosis Justice Munir Report made is though still valid; however, the effects of the disease the Report diagnosed have shifted the ailment to another vital area; i.e. the earlier disease has given rise to another one more fatal, i.e. how to fix responsibility. Let it be stated here that the fault lies not with laws as such, but more with their implementation. All the thinking regarding the implementation of laws, rules and regulations that exists now in every organ and institution of the state lacks clarity as far as fixing of responsibility is concerned.

With this preamble, this piece tries to analyze the political discourse taking place on the issue of Islamabad sit-ins of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek. The other day, after the disclosures of Javed Hashmi regarding the involvement of both PTI and PAT in a conspiracy to topple the present government of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, which allegedly had the sponsorship of certain retired officials of Army and ISI, General Mirza Aslam Beg (R) managed to present himself to a prime time TV talk show to expose another bigger conspiracy behind the sit-ins. The Big Bang he may have hoped to make by his revelations failed to release any impact. His utterances were no different from the statements of religious politicians who now and then see the hand of India, or America or Israel behind any noticeable occurrence happening in Pakistan. He tried to name US, UK, Canada and Iran as the conspirators behind the Islamabad sit-ins; he said these countries wanted martial law and anarchy in Pakistan and that the incumbent Chief of the Army Staff foiled their plot. That at best may be termed as an attempt to deflect the burden of responsibility which Javed Hashmi’s revelations put on the Army via retired security officials.

Since Azadi and Inqilab Marches of PTI and PAT started, elements in civil society and the media, and some politicians expressed their belief that the same was sponsored, as they dub it, by the establishment. Thus every development that took place in the Red Zone, be it the coming of the marchers to the Red Zone, their forcible entry into the premises of the Parliament building, their attack on the Prime Minister House, their short but significantly symbolic occupation of the Pakistan Television Headquarters, their leaders’ daily tirades tarnishing the every semblance of the writ of the state, was interpreted in the light of that belief. Thus according to such elements the culprit is the establishment, or , the retired officials of the establishment.

I have every so often reiterated that the Pakistani mind has lost a very precious function, i.e. the function of common sense. While fixing responsibility, it does not see who is the perpetrator of an act, what it tries to focus its attention on is who is behind him, as if the perpetrator is not the one who is responsible for that act, the responsible for that act is one who is behind him and has exhorted him to do the act. No doubt, law takes into account the one also who exhorted and / or abetted one to commit a crime, but it puts the burden of responsibility mainly on one who commits the crime.

It’s a social and moral case: I use an example to illustrate this fallacious thinking; that if a person asks another person to jump into a well, and he jumps into the well, who is one who should be framed with responsibility for jumping into the well? Practically, the most prevalent view in Pakistani society is: one who asked him to jump into the well! That view has taken over the commons sense thinking in every domain of the state and social life. It is like that mother who puts the blame of making his son an addict on others, and treats her son completely an innocent soul. That’s the way responsibility is put and fixed in Pakistan. One may object in Pakistan responsibility is never fixed. That’s another chronic malady the state of Pakistan is afflicted with from the day one. The present piece tries to highlight the fact that a new ploy has been developed to thwart the issue of fixing responsibility: put responsibility on everyone or on one who is not the main culprit. That’s the state aristocracy’s way of avoiding responsibility for anything done!

Hence, whether or not, it is the retired officials of the Army or any intelligence agency as Javed Hashmi blamed, or the USA, UK, Canada or Iran, or the establishment as is alleged, or any other conspirators, who are behind the the PTI and PAT’s sit-ins; whether or not PTI and PAT coalesced with any other conspiring power, that’s not the real issue. The real culprit is one who is before us, not one who is behind the mountain. The culprit is who has organized the sit-ins. It is PTI and PAT who are the culprit. It is their leaders who are the culprit!

This article was carried by Pakistan Observer on September 25, 2014.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

ISPR’s political semantics - I

Nothing can be understood in isolation. So is the case with three recent press releases of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), which acts as the voice of Pakistan Army. However, any attempt to understand them without putting them in their proper context is misleading. Actually, words and sentences are packets of explosives or envelopes of goodwill. It is the situation in which words and sentences are expressed which determines the nature of their destructive or constructive character.

So let’s indulge in a bit of political semantics: Here is the text of the 1st press release (N0.184/2014-ISPR), which was issued on August 31st: “(1) Corps Commander Conference was held at General Headquarters tonight. (2) Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif presided over the conference. (3) While affirming support to democracy, the conference reviewed with serious concern, the existing political crisis and the violent turn it has taken, resulting in large scale injuries and loss of lives. (4) Further use of force will only aggravate the problem. (5) It was once again reiterated that the situation should be resolved politically without wasting any time and without recourse to violent means. (6) Army remains committed to playing its part in ensuring security of the state and will never fall short of meeting national aspirations.”

As far as the sentence 3 is concerned, though the PR reaffirms Army’s support to democracy, but in the same breath it shows its serious concern not only on the existing political crisis, but on its turning violent and resulting in large scale injuries and loss of lives also. The question is why it’s so much concerned about the existing political crisis. The Army is an institution which is sub-ordinate to the country’s civil power, then how come that it stepping beyond its constitutional duties expresses its concern on the violence entering the crisis and large scale injuries. It may also be questioned why it’s so much serious about the violence, injuries and loss of life, which was the result of law-forcing agencies’ efforts to protect the state buildings. Did other institutions such as Rangers, Capital Police and other police officers express any such concerns? Then, it must be asked how such a sub-ordinate institution can judge the policy of the government and its aftermath, whatever it is!

The next sentence 4 reinforces the impression that the earlier sentence gives rise to, i.e. it clearly censures the further use of force. In that, not only does it publicly criticize the government’s policy, but advises it to avoid using force. That amounts to depriving the state and the government of its monopoly of violence, and thus makes it vulnerable to those elements which are creating a worst law and order situation in the capital city. Implicitly it may mean to be understood as carving out a niche for the protesting parties, PTI and PAT. Another angle of understanding 3 and 4 is that in the capacity of a constitutionally sub-ordinate institution, the Army may not advise or exhort any elements which are not part of the government to desist from violence; though they did the same earlier when a PR talked about the sanctity of the state buildings. It be noticed here that the word “force” is generally used for organized (governmental) force, and not for the above-mentioned elements, for which the word “violence” is used usually. It means that the advice exclusively stood for the government!

The sentence 5 reveals the whole stance of the PR. It reiterates political resolution of the crisis, and gives a time frame, affording no wasting of time. More to it, it advises once again no recourse to violent means. Obviously in accordance with the dictates of the constitution, the lawful authority rests with the government, and it is for it to see and decide whether to go for a political resolution, or delay it, or to go for the use of force, or delay it. Here it may be objected that, as argued above, it is justified for the PR to advise or exhort the government to do this or that. But that misdirects the argument, which indirectly tries to make sense of the PR of the ISPR. First, the Army as a state institution may tell or advise only a government institution, not a non-state actor. Second, as it is a sub-ordinate institution, it may not tell or advise the government to which it is subservient.

Finally, the last sentence 6 may be termed paradoxical. While it is said, ‘Army remains committed to playing its part in ensuring security of the state,’ it may at once be asked why that assurance was required to be made. Does it address that mistrust that a long history of military rule in Pakistan has created and strengthened? Or, does it address the doubts lurking around regarding the Army’s role? Be that as it may, the constitution makes the Army to protect the geographical boundaries of the country as well as to come to the aid of the civil power; whenever it is directed to play both of its roles (A-245)! That’s the rationale of its existence.

The second part of the same sentence is rather fatally amenable to various interpretations since the choice of words in it is quite sentimental and problematic. It states: ‘Army will never fall short of meeting national aspirations.’ It is relevant here to note that the constitution consists of twelve parts, and it is in the last part XII and its chapter 2 that the 3 articles relating to the Armed Forces are contained. There are no such words or expression in these 3 articles which may be taken to mean that the Army should not fall short of meeting “national aspirations.” How to understand the meaning of this expression? I would suggest it’s quite a political and partisan expression. How can one know: What the national aspirations are at this moment? That’s something politically subjective, and political leaders use this expression so often to their purposes that it is only in elections that the national aspirations may come to fore and to our knowledge in the form of votes only.

Hence, particularly this PR of the ISPR, which may be said badly or meaningfully worded, does not have only one meaning that the Corps Commanders may have been meaning to say; it may be interpreted in many ways, all of which cannot make part of a short piece of writing. In conclusion, it may said that the spirit and the message of this PR is ominous for the incumbent government, and may be taken to mean something akin to what goes beyond the ambit of the constitution. In short, it’s yielding to the Realpolitik of the moment! (To be continued)

This article was carried by Pakistan Today on October 4, 2014.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Aristocratization / Bueacratization of Adabi Baithak (ادبی بیٹھک), Lahore

Years back, when the very well-know Pak Tea House was closed down, a small portion of the Hall III, Al-Hamra, The Mall, Lahore, was made into a place exclusively for the littérateur to sit, chat, and take a cup of tea. It was known as Adabi Baithak (ادبی بیٹھک).


It’s important to note here that there is a “canteen” also inside the premise of Al-Hamra, outside of which in the open space visitors and especially students of music, and artists used to sit and enjoy a cup of tea. One could see and listen to the sound of a Sitar, or someone rehearsing his / her singing there. It was a very enjoyable place.

We a group of friends now and then visited the Adabi Baithak. Sometimes we preferred to sit in the open and have our discourse there.

Now, when after a week or so, I went to the Adabi Baithak last evening (September 13, 2014) at about 6 PM, a security guard standing at the door of the Baithak stopped me and asked for the Pass. I told him, I am one of the frequent visitors . . . He told, go to the Admin Office, they will give you a form, fill it out, then they will give you a Pass, only then you can enter the Baithak. I asked him to have a peep inside the Baithak to see whether any acquaintance of mine was sitting there, he refused and told: no you cannot; this door cannot open without the Pass!

In the meanwhile, one person who was known to me by his face as he too was a frequent visitor, came and told: Actually, about 4 or 5 days back one “Executive” was present in the Baithak and one man with a cap on his head entered, the “Executive” inquired from him, what’s he is in for; he told he was there just to use the washroom. Then and there, or after that, this restriction has been imposed: Get a Pass from the Admin and then you can enjoy sitting there.

I went back and sat on the stairs of Hall II. When the other friend came we thought of sitting in the open canteen. But there was no chair outside in the open space. I asked a waiter why there were no chairs here in the open. He told, a few weeks earlier, a group of people was sitting here and someone who was drunk broke a chair and there was some fight, since then the Office-wallas have ordered the canteen not to put any chairs outside. I asked him, would he bring tea for us if we sit on the stairs here outside. Yes of course, he said.

I remember when the Pak Tea House was renovated and opened a proposal to issue passes was discussed and was not entertained for obvious reasons. But here this Adabi Baithak has been aristocratized / bureaucratized. Yeah, go to the Admin office, and they give you a form, you fill it out, it asks, who you are, you tell some of your credentials, they ask prove them, or get it verified who you are.

I thought, in every realm of life and letters, now there is widespread aritocratization and bureaucratization; that’s what we have. There has emerged a class in Pakistan, the State Aristocracy (Riyasati Ashrafiya) and it doesn’t want anyone else, anyone from outside to interfere with its privacy, enjoyment, and life-style. For that to achieve, it creates a process, sort of a hurdle, in the form of aristocratization and bureaucratization. It means, it rests with them whom they allow to join or not. That’s like the Gymkhana (a club of state aristocracy) in Lahore.

So, it’s a choice for us: to ask for a pass or not ask for a Pass to enter the Adabi Baithak.

Note it please that Attaul Haq Qasmi, prominent columnist, is Chairman Al-Hamra Arts Council, Lahore. As its head, responsibility for this aristocratization and bureaucratization rests with him, no matter who did impose this ban.