Thursday, 23 January 2014

A Letter to Imran Khan

Dear Mr. Khan

They say you never forget your first, I sincerely hope in your case it proves to be otherwise. Unlike most of your faithful legions who seemed aghast at your almost coercive insistence that dialogue with the TTP should be our first priority, I agreed with your stance whole heartedly and believe that it stemmed from your genuine concern for the people of Waziristan and FATA. But surely even you, with all your stubbornness would never have considered dialogues the ONLY priority, Right? It was always a long shot. There was too much bad blood and too many variables to account for, and now through a combination of impeccably timed drone attacks, some very explosive fertilizer and good old fashioned political foot-dragging, the game is up. Just in case I am not being clear, the fat lady has sung, gone home and died in a suicide blast.

The events of the last 72 hours have changed things drastically. Dante is in hell and the only way to go back is to go forward. We always knew the TTP were cold blooded killers, but as it turns out they are almost institutionally stupid. Your brand of appeasement and the looming US withdrawal from Afghanistan would have appealed to Hakeemullah Mehsud’s expansionist ambitions. Call the man whatever you want, but at least he had a diabolical plan in mind that required him not to be perpetually on the run from tactical bombing. Fazlullah, on the other hand is the TTP’s equivalent of George W. Bush, only twice as eloquent and half as charming and unfortunately we top his axis of evil List. So the plan’s pretty much in the dump.

I must admit that I was expecting one of your famous Press conferences any minute now announcing a drastic policy statement. But all we got was Shireen Mazari, feebly towing the party line.

Surely someone around you must have realized. Someone must have given you an awkward smile or plucked up the courage to whisper under their breath “Khan Saab, we are screwed”. Because whether you accept it or not Mr. Khan the operation will happen. The question is, What are YOU going to do about it?

As luck would have it, you sit now at the edge of what is about to turn into the world’s largest powder keg. The army is just too angry and too well-equipped to go in for any half measures. The TTP have made it clear that they are willing to die for their cause. The only person standing between the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and mindless slaughter is YOU. Mr. Khan, despite your misgivings about the government’s original sincerity about the dialogue process, I would strongly urge you to whole heartedly endorse the impending military operation. Your good intentions will all be for naught if you do not act decisively. Your endorsement will not only give the military free reign to maneuver in and out of Waziristan, but will also allow the Provincial machinery to assist in any way possible.

You know very well what happened the last time around. Thousands of Refugees are about to enter KPK, bringing along fleeing militants and a lot of backlash. The police and local intelligence need someone to rally behind. The provincial set up will be stretched to its limit and the country simply cannot afford your indifference or God Forbid you dharnas.

Your mission Mr. Khan, should you choose to accept it, will not be over when the dust settles. If efforts are not made to plug the gaping holes in FATA’s civilian administration, all this will be an exercise in futility. We Punjabis have a nasty little habit of wiping our hands clean before the job’s done. Economic pressures and lack of any pressing incentives will no doubt tempt the federal government to call it quits as soon as the boots are off the ground. But if steps are not taken to abolish Jirgas, repeal the FCR and fill the administrative vacuum with magistrates and civil servants the TTP will soon come back and in a year or two we will be right where we started.

If you really do care about the people of Waziristan and believe that they deserve the same rights and protection, the rest of us take for granted, you know what do. If you don’t I assure you, you will never forget your first time.


Concerned citizen

Monday, 22 April 2013

One Ace too many

5 years ago if someone told me that the next general elections would have the Shareefs sweating in their waist-coats i would have guided the poor gentleman to the nearest psychiatric clinic and recommended some Xanax.

 Afterall why would the ‘Lions of Punjab’ need to worry about claiming something which they almost considered a ‘birthright’.

So what changed in 5 years? Which monumental blunder is the PML-N paying for ? Why is it that they find themselves cornered by the very people (the educated middle class) they thought would never question their authority? Well the answer is not what the Shareefs did but what they “didn’t”.

A stalwart will pompously tell you that “Mian Saab” is a much better option than the unashamedly corrupt PPP. That all the woes of his country, his province, his city, even his mohalla are attributable to a government who held on to power by a narrow majority and some very slippery friends. That there was nothing anyone could do as half-wits were made ministers and the coffers almost bled dry. That “Mian Saab” did the best he could to keep turmoil at bay (if he does go there please point out that Mian Saab’s best was pathetic even by his standards).

Of the many things that President Zardari should be thankful for enabling his party’s five year term, The PML-N is likely to be on top of the list. Not just during the honeymoon, when Zardari and Mian Saab declared themselves blood brothers, but even after the falling out, perhaps no one lent more credibility to the government than the PML-N. In the beginning it was bamboozling how an opposition party with 66 strong law makers in parliament could could allow this country to be subjected to the most disgraceful bout of corruption extremism and lawlessness in living memory. What happened to the good old days when something stinked the opposition would get on their seats and pelt the speaker with eggs?

Granted the PML-N had to be patient. Democracy had just taken root and a couple of billion dollars in corruption, mosque bombings, church bombings and rolling black outs was nothing to make a fuss about, was it ? No, it was much more sensible to sit on the sidelines and let the PPP’s incompetence and impunity enhance your prospects for power in the next elections. If you needed to remind the masses who the good guys were, you could always distribute a few hundred thousand laptops out of funds allocated for providing basic education.

That almost sums up the Shareefs contribution to Pakistan in the last 5 years. It’s hardly surprising that the term “Noora Kushti” coined by IK himself has caught on so well, what is surprising though is how most people still don’t consider the PML-N equally to blame for the car crash the last 5 years were.

Maybe it’s down to the elegantly composed campaign commercials or the overwhelming distrust of the PPP, but whatever the reason is, it is not enough to send the masses in the arms of the PML-N in droves. In Punjab people are beginning to ask questions (“How dare they”). The entire PML-N campaign has been a knee jerk reaction to the rise of the PTI as a voice for change. In the beginning they implied that the PTI would only ensure that the PPP is elected to power again, but the effect is wearing off. People are beginning to ask “is there really any difference between the PPP and the PML-N?”. Whether or not that question is asked frequently enough in the coming days remains to be seen, but what is certain is that these elections will not be a walk in the park that Mian Saab thought when he decided not to pelt the speaker with eggs 5 years ago.   

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Gag Reflex

2013 is just around the corner, and election fever is in the air (coupled with lots of swearing and gravel dust, if you’re from Lahore), and although it remains to be seen whether the polls will be held on time, that has not stopped the stakeholders from swinging into action.
It’s been an eventful 5 years. We’ve had the economic turmoil we’ve grown accustomed to, the usual commodity shortages, some landmark judicial precedents to spice things up and the odd hero moment or two thrown in for good measure. In any boring (read: normal) democracy, elections at this stage would herald a thorough retrospection into past mistakes and cries for change. The past year would certainly lead us to believe that we are headed into the right direction. The recent Supreme Court verdict implicating several bigwigs in a poll fixing scandal alone should be enough to send them and their parliamentary aspirations packing. Coupled with rampant corruption scandals, you’d think the People’s Party and the Muslim League – Nawaz would have their work cut out for themselves.
 Sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case. The masses are easily swayed by fiery speeches and circumstantial evidence (or lack of). Throw in a hundred thousand laptops a multi-million Rupee advertising campaign and all the skeletons in your closet shall be forgotten.
But even so the PPP and PML-N could not have foreseen the rise of the Tehreek-e-Insaf as viable competition a year ago. The contents of Khan’s manifesto is nothing radical, he talks of political and economic reform, a much less conservative foreign policy, greater accountability and an end to corruption. All of these things we have been promised before, but what makes the manifesto radical is how the TI has gone about peddling their brand of transparency. The party has done away with the family politics of yesteryears and held intra-party elections to select its leadership. Membership is conditional on submitting and publicly declaring tax returns and wealth statements. The party’s account of its expenditures and contributions from members are easily available. Most argue that these measures had to be taken as Khan has nothing to show off his political prowess otherwise, but having done so, there is no reason that the Tehreek-e-Insaaf shouldn’t sweep the upcoming general elections (or rational reason).
But that is where the electoral gag reflex sets in. That all familiar reluctance you feel before ordering an entree you haven’t tried before. In our case this reluctance is perhaps understandable, we have rarely seen things change for the better and there is no reason these elections could be different. This will not be the first time in our history that a voice of change has been slowly disregarded by the general public. The old guard is nothing if not resolute. Subtle hints of anarchy, foreign involvement and even more recently martial law is often enough to induce mass panic. 
A few years ago Imran Khan was accused of being nothing more than a bag of hot air and charisma, peddling his leftist agenda, and having nothing to show for a decade of campaigning. His party was a rag-tag band of idealists and political misfits who had slipped beneath the radar of Pakistan’s political scene.
Forward to 2012 and you’ll find that Khan has cultivated a loyal following including some prized electables. But now that he has dealt with the chink in his armour, he is paradoxically accused of collaborating with the old guard and doing away with the change he has promised. Or at least these are the lines along which most of the old guard have decided to frame their periodic bouts of khan-bashing  
So what is the Tehreek-e-Insaaf to do if it wishes to go into the elections without this baggage?
The answer is a simple “nothing”. The fact is that if the performance of the government over the past 5 years is not enough to sway the opinion of the masses in favour of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf, chances are nothing that Khan can say and do will.
It seems peculiar that after 5 years of criticizing the government, a remarkably large number of the population seems reluctant to see it go. Perhaps they have shouted themselves hoarse, or are simply afraid of what comes next. After all we have grown so accustomed to the PPP PML-N power wrangling that anything else could unravel the delicately woven fabric of our society.
It is hardly surprising that Imran Khan does not have the approval of most of the bureaucracy, army or the country’s wealthiest, since most of the reforms he has promised will make it harder for them to hang on to their ill gotten power. What is surprising is that over the past few months the PPP government has seen its popularity rise in the media, accompanied by increasing bashing of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf. What this proves (among other things) is that the criticism levelled at khan isn’t because of his background, his manifesto or even his rigid stance on alliances with parties that are already in power. It is simply because like all sensible people, we here in Pakistan prefer to remain carefully optimistic. Rather than betting all our marbles on a wild card and having our hopes dashed (like we have so often) the majority prefers to continue on with the status quo, however flawed it may seem.
The harsh reality is that so many of us live with so little that a radical shift in leadership along with the uncertainty it entails, seems unnerving to say the least. One can only hope that come election day we don’t turn into the South African cricket team and get over our gag reflex so we can see through the change we have been promised.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Cry Wolf

Freedom, revolution, uprising, these words have been romanticized by poets and politicians alike. They stir the most primal of human emotions. Whether it is the promise of redemption, the thrill of rebellion or the pursuit of justice, humanity’s constant knack for breaking the rules has often stood in the path of tyranny.Now welcome to 21st century Pakistan. Rather than go to secret gatherings, all you have to do to indulge in your, not so secret, desire for rebellion is walk past your nearest billboard, or catch the pre news bulletin ad-parade. You’re bound to run into a myriad of cellular service provider and fashion clothing commercials promising unprecedented freedom with every purchase. Linger a while longer and you will be treated to exquisitely choreographed  infomercials and music videos explaining how the latest brand of lawn has been instrumental in empowering women (which somehow the gazillion brands that came before, failed to do).A little further along the path and you will meet the “well informed” political gurus hosting there creatively named talk shows (our equivalent to common sense). If Asim Jofa’s new block prints weren’t enough to send chills down your spine, these messiahs sure will.Don’t be alarmed, if after this “enlightening” experience you feel the unsettling urge to barricade yourself in your home, and start rationing bran bread (to survive the impending apocalypse on Tuesday, the Zionist invasion on Wednesday, and off course your in-laws are visiting over the weekend).Amidst all this, it is hardly surprising that any talk of legitimate and progressive change is either indiscernible over the rabble, or quickly shunned as an impracticable abomination of liberalism. We have been relentlessly bombarded with promises of justice and freedom, in fact far too often. It has made us numb, and cynical. So heavily is the inertia ingrained in us that protests are an inconvenience, and voting is pointless. Nothing moves us anymore, from horrible atrocities committed by misogynistic monsters, to the blatant corruption of our appointed rulers. Twenty years from now, you could be kidnapped, incarcerated, or even stabbed to death for voicing dissent against a ruling power, whether democratic or otherwise. Censorship prevailed and differing opinions were quickly silenced. In those days words had power, they had meaning. They weren’t a cheap marketing gimmick or a sorry excuse for a real manifesto. Two decades on, electronic media has grown a thousand fold, unregulated and unhindered by prejudice. The misdeeds of those in power are plastered across TV screens mere seconds after they are revealed. It could be argued that it is nearly impossible for them to hide the collateral damage, and indeed it is, but ironically they have only become bolder and more deliberate in their cruelty and greed.It is because our voices rather than growing louder have been diluted by repetition coupled with inaction. Hollow promises of redemption without actual results have accomplished nothing; in fact they have served only to disillusion the masses, so when the time comes to act they shy away and just scowl at the boy who has cried wolf far too often. In the end, it is the feeble and half hearted attempts of challenging the status quo that have preserved it.