Friday, August 22, 2014

The politics of PTI / PAT: an aesthetical analysis

Everything has an aesthetic aspect. Politics is one of them. The political aesthetics appears, among other things, in two forms: Mannerism; and, Language. The others may be: the beauty of political ideas; the way a politician connects his/her ideas; the reality of political ideas in contrast to wishful political slogans; the beauty of a political vision; the beauty of words and terms chosen by a politician; consistency in the ideas of a politician, etc. The second list is controversial; it’s useless to discuss it here. The first one is sort of methodical, and I would dwell on it. One may raise objections on this or that type of Mannerism or Language; however in Pakistan too there exists a consensus in this regard.

Let it be stated here that certain political leaders did not spare the methodical things also. To them in politics everything, good or bad, is permissible. They exploited them for their own political purposes and build their images. Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and Cuba’s Fidel Castro are prominent among them. For instance, where it is required that one ought to be in formal attire they appeared in informal and casual dresses. They exhibited a mannerism that is not formal and against the etiquettes, but which was used to deliver a message to other party that they had not taken them seriously, rather denigrated them.

With this startup, let’s focus on the present political scene. Never have I felt so much ugliness about the politics of Pakistan that is being thrown now upon the face of the citizens from the lush green capital city of Islamabad. The two political parties, Pakistan Tehreek-e-insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek, sitting in the center of Islamabad, are day and night churning out ugliness by way of their Mannerism and Language. It seems leaders of both parties have gone crazy in their political pursuits so much so that they have lost every semblance of aesthetic sense. Did they ever possess such a thing, in the first place, one must ask?

No one from the PTI or PAT is minding his Mannerism or Language. In their desperation, Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri are using the language of thugs and blackmailers. Likewise, their Mannerism is so outrageous that no sane and civilized person may see them and listen to their tirades for long. It is this Mannerism and Language of Imran Khan especially that he has been likened to Sultan Rahi, a legendary actor, who invented an original style of acting of his own, and in his private life, was a far better person and human being than all the politicians combined together.

Obviously the leaders of both the parties have an air of arrogance about them. Their Mannerism and Language is reminiscent of fascists, but with one difference: the fascists may be counted as the most disciplined. But the fascism of PTI and PTA is most conspicuous in their desperation and arrogance towards other politicians and their target, the prime minister particularly. That puts an ugly face on the politics of both parties!

As for Imran Khan, his demeanor, his way of talking, his choice of words, his gestures, his deep-seated contempt for others present him as a man who is outrageous and has never been trained in manners! It’s a horrible experience to see and listen to him speaking. He has no trace of sobriety, rationality and humanity let alone of a concerted and consistent stream of thought running through his speeches, which are replete with volleys of abuses and scorn for his imagined enemies.

Same is the case of Tahir-ul-Qadri. Despite his scholarship in religious sciences, he seems to have no inkling of moral sensibility. Though, his tirades are much less uglier than his rival Imran Khan; but Tahir-ul-Qadri is equally harmful and destructive to political aesthetics. Hence, the politics of both of them requires more of a psychological and aesthetic analysis than a political one!

Also, PTI and PAT may be compared with the Taliban, who were/are a lot of thugs and blackmailers, practically believing in creating ugliness by executing by force their fascist scheme of things. They relax/relaxed in ruthlessness and killings and blood-letting: the ugliest remnants of a tribal culture. In the same vein, PTI and PTA may also be likened to Sikandar Malik, who successfully managed a one-man-show for hours in Islamabad. Just because he had in his company a woman and a kid, and a loaded gun in his hands! That created an ugly scene for the whole country to watch!

In comparison, PTI and PAT have their followers, living individuals, as their loaded guns to blackmail the government and the state. That’s the logic of mob, which through unleashing chaos is always fatal to the beauty of order, and thus in its rampage trample every value and norm. However, as Sikandar Malik was and the Taliban are being finally dealt with sternly, the PTI and PAT may not be, because they are political parties. That means if you are a religious or political leader, you are absolutely free to say anything and to do anything! In a nutshell, both parties are behaving like thugs and blackmailers. That’s how the beauty of rule of law and equality of all before law is being sacrificed. That’s creating ugliness and defacing the beauty of rules and laws which bring order into chaos.

Thus it may not be far-fetched to propose that Pakistan is an unfortunate state as both at home and abroad it remains associated with the ugliest values of terrorism and feuding politicians fighting since day one for the capture of the state. The gist of Pakistani politics paints an ugly picture of starved vultures intent upon eating living human beings. As of now the only way left for Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri is to get dozens of dead bodies to save their ugly faces: i.e. ugliness breeds ugliness.

So for the Pakistani citizens who possess an aesthetic sense the most crucial question facing now is: how to cope with the Ridiculous and Ugly Politics? Centuries back, Greeks defined beauty as residing in proportion; and the ugliness in disproportionateness. In the social chaos and disorder, it were rules and laws which helped bring order and beauty, without which no aesthetic pursuits could be possible. However, as in arts it is said that breaking rules is permissible only for masters. Likewise, it is not for duds like Imran Khan and Tahir-ul- Qadri to bring order out of the disorder they are intent upon creating. Thus negotiating with such political thugs will encourage other such groups to adopt the same ways to get what they want. That will set a rule in motion for everybody to take recourse to in order to create ugliness by breaking all the rules and norms on which depends the beauty of a social and political order!

This article was carried by Pakistan Observer on August 21, 2014. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Reflections on the 67th Independence Day

For the sane in Pakistan the fight is about protecting the values, the humanity has developed in the course of thousands of years, from the political and religio-political witchcraft, which it is intent upon destroying thoughtlessly. How the time-tested values were trashed (and are being trampled even this moment) when Pakistan came into being is a saga of ruthless fights between the politicians continuing to this very day, the August 14.

The greatest deceptive lessons the politicians taught the citizens derive their justification from the misconception that a state may be based on this or that faith, or ideology. That also hints at the infatuation that a theocratic state is a political possibility; whereas history has no such example to show but the only ones which ultimately proved tyrannies and relaxed in political absolutism.

In addition to such ideological adventures, another fever gripped the nation’s mind from the very beginning; that is the notion of an omnipotent welfare state. The politics exclusively revolving around the slogan of such a state gave rise to a state which started feeding itself on the hard-earned money of the citizens. Thus, not only became the state a handmaiden in the hands of every types of criminals under the leadership of politicians, but gradually it turned out to be the cruelest enemy of the citizens of Pakistan itself.

Resultantly, the state of Pakistan became a goldmine for the elite classes, and in order to appropriate the resources which the state happens to possess and generate, there emerged a new class, which the writer has termed as the State Aristocracy (Riyasati Ashrafiya) and which he has elaborated upon in his Urdu book, Pakistan Mein Riyasati Ashrafiya Ka Urooj (The Rise of State Aristocracy in Pakistan). This class of Riyasati Ashrfiya thrives and survives by its capture of the institution of the state and its resources, and use the slogan of democracy to befool the citizens of Pakistan. That is why the Pakistani Riyasati Ashrafiya is thoroughly against constitutionalism, rule of law, and an independent judiciary, and the latest evidence in this regard comes from the Parliament’s efforts to give more powers to the Parliamentary Commission vis-à-vis the Judicial Commission as far as appointment of the judges for the higher courts are concerned.

Despite the emergence of this new class of Riyasati Ashrafiya in Pakistan, the political elites remain divided and at dagger-drawn towards their own tribes. That’s what is happening today in Islamabad. It’s actually a ruthless fight to capture the state of Pakistan. But why does this fight continue even after about 7 decades have seen Pakistan go from bad to worse? What’s wrong with Pakistan, and its political elites or the new class of Riyasati Ashrafiya?

Philosophically, the chronic cancer may be diagnosed and explained thus: whenever any size of community forms, in order to live together the members of it agree to follow certain values, i.e. sort of a code of conduct. Never ever any community did come into being on the basis of a faith or an ideology. It was always an agreement or a contract to abide by certain values and rules which with the passage of time were abandoned; and what remained to be followed and imposed by this group on that group had only the semblance of a faith or an ideology leaving its moral core behind to rot. This complex phenomenon may be simplified by proposing that the abandonment of moral principles or values or rules of conduct served the interests of the elite classes who and/or their cohorts, without conspiring, politicized the faith or ideology of their community to perpetuate their rule and appropriate the resources of the kingdom or the state they happened to rule. The same took place when the state of Pakistan was instituted in 1947 on this day of August 14.

Integral to this is another proposition: When a community forms together, it invests certain persons with powers to give protection of life, property, and personal freedom to each and all of its members without any discrimination. Also, part of this function is the provision of justice and that to all equally. That is what comes to be instituted and known as a state. From the day one, Pakistani citizens were bereft of this protective role of their state and to this moment remain so. Their life, property and personal freedom are more than ever vulnerable today to the whims both of state and non-state actors. The ordinary Pakistani citizens were never that insecure in Pakistan as the present day Pakistan has forced them to be!

All the more reason to despair today is that the same political elite which is ruthlessly fighting for the capture of the state of Pakistan is exhorting the ordinary citizens, and spending millions to celebrate the Independence Day! What is there to celebrate? Celebrate the state of Pakistan, which has badly failed in protecting its citizens’ person and property and their personal freedom! Or celebrate the thoughtless fight for the capture of the state of Pakistan?

Must we ask what is there to celebrate on this 67th day of independence? What did we achieve through these 7 decades? Should we celebrate that chronic disease called Disagreement, or the Lack of Consensus? Ji, that lack of consensus between the political elites which did not allow a constitution take shape and secure Pakistani citizens their constitutional freedoms during the first 25 years or so after Pakistan was established. For the next 40 years, the citizens knew they had a constitution, but never enjoyed the security of their person, property and personal freedom.

Instead, what the ordinary citizens witness today is that despite the existence of a constitution which is verily in enforcement, certain political elites are adamant to give it up for an Anti-Constitutional Revolution which will make them capture the state of Pakistan! That means Pakistan virtually has no constitution to run the state of Pakistan. The fight for the capture of the state is still raging on the 67th Independence Day. It is the political elites which are demeaning the state and the constitution of Pakistan. That delivers a message for the citizens of Pakistan to heed: Demean the political elites! They are their culprits!

This article was carried by Pakistan Observer on August 14.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Political use of religion in Pakistan

In Pakistan, everything stands politicized. So is religion. Those who are clever enough make hay while the sun shines. Tahir-ul-Qadri is one of them and is famously know as a religio-political power seeker. He is more of a religious leader; trying his luck in politics. Since the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) was founded about two decades ago, it has constantly been failing in winning the voters’ mandate. It never made any headway in any general elections. So the PAT is a party, like so many others having this or that much of following in various parts of Pakistan, which has been forced to indulge in politics outside the parliament.

No doubt, it’s such a phenomenon which has yet to attract the attention of the social and political academics. How such parties survive and behave which remain outside the parliament since they succeed in obtaining only a few or no seats in the national or provincial assemblies. There are a number of such parties; Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (JIP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F (JUI-F) are on the top of the list. What is characteristic of them is that they all are basically religious in their appearance; in reality, however, they all are politically crazy power-seekers. When they happen to win a small number of seats in a situation which puts them in a bargaining position vis-à-vis other parties needing their support to form the government, they fully take advantage of that opportunity. JUI-F excels in that gamesmanship.

In contrast, JIP is a player before the play starts. It sells its street power to negotiate as many seats from a winning-horse party as is possible. This time in the last year general elections, Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) pierced the myth of its street power, possibly once and for all. Thus JIP lost whatever clout it enjoyed outside the parliamentary politics. It may be surmised that it is this significant factor which has softened its political stance towards constitutional politics. Another important factor is its apparent delinking from the security establishment the symptoms of which emerged last year under the leadership of Munawar Hasan, its former Amir. The authenticity of its present pro-constitution posture and politics, under the leadership of Siraj ul Haq, is yet to be tested against the forthcoming realpolitik.

Coincidentally, such parties share a commonality: they all evolved out of the teachings of (almost) purely religious scholars. JIP’s intellectual progenitor is Maulana Abulala Maududi; and JUI-F’s Allama Shabbir Ahmad Usmani. These parties contracted political ambitions later. The case of Tahir-ul-Qadri and the PAT is no different. As the chain of events tells, Tahir-ul-Qadri started solely as a religious scholar. It is after sometime when he had developed a substantial following that he appeared to be nurturing political aspirations, and it is then that he founded the Pakistan Awami Thereek (Interestingly its official website is a commercial domain:

Could it be otherwise? Could it be a case of political parties which were to be founded expressly for political purposes without involving religion? Why they happened to be inclining towards using the religious sensitivities of their followers?  Why is it so that almost all the political parties, seeking political power in the name of religion, are initially religious entities and it is only later that they thought of converting their religious following into their political following? And more than that, why is it so that these parties try to exploit the religious convictions of voters for political purposes? Be that as it may, the question is: Is it religion or is it politics that they value most? In case they value religion most, they ought not to be indulging in politics then. In case they value politics most, they should abandon political use of religion and come out openly as political parties.

It is in that spirit that I love to imagine a party forming and flourishing in Pakistan which would prefer to convert its political following into its religious following! As far as my scant knowledge of history is concerned, never ever such a party existed in any part of the world. The history is replete with such examples, however, where a religious organization when came to seize political power, it was this political power by which it stood seized later itself. The crux of the matter is that when it is politics, whether it is valued most or not, i.e. vis-à-vis religion, it is politics, from A to Z. That means seeking and holding political power is in itself an exhaustive cause; that is why it is habitually believed that everything is justified in politics.

It is here that politics miserably needs a bit of guidance from morality; otherwise, it remains mired in its own vicious cycle of seeking and holding political power at any cost and by any means, to which Pakistani citizens are a patient witness to. Morality teaches: Ends never justify means. So whatever their ends, if they come to adopt immoral and unfair means to achieve them, they lose their moral core and moral appeal. The same applies to all those parties which make political use of religion; i.e. when in order to seek political power they use religion, they lose whatever moral sensibility they possessed. Also, in the end, they come to lose whatever religion they espoused. Out of such ventures, only political tyranny comes out!

In conclusion, it may be said that whenever any religion is put to political use, not only is it drained out of its true religiosity, but its moral principle also, on which it has been built. Hence, those who claim to be the real followers of a religion and in that spirit try to use it for their political purposes verily prove to be those who are the real enemies of that religion. At best, they are politicians in disguise who might use anything, be it a religion, faith or creed, to seek political power. It is in that sense that there is no difference between Tahir-ul-Qadri and Imran Khan. Both are Machiavellian! Both are seeking political power! At any cost! By any means!

This article appeared in Pakistan Observer on August 10, 2014.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Gangsterism – religious and political

The place is not far from Islamabad. A three hour drive and one is far away from almost everything Pakistani. Not only is the weather pleasanter; this small place presents the ethos of a non-Pakistani world. Here it is just one road on both sides of which are located a number of hotels and other shops. It was evening time and I was sitting in the restaurant of a hotel and looking through the window-glass out on the road. It was no crowding here, only a few visitors doing shopping and walking on the road. On the right side from where the road seems to come, I could see just the same scene. Look straight where the road was goes to, I could see the road turning towards left and disappearing.

The sky was cloudy and a cool breeze was flowing with a soothing hiss. All of a sudden, this calmness was broken by a rising noise. As if a crowd was chanting slogans with full force and creating gargantuan sound of their motorbikes’ engines! Everyone and everything stood still in anticipation of it. The shoppers and walkers all stopped wherever they were. First, young bearded men riding on motorbikes appeared. They were holding flags of a religious (political) group. Then open loader vehicles came forward. Men of all ages were aboard with the same flags waving and shouting slogans. Then there were others riding on motorbikes; but it was not a very big crowd. They all stayed there awhile at the turn of the road.

As if just now they have conquered this place, they with a new vigor started chanting the same religious (political) slogans. All the shopkeepers and shoppers and visitors were watching them as if mindlessly. For about ten minutes, they performed the ritual and then moved ahead, maybe to conquer the other part of this place. I tried to take a sip of the tea, but it was all cold.

Years back, it was in Lahore and in a very congested area that the same type of ritual I witnessed. It was late afternoon. Suddenly the shouts of slogans started creating ripples in the air. In such localities such things are strange and folks eagerly try to make out what’s that has come to happen in their midst. The shouts were coming closer. Like others, I too tried to have a glimpse. A young bearded man was leading a group of boys as old as 15 or 14 years, and as young as 6 or 7 years. They were about 25-30 in total.

I asked for another cup of tea. My mind was disturbed: what the hell all this is about. Is not Pakistan a predominantly Muslim majority country? Religious minorities have no substantial number here and maybe that is why they enjoy no religious freedom! Here everywhere there are only Muslims. Then what is that such groups, which are not too few, but too much in number, are up to? What do they want to achieve?

Let this point be clear here that there is no truly religious party or group in Pakistan. The undeniable fact is that almost all of them, though they present themselves as religious, are fundamentally political. They have political aspirations and political cravings. No doubt, the truly religious do not indulge in politics.

Also another undeniable fact is that almost all of them use religion for their political purposes. They all have political motives, be they are individuals, groups or parties clad in religious garb.

Meanwhile, one friend who was sleeping upstairs in his room came down and joined me. He asked: What was happening on the road here in such a place? I was confused. I had no words to tell him what it was. Just that moment it flashed through my mind. Instead of answering, I put a question to him: have you ever watched such a movie in which gangs of motorbike riders are shown committing crimes. They are in fact criminal gangs. They commit crimes in groups. They ride heavy motorbikes with powerful engines, the thundering noise of which causes great alarm and fear.

Here in such a peaceful place, it was such a gang of motorbike riders and others boarding on open vehicles, but I cannot make any sense what they were after, after all, I told him. Instantly, I tried to clarify that this was not a criminal gang in the strict sense of the word. They are different. They do not commit crimes like criminal motorbike gangs do. However, what is obvious, they make use of all of the tactics which such gangs of criminals use. They use motorbikes, and the sound of their engines, and the group psychology of creating fear. Above all that, they use the flag of religion to silence others and to justify as well as sanctify their gangsterism.

He concurred. We did remember the days of our studying in a university, where a group of students affiliated with a religious (political) party used the same tactics of criminal gangs riding heavy motorbikes. We did remember and realized that on the night of every new year, this group riding on motorbikes in dozens or in hundreds try to harass and punish and torture the revelers on the roads. And all that in the name of religion! They are in fact gangsters. Or actually whatever their objectives are, good or bad, they use the ways and tactics of gangsters.

This helped us see what the political and (religio)political parties are doing in Pakistan. They now and then resort to the tactics and methods of gangsters. Lately, in most of the cases, it is religious groups and parties which have often come to act like gangsters. In a philosophical sense, it means that both politics and religion have abandoned their moral appeal and moral ways. Both of them are intent upon achieving their ends at any cost by any means. No matter these means are good or bad. They never care a dime about their means. That is how both religious and political parties have acquired and adopted the ways and tactics of gangsterism in Pakistan.

This article first appeared in Pakistan Observer on August 2, 2014.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pakistan - a state which defies the principles of economics

Ali Salman writing in The Express Tribune takes recourse to the Blogger's view on the political nature of the state of Pakistan and concludes:

"Noted economist Nadeemul Haque posits that it is not the nominal size of the government but its footprint that matters. While acknowledging that the size of the government-to-GDP in Pakistan is not more than 20%, its footprint, as measured by its regulatory strangulation (my own formulation), puts the size of the government far beyond 60% of GDP.

Far from establishing any causal relationship between economic growth and size of the government in any direction, I look at this puzzle from the perspective of politics rather than economics and argue that the hypothesis of a weak, soft and possibly criminalised state, as put forward by the political philosopher Khalil Ahmad, offers a better explanation."

Read the article, Pakistan defies economics in govt-growth relationship, which appeared in The Express Tribune on July 27, 2014.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Media wars

It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you. Give them instructions and care for them. Thus doubled agents are recruited and used. [Sun Tzu, The Art of War]

Before March 9, 2007, it was all dark on the horizon of Pakistan. A military dictator was ruling while dressed in khaki uniform; he was intent upon continuing his rule for the next 5 years; and the criminal politicians were all ready to help him rule for more than a hundred years. Such was the hopelessness that no rational being could dream of a silver lining. One could only fear what happened to Iraq after it grabbed Kuwait, may not happen to Pakistan.

All of a sudden, and it was just like a bolt from the blue, a hope started taking shape. First time in Pakistan, the point was made that the government must be run by the book. So, the lawyers’ movement taught the people of Pakistan three lessons in democracy: constitutionalism, rule of law, and fundamental rights. During this movement, the dynamics of Pakistani society changed the repercussions of which will be felt far deeper into the future.

One of the new forces that emerged in the midst of that movement is electronic media. Rather it may rightly be asserted that not only the plethora of TV channels got allied and aligned with the people at large, but they realized their power also. That made them self-conscious elephantine! Ensuing of a fierce competition among them was quite natural. In a Robbinsian economic sense, viewership as well as advertisement revenue was scarce, and they fought for a larger share forgetting all the norms and rules of the game. The one which won not only a larger portion of the viewership but revenue also became the target of envy and conspiracies by other lesser obtainers.

Previously, it was all melodrama. There was only one TV channel, the state-run PTV. For its survival, it was dependent on the doles from the state, and it blew the stat’s trumpet. In order to survive, it’s still extorting Rs.35 every month from every TV set owner by using the might of the state. Emergence of dozens of new TV channels, which of course were to be run like businesses, completely altered the scene on the stage. The state-run PTV slipped behind the curtain, and lost both its viewership and revenue to the new breed of TV channels, which in no way were dependent on the state. Instead they depend on their market of viewers who indirectly yield revenue to them. Thus, in the world of electronic media in Pakistan loyalty to the market is the rule, and loyalty to the state and its institutions is an exception (loyalty to the constitution is quite something else).

As the art of the statecraft requires, the private TV channels were brought under a regulator, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). However, in essence the ruling political parties came to control these channels for political gains and privileges. That the regulator in this case, as in so many other cases, was not given autonomy and the government kept it under its authority, it remained spineless, resulting in a chaotic broadcasting environment. A number of attempts on the part of these private TV channels to self-regulate failed, which provided ample space to the state and its various institutions and agencies to dictate their agenda items to this or that TV channel.

But that was not like PTV days, the golden days of melodrama and happy eulogies. The competition among these channels drove them to uncharted territories and unfathomed depths. They have already realized their elephantine powerfulness during the lawyers’ movement when they helped defeat a military dictator. Now they have their own fish to fry. They started questioning every practice of the state, its various institutions, including the security entities; the pivot and the point of reference was and is the constitution of Pakistan. The stories and acts which previously went untold and unheard, now found tongues and ears. The tales of Saleem Shahzad, Umar Cheema, and Hamid Mir had a rebellious tone, and challenged the perpetrators. It may also be explained thus that where politicians were required to act boldly was taken up by a TV channel itself. This shows the utter desperation of those who have no hope of justice.

Under the circumstances, the most relevant question is about the role of the state and the politicians. Related with it are other crucial questions, such as: why the constitution is not followed in letter and spirit by the various institutions and entities, be they security or otherwise. Or why the politicians fail to enforce a constitutional rule in Pakistan. Why there is blatant power play which in fact repudiates the spirit and provisions of the constitution. Why the politicians fail in securing the fundamental rights to the citizens, be they journalists. Why the politicians fail to set up independent and autonomous regulators and let them do their job.

In other words, it means had there been rule of law in Pakistan, no institution and entity would have engaged itself in un-constitutional activities. Had there been independent and autonomous courts, no suppressing of the fundamental rights would have been possible. Had there been due accountability mechanisms existent at every level of the state institutions including the Army and the intelligence agencies, there would have been no cases such as of Saleem Shahzad, Umar Cheema and Hamid Mir on the one hand, and on the other, no media campaigns against any security entity may have been unleashed. But all that remains completely absent in Pakistan; which emboldens every individual and every institution to do what they like.

No doubt, the anarchy prevailing in the realm of electronic media in Pakistan at the moment may not have been the case, had there been an independent and autonomous PEMRA, which would have acted in the nick of time in case of any irregularity committed by any media house. However, the PEMRA is still conspicuously absent from the scene whereas weeks have passed that a media war has been raging in Pakistan. That speaks volume about the failure of the ruling PML-N’s leadership!

This article first appeared in Pakistan Observer on May 29, 2014.