Tag Archives: politics

Let’s Talk About the Money

2 Jul

The Representation of The Peoples Act, 1976 (and not a recent Supreme Court ruling) mandates that candidates must not spend more than Rs1.5 million on their electoral campaigns for the National Assembly. All National Assembly candidates are required to maintain a separate bank account for electoral finances and submit receipts to their returning officer for expenses incurred in the campaigning process to ensure that they do not exceed the amount specified. But this number is an inconsequential joke for Pakistani politicians and is unknown to most Pakistanis who, under the same act, have the power to scrutinise any candidate’s electoral expenses. In April 2012, the Supreme Court in its ruling on the Constitutional Petition No 87 of 2011, upheld these rules and directed the Election Commission to monitor candidates’ election expenses.

The rules of electoral finance lie at the very heart of the democratic process. These regulations are put in place to ensure that elections, by virtue of their cost, do not become the exclusive domain of the filthy rich. Our criminal neglect of electoral finance is one of the reasons for the kind of democracy we live in. Requiring the Election Commission to implement this Supreme Court verdict will require capacity that the Election Commission does not possess. But this is where friends of democracy should be directing their energies if we really want to change the quality and calibre of those in power.

The lacklustre leadership in control of the country consists of those people who have the money and clout to contest and win elections, which in Pakistan are neither won nor contested on the basis of competence or the policy views held by the candidates. Instead, contested on the basis of power and money, those that have neither, stand spectacularly slim chances of ever winning an election. So, we can automatically write-off most of the upstanding members of society. Therefore, until we change (or implement) the rules of financing the electoral game, we are likely to end up with the corrupt but powerful in the national driving seat.

What could be sadder than a country that has to resort to thinking of who is the least corrupt, least dishonest or least incompetent when trying to decide who should hold one of the highest offices in the land? Continue reading

What We Should Be Talking About

25 May

Economic rationality does not strike a chord with a public raised on a steady diet of emotional irrationality disguised in the garb of national security imperatives. In the weeks to come, Nato trucks will start rolling through Pakistan into Afghanistan. Dollars will roll into the coffers of the Pakistani exchequer and the Pakistani public will, once again, lambast the civilian government for giving in to American pressure and sacrificing national honour at the altar of the mighty dollar.
The foes of the government will make noise about submission to the Americans and elected democrats will end up paying the price for the rational choice to reopen the Nato supply lines. Nothing angers Pakistanis more than the realisation that our military might does not match up with our own inflated perceptions of our national strength. Any perceived signs of military weakness vis-à-vis other states ignites national passions across the motherland like no other national shortcoming. The media’s disproportionate focus on issues of national security, defined narrowly as military might, has taken the spotlight away from local development issues making them seem only slightly significant to the national interest.
As a result, we do not care about the economy or the dismal state of our social indicators compared with regional peers. We are not ashamed of being one of the last remaining exporters of the polio virus. We fail to recognise that the cost of climate change and associated natural disasters will be far more lethal to Pakistanis than India’s nuclear stockpile.
When we are not debating national security, constitutional issues that have no bearing on the life of the average citizen take up media space as if they were the next apocalyptic catastrophe that Pakistan must brace for. The amount of airtime dedicated to scrutiny or discussion of issues that actually make a difference to Pakistan’s citizens remains abysmally low.
With 2013 being election year, it would be a pity and disservice to democracy if public debate remained focused on drones or continued to drone on about Nato supply lines. What Pakistan needs is in-depth engagement with politicians and political parties on the small issues that television anchors do not have time for. The state of education, underutilised education budgets, mismanagement of municipal authorities and their funds, lack of clean drinking water, our negligence of climate change and associated natural disasters are issues that will not only impact the average citizen but are issues that should be at the forefront of national public debate. While writing about these matters in English dailies has its cathartic benefits, until and unless the mainstream electronic media take up these causes they will gain no traction in the hearts and minds of Pakistani people. Consequently, the establishment will see no cause to give these issues the attention they deserve.
It is time to divert attention from the macro to the micro and to define national security in its broader sense and realise that a child out of school is also a threat to national security, stability and progress. The priorities in public debate must switch to focus on issues other than bombs and contempt notices because how many children go to school and what kind of education they receive will eventually be a more powerful predictor of how successful we become as a nation.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2012.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/383738/what-we-should-be-talking-about/

PTI: Not the Change I seek

22 May

Immi Our Savior

Crushed by inflation, tired of terrorism, sick of corruption and on the verge of a revolution seeking an end to growing inequality, we are a nation that not only seeks but needs change. I have been told that Imran Khan and his PTI are the change we seek. The millions that have thronged to his rallies are supposed to be proof that the people of Pakistan are ready to shun the old paradigm of politics and step into a more inclusive, democratic, less corrupt, less autocratic and more efficient era of politics and governance.

One change that Imran Khan brings is that he has motivated young people to participate in the political process. You now see the denim clad, ipod wielding scions of educated families shouting themselves hoarse at PTI rallies. Yesterday, Imran Khan announced a campaign to focus on recruiting young Pakistanis for PTI and introducing a transparent system of selecting party leadership. This is wonderful in theory – yet this announcement merely ads up to the elusive list of changes that PTI promises but fails to unveil much like its economic plan or counterterrorism strategy. 

Inclusion of disenchanted youth into politics is a positive change. But is it the change we need – especially if it is superficial? The question we should be asking ourselves is has PTI managed to change the political mindset of these new recruits or given them a platform for meaningful inclusion in shaping the party? Continue reading

VIP vs VIP

9 Nov

In Pakistan, your importance is measured by the number of people who have to wait for you and the amount of time that they have to spend waiting for you. Small time bureaucrats make a handful of people wait for atleast a few hours before granting an audience. The really important people will make entire cities come to a stand still as their entourage zips around town. But given the large number of “important” people in Pakistan, the unimportant average citizen is quite accustomed to such treatment. But when one important citizen happens to stop another important citizen wait – that is when the news sparks fly and the inconvenience and discourteous behavior extended to all citizens on a regular basis – gets noticed.

A federal minister, travelling in an official vehicle that was flying the national flag was stopped at gunpoint and made to wait for a four star general to pass. In a country where power is determined by who waits for you and how long, the incident makes it amply clear that the boys in khaki are more important than the boys in parliament. In Pakistan, it’s not about how many votes you have but how many troops you command. Despite our democratic aspirations, we remain a country dominated by the security sector that lets the people amuse its self with a round at choose your next leader every few years while simultaneously ensuring that power continues to flow from the barrels of guns and not ballots. Continue reading

If Zardari Was American….

18 Jun

Pakistani? American? Arey na na ...fifty-fifty!

There’s a rumor going around that President Zardari holds US citizenship. This has been denied by the PPP in a formal press release and they have clarified that he does not hold any foreign citizenship and is only a citizen of Pakistan.

Awww SHUCKS!

I was kind of hoping we could just put him on a boat or plane dressed in red, white and blue off to the United States of America and focus on the more serious business of governing our country. On this boat of foreign citizens, I would gladly put other famed politicians and bureaucrats who hold foreign nationalities. And with a wave and a nudge into the Arabian sea, I and one hundred and seventy million other Pakistanis would heave a collective sigh of relief!

But why pick on those with foreign passports. Pakistan allows its citizens to hold dual nationalities. Why deny people this legal right? Because in Pakistan where the popular slogan Pakistan Zindabad (long live Pakistan) has changed to Pakistan se Zinda Bhaag (run away alive from Pakistan) holding only Pakistani citizenship by choice is a pretty significant commitment to the people and the country. And we should demand this committment at the very least from those that we entrust with public office or with senior bureaucratic duties.

I grew up in Islamabad, where over the years I observed the long lines outside of foreign embassies grow longer and longer with time screaming in silent testimony that escaping from Pakistan was priority number one for many citizens. Sometimes the protest were not as silent as on occassion I saw people being escorted out of embassy buildings kicking and screaming as they had been denied a visa. I dont blame them for feeling this way. In a country where people die of poverty and hunger each day while our leaders house rare Siberian tigers in airconditioned cages – its not odd that people want to escape. In a country where there is persecution of minorities and there is hardly any safety of property or life, choosing to stay in Pakistan is a significant commitment to the future of the country. And those who aspire to leadership positions in the country should be required to give this commitment. Steering Pakistan’s future is afterall a pretty big responsibility and it should not be granted to those who arent ready to make the sacrifice of even citizenship for it.

Leaders with foreign passports are like foreign capital – they flee when the going gets tough! Those who know they are unable to flee are more likely to act in the long term interest of the nation and less like fickle foreign investments in local markets. So before you ask for my vote, or you ask to captain the ship of a national institution – you must assure me first that when the going gets tough you wont run and if this ship sinks you are prepared to sink with it.

Because only capitains willing to sink with their ship will do everything in their power to keep it afloat.  Pakistan needs to be led by only Pakistanis not hyphenated ones.  Hyphenated Pakistanis can help and contribute in a million other ways and must continue to d so They are an important part of the social fabric but our political and bureucratic fabricmust be woven of those Pakistanis who are nothing BUT Pakistani and have kept only their Pakistani citizenship as proof of their commitment.

Speak Up!

2 Jun

Thousands took to the streets to protest against facebook and blasphemous content being published on it. On May 28th, 80 innocent Pakistanis were murdered in cold blood as they were peacefully praying in a house of worship. I wonder how many will take to the streets to protest this atrocity. I have a feeling that there will be few or maybe even none. There will be the usual round of condolences and demands for inquiries. But we know these are merely hollow promises. In Pakistan, little is accomplished without popular support and popular support does not lend its self to causes such as protection of minorities.
When we wanted the judiciary restored, we took to the streets and had it done. When we wanted facebook banned we took to the streets and had that done. But I have a feeling we don’t really want to protect the minorities in our country, so we’re going to let this one slide and stay inside. It’s ironic that we are willing to take to the streets for the sanctity of the name of the Prophet (PBUH) but not for any of his teachings. I am no religious scholar but what I remember from my poorly taught Islamiat classes in school, despite the poor fashion in which they were taught; the Prophet preached that it was a sin to harm innocent people.

Funeral Procession for the Victims of the Lahore Massacre

But somehow it doesn’t matter what happens to those that “we” don’t consider Muslims. While the phenomenon of terrorism is new, the problem of sectarian violence is not. We have harbored violent hatred and have not been afraid of expressing it since the establishment of Pakistan. We have massacred Shia’s, Ahmedi’s, Christians, Sikhs – you name it and we’ve attacked it! We are so caught up in some billowing self-righteous rage that we have become blind to the teachings of the religion that we profess to love and in whose name we commit all of these sins.
But these really aren’t Muslims some would say. And some would cite the teachings of popular television anchors who consider these people, particularly, the Ahmadi’s wajib-ul-qatl. But from what I remember, The Prophet (PBUH) preached, that even in times of War, those who do not pick up arms, should not be harmed; particularly women and children. But innocent children were slaughtered in this rampage in the name of Islam. The old and infirm suffered frightened and tortured deaths, while they were busy in worship. This is not the Islam that the holy Prophet (PBUH) preached. The senseless and unprovoked murder of innocent citizens is not condoned by Islam.
The people that were murdered were peaceful, tax paying, law abiding citizens of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It is the responsibility of the state, under the constitution and religious doctrine, to provide security to those citizens who despite adhering to different religions, pay taxes and abide by the laws of the land. But instead of providing protection to these people, we let television programs go on air, where anchors are allowed to rally support for murdering innocent citizens. And in the wake of such hate filled media, innocent people are murdered. But we don’t care; we let the program continue being aired and we allow the hate mongering anchor to continue preaching in public. Not a word, a whisper or a whimper about this is heard. Because in our twisted world view, its ok to say whatever we want about any other religion or its followers. But when someone attacks our religion in any way shape or form, we are up in arms in a matter of minutes. We expect the world to show us nothing but respect while we show none of this to any other religion. We can laugh, joke, degrade and even attack and murder the followers of other religions without having our collective conscience even flinch. How did we become so hypocritical and irrational? How did we become so cruel?
With the deaths of 80 innocent Pakistanis, the lives of hundreds of families have changed forever. There is sorrow and heartache and fear in hundreds of Ahmadi homes tonight. But as the rest of Pakistan sleeps easy and TV anchors remain hypocritically silent, they forget that tomorrow this could be them. Through our collective silence, as we aid and abet a culture of intolerance and senseless killing, that one day might consume us too.  A famous poem sums up the dangers of being silent over injustice to others, with apologies to the original poet, if we were to adapt it to the Pakistani context, the poem would look like this:

                                                 In Pakistan, they came first for the Hindus and Sikhs,
                                                  And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t Hindu or Sikh
                                                                  Then they came for the Christians
                                                    And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t Christian
                                                                  Then they came for the Ahmadis
                                                  And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t an Ahmadi
                                                                     Then they came for the Shias
                                                        And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t Shia
                                                                       And then they came for me
                                            And by that time, there was no one left to speak up.
 
This violence, intolerance and injustice must stop. And it must stop with the largest majority speaking up against it. For once, let’s stand up and show the world that we actually abide by the spirit of the religion that we profess to love and follow. Let us turn not far away, but towards the Holy Book and teachings of the Prophet (PBUH) to learn that this kind of violence and hate is not tolerated in Islam. Haven’t we all suffered for years because of this violence and hatred? What good has it ever done to our country or the image of our religion? This senseless killing, violence and hate must stop. And it will not stop unless we demand that this be done. So speak up for those that are treated with injustice because if you don’t, tomorrow there will be no one left to speak for you either.

Published in The News June 3, 2010

 

Ban Hypocrisy

23 May

As a child I was told that God created human beings to be Ashraf-ul-Makhlooqat–the greatest and best of all of God’s creations. And we were given this honour because, unlike in the case of other creatures, God gave us free will–the ability to choose between actions. He then gave us intellect and commanded us to acquire knowledge so that we could use the two in our exercising that free will.

As a Muslim, I hang my head in shame as we take to the streets to protest the inconsequential actions of a few. With intolerance, like injustice, already rampant in our society–and these are two of the things least liked by God and his Prophet (PBUH) – we are unworthy of the title of Ashraf-ul-Makhlooqat. Now we have brought shame upon our nation and our religion through our irrational actions that defy but the gift of intellect and intelligence bestowed upon us by the Creator, as well as His commandments.

The protests across Pakistan demanding the ban on the social networking site Facebook defied reason and logic. It is true that the website contained material that was blasphemous and hurt the sentiments of many Muslims. Muslims across the world have the right to be upset by this and to protest against it. But asking for a ban is an action that not only defies logic but defeats the purpose.

Banning Facebook in Pakistan did little but make us a laughingstock in the world. A more effective way of protest would have been to use the same platform to counteract the offenders who started the mischief. And this effective action has been taken by thousands of Facebook users, who started protest groups and campaigns that were gaining visibility and registering the Muslim protest in a more meaningful way. Instead, we in Pakistan chose to impose a ban and then congratulate ourselves about it, as if we had accomplished some great feat.

Let’s analyse what we accomplished. We received bad press from around the world. We helped the rest of the world reconfirm their misguided belief that Muslims are reactionary and incapable of rational thought. We played right into the hands of those who wanted to provoke Muslims. We brought internet connectivity in our country to a near-halt, thereby hurting our own economy and hundreds of small-business owners who rely on Facebook and other social networking sites for their livelihood.

Oh, and did I mention we did not stop the blasphemy either?

Banning the website in Pakistan didn’t make the page go away from Facebook, although we did congratulate ourselves as if we had managed to put an end to it.

But this is not what hurt me most. What hurt most was that while our people and the media were out protesting against a website, we as a nation continued our endless descent into chaos. And as we continued to plummet from rock bottom to whatever is even lower than that, we chanted hollow slogans in the name of religion but paid no heed to its spirit or injunctions that could have been our salvation in these times of great despair.

Our political leaders claimed that they were willing to lay down their lives for the Prophet (PBUH). I found it ironic that they issued such statements when they paid no heed to–in fact, showed great disregard for–all of the Prophet’s (PBUH) teachings and the commandments of God.

We continue to lie, cheat and steal. Bribery and corruption are rampant across the country, yet these don’t seem to cause even a facial muscle to twitch in the political leadership. Last I checked, these were also considered sins in Islam. There is violence and oppression against the innocent. Last I checked, these were banned in Islam.

I remember the chilling story of the massacre at Gojra, when innocent Christians–men women and children–were brutally slain in the name of religion. There wasn’t a peep from these defenders of the faith who now protest so loudly. Last I checked, the Prohpet (PBUH) through both his actions and words had forbidden any harm to come to those who are innocent, regardless of their religion. And while the champions of Islam protested against Facebook, policeman near Wah illegally held a young girl child for 21 days and brutally raped her. Who stood up to protest the atrocity against this innocent child?

The Prophet (PBUH) merely turned away from those who not just criticised him but protested violently against him. He chose to reason, persuade and convince, rather than to incite violence his opponents. After the conquest of Mecca, he pardoned even those who had plotted against his life. Such was his attitude of mercy, peace, justice and reason.

On the contrary, great was his intolerance for injustice and oppression of the weak. It’s a pity that those who claim to defend the honour of our Holy Prophet (PBUH) have learnt so little from his example. With their hollow words, they incite violence among misguided and unemployed youths of the country. They disregard the spirit of our religion and its teaching. They lobby for political gain under the guise of Islam.

They seek to gain popularity by using the name of religion, although they do so little to act upon what religion commands. They choose the injunctions of God that suit their political motives, disregarding the others. To me this reeks of hypocrisy. And last I checked, hypocrisy was also a sin in Islam. So could we try and ban hypocrisy instead of Facebook? That might be better for our country and really please God.

The writer is a student of Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, working for a master’s degree in public policy. Email: tell.sehar@gmail .com and www.sehartariq.wordpress.com 

Published in The News, May 23, 2010 http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=240839

Yearning for Change

20 Feb

Published in The News: Saturday, February 20, 2010

I am every bit of the middle-class Pakistani that Ayaz Amir describes with so much disdain in his article ‘The (misdirected) yearning for change’ (February 12). I live in a nice part of a town, I went to an English medium school, my mode of transportation is a car, I converse in English and I discuss politics with great enthusiasm in my drawing room. And my political activism is unfortunately limited to the drawing room only because there is no space for the likes of me or other middle-class Pakistanis in mainstream politics.

In his furious criticism of the middle class, Mr Amir forgets that it isn’t enthusiasm or willingness that’s missing on the part of the middle class; it is the lack of an influential surname and bank balance. History is testament to the fact that it is not honesty, integrity, skill, patriotism or commitment to public well being that will earn you a place in the political process of Pakistan. Instead, the pre-requisites for political participation are the ability to either coerce or bribe voters into submission. Political parties give tickets to those candidates only who bring with them either power of the purse or power of the punch. I would like to ask Mr Amir how, in the absence of correct lineage and appropriate financial assets, I should participate in the political process?

Political parties in Pakistan have done nothing to encourage young middle-class Pakistanis to join their ranks. There is no process through which young middle class people can get involved in mainstream politics and make a career out of it. None of the political parties have a commitment to nurturing future political leadership. There is a tacit agreement amongst all in power to further propagate their own control by renaming their progeny to the thrones of political power. The leader of the PPP will always be a Bhutto and that of the PML-N will always be a Sharif. And those that will stand by them will be Makhdums, Maliks, Chaudhrys, Bizenjos, Bugtis, Marris, Khars or Khuros. There is no place for just a plain citizen of Pakistan, Sehar Tariq.

I have educational degrees from very fine academic institutions. I have a passion for politics and a deep-rooted sense of patriotism. I also have training in the development, implementation and assessment of public policy. But I don’t think those qualities rank high on the recruitment criteria of any mainstream political party.

So, where should I take all that I have to say based on what I have learnt and based on where I would like to see my country go? “Why don’t you join the youth wing or the [insert political party name] Students Federation,” you might say. Surely, student politics is a good way for young middle-class Pakistanis to become involved in the political process. It is. However, student politics – sponsored and nurtured by the democratic forces that you urge us to join – is merely an extension of the coercive power of these political parties. Student politics in Pakistan is characterised by wielding hockey sticks, calling for strikes, intimidating students and professors and creating roadblocks or filling in seats at rallies when needed. And my skills with a hockey stick are sub-par.

I can write great policy papers. I often get A grades on them. But our student political groups don’t require policy nerds. Political parties neither leverage nor encourage youth wings to participate in policy making because it would take them away from disrupting the academic peace and diminish their powers of intimidation. In countries where political parties are truly interested in nurturing new leadership, student leaders are encouraged to write, think and present on key policy issues. Youth wings serve as engines for new and fresh thinking on old and pressing problems. But our political recipe for success involves minimising thought and maximising personal profit. This leaves little room for the academically inclined or the violently disinclined middle classes to participate.

The only form of participation open to us is discussion, which, due to the restrictive patterns of Pakistani politics, we cannot take to the National Assembly. So we sit in our drawing rooms or write on our shiny laptops and publish in English dailies – our armchair activism – our visions of where we want our country to go. But before you write us off, think of it this way, given that the salaried middle classes are the single biggest taxpaying group in the country – our money funds your salary. You participate in the political process on the back of our hard-earned rupees. And since it is our money you spend while you take decisions in the “national interest” and “participate in the political process”, at least give us the right to comment on and complain about those decisions since you have denied us the space to participate in making them.

The writer is a student at Princeton University. Email: stariq@princeton.edu

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