New Age Islam Edit Bureau
06 April 2018
Pakistan — An Ideological Crisis?
By Zuha Noor
By Dr M. Asif
The Fault In Our System
By Khalid Bhatti
Towards Transgender Inclusivity
By Marria Qibtia S Nagra
Autonomy within Regulation
By Faisal Bari
International Dimensions Of Afghan War
By Talat Masood
The Contest Heats Up
By Asha’ar Rehman
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
April 5, 2018
Seven decades into independence and the nation still oscillates between the ‘Jinnah Ideologies’. This is a discourse misinterpreted, a debate arcane and a matter that ignites fervour across the socio-political spectrum of Pakistan. The concocted mystery begins with a plain query: What was Jinnah’s ideology? Was he liberal or an Islamist? Quite disturbingly, these queries are barely construed for what they are and receive a bottled-up response from both sides of the argument, without spending a second over classifying the proposition and opposition. The liberals are smeared with those who reject rationale and the Islamists face an inequitable generalisation catering to the uncouth roadside clergy who abhors Jinnah along with the intellectual scholars who wax lyrical about him. Amidst the interpolated chaos that is nurtured by lack of perception of canons of a logical discourse, the solemn purpose of looking into the Founding Father’s ideology is disintegrated. So who was Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and was his vision really esoteric? If yes, then how did a fledgling vision fight against the odds to do the impossible?
As far as documented evidence is concerned, analysts from the left render Jinnah a secular individual primarily on the basis of the resounding address of August 11th, where he established that Pakistan will be a harmonious state that houses all religions without the interjection of the state and a quintessence of peaceful coexistence of faiths will be its hallmark. The ‘right wing’, or more accurately, Islamists, slam this view by projecting the addresses of July 1st 1948 at the inauguration of the State Bank where Jinnah unequivocally voiced his inclination and commitment to an Islamic economic system, guided by the principles of Shariah and vocalised its pragmatic nature that may not have been achieved but exists as a blue print. The Islamist perspective remains feeble without the emphasis over the historical occurrence of the Department of Islamic Reconstruction lost in the abyss of history and buried in the cemetery of conspiracies after the documents of the department were set ablaze rather mysteriously in October 1948. Prior to this, then foreign minister Zafarullah Khan removed Mr Muhammad Asad, the eminent Islamic scholar and former Austro-Hungarian Jewish citizen, from the department. The remains of this valiant measure are present in the government of Punjab archives, an astonishing survival given the crafty eradication of this historical establishment.
The essence of this debate is lost due to the classification of the defenders that is an epitome of sheer generalisation and misinterpretation of evidence. Analysts such as Nadeem F Paracha state that such debates are politically manoeuvred to serve the ideologies of partisans and do not have a virtual existence. While that is agreeable due to the nationally recognised propagandist instinct of the political arena, it cannot undermine the true vision of the Quaid whose efficacy we are fortunate to experience. This implies that inherently, the Quaid’s ideology was characterised by an urge to create a state that follows the genuine guidelines of Islam since such a state would be magnanimous to all minorities and accommodate all perspectives. All the documented evidences that portray his propensity to social and religious flexibility actually solidify his correct interpretation of a true Islamic state that does not exist in Pakistan today due to the misapprehension of the debate at hand. The claimants of an Islamic identity do not seem to comprehend its essence which has the appreciation of minorities, magnanimity of acceptance and unyielding justice at its heart. Amidst the labyrinth of national ideology, where paradigms constantly collide in a hopeless search of recognition, we fail to address the concerns that currently surround us and this very neglect results in ignorance towards contradicting perspectives and obstinacy for own. So to state, it is not Jinnah’s vision that is misconceived but the essence of an Islamic socioeconomic system that yearns for a viable form, the glorious purpose of the Department of Islamic Reconstruction that was obstructed and cries out to be revitalised for the greater good of all citizens holding all sorts of diverse beliefs and ideologies.
The labyrinth of these paradigms constantly colliding in search of recognition reminds me of an apt presentation coined by Elif Shafak in her work of fiction, The bastard of Istanbul, where she refers to the similar ‘Turkish dilemma’ stating, “We are stuck. We are stuck between the East and the West. Between the past and the future. On the one hand, there are the secular modernists, so proud of the regime they constructed, you cannot breathe a critical word. They have got the army and half of the state on their side. On the other hand, there are the conventional traditionalists, so infatuated with the Ottoman past, you cannot breathe a critical word. They have got the general public and the remaining half of the state on their side. What is left for us?”
April 06, 2018
OUR country lies in one of the most vulnerable regions in the world in terms of global warming and climate change. To fight against global warming there needs to be a collective national response on the part of all stakeholders. Like policymakers, industry, academia and civil society, religious circles also have an important role to play.
The subject of caring for the environment is missing in the mainstream agenda and narrative of Islamic circles. Given their crucial role in influencing the trends and values from the grass roots to the national level, they need to rediscover the sublime teachings of Islam regarding sustainability and environmental friendliness.
Global warming, which is widely attributed to human activities especially the burning of fossil fuels, is resulting in catastrophic implications both on land (flooding, hurricanes, droughts and wildfires) and sea (melting of glaciers and sea level rise). The phenomenon of global warming has a striking resemblance with verse 41 of Surah Rum which states: “Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness]” (30:41).
The message of the Quran has been understood and interpreted to seek guidance on contemporary issues and challenges over 1,400 years and will continue to be the source of guidance. Global warming, therefore, appears to be a perfect reflection of the stated Quranic verse. The Quran offers insight not only into problems but also guides towards the best solutions.
The world has developed the consensus that environmental sustainability is the way forward to address the issue of global warming. In literal terms, the word ‘sustainability’ means the ability to be sustained. From the perspective of environmental sciences, sustainability means balance, equality and justice, as the definition of sustainable development goes: Sustainable development is the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Sustainability is one of the fundamental virtues of Islam and has been richly reflected upon in the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH). In Islam, adal is one of its core values. ‘Adal’ in different forms and meanings has been used 24 times in the Quran. Though the Quran mostly uses it to describe justice, adal has also been used to mean equality and balance respectively in Surah Namal (27:60) and Surah Infitar (82:7).
The Quran has, time and again, emphasised the need to have a balanced and conscious approach to life and to avoid wasting resources. It says: “O Children of Adam … eat and drink, but waste not by excess, indeed God likes not the wasters” (7:31). Quran also declares wasters as brothers of devils: “Indeed the wasteful are brothers of the devils. ...” (17: 27). Similarly, the Holy Book describes a characteristic of one of the worst opponents of Allah as being destructive to the environment: “And when he goes away, he strives throughout the land to cause corruption therein and destroy crops and animals; and Allah does not like corruption” (2:205).
The Prophet also put much emphasis on environmental sustainability both through his actions and words. As is evident from numerous ahadith, he fundamentally advocated respect for life; care for not only human beings but also animals, birds and plantation.
Two of the key dimensions of environmental sustainability are conservation of water and forestation/plantation as the world is suffering from water scarcity and deforestation. Regarding water, the Prophet advised: “Do not waste even if performing ablution on the bank of a fast-flowing large river” (Al Tirmidhi). Regarding forestation, he states: “If the Hour occurs and one of you holds a seed in his hand, then if he can sow it before the Hour occurs, he should do so” (Musnad Ahmad).
In literature on environmental sustainability, it is hard to find statements more powerful than the above two. After the Prophet, the spirit of sustainability was held steadfastly by his companions. Hazrat Abu Bakr used to order military commanders: “Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful.”
It is thus obvious that Islam strongly advocates for environmental stewardship. It is concerned not just about prayers, fasting and Haj but also about the duties of individuals towards the well-being of society at large as it declares the removal of a harmful object from a path a branch of the Islamic faith. A Muslim society, therefore, should be a role model in terms of tidiness, discipline and environmental sustainability. The situation, unfortunately, is the other way round. It’s time to reflect!
April 6, 2018
The brutal rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab in Kasur in January 2018 resulted in a wave of protests, anger and condemnation. In the weeks following the incident, sex crimes against children remained part of our national consciousness and discourse.
But once Zainab’s killer was arrested and subsequently awarded capital punishment, many of us were satisfied that justice had been served in this case and shifted our focus to other issues.
We often forget that Zainab’s case was not an isolated crime or, for that matter, an exception. It was part of a larger and more serious problem. Sex crimes against children have become a menace and need to be tackled with care.
After this particular incident, many of us hoped that state institutions and the police force would become more responsive and handle cases involving children going missing or being abducted with greater sensitivity. However, the two cases involving rape and murder that have surfaced over a matter of weeks have once again left us in a state of shock. A student of Government College University Faisalabad (GCUF) and a seven-year-old girl in the town of Jaranwala (which is near Faisalabad) were abducted, raped and murdered in separate incidents. The police have once again showed a callous attitude in this regard by failing to take action with immediate effect.
Abida, the GCUF student, went missing on March 25 soon after she left her university to return home. Although the family contacted the police on the same day, no immediate action was taken. The police even refused to register an FIR against the incident. Her body was found from a canal a few days later. According to doctors, the university student was raped and strangled. If they had acted promptly and taken the matter seriously, the police could have rescued her. Unfortunately, police inaction and negligence resulted in the death of an excellent student who had been a gold medallist and a position-holder.
Protests erupted in Jaranwala following the murder of seven-year-old Mubashira and the subsequent failure to arrest the suspects. A large number of social activists and residents took part in the demonstration and forcibly had shops closed down in Jaranwala. Many lawyers boycotted court proceedings to take part in the protest.
The performance and efficacy of the Punjab police once again came under the spotlight. The police force showed the same level of insensitivity that was highlighted in the Zainab case and failed to act in a timely fashion. It appears that the police have not learned a lesson even though they have been criticised for their irresponsible conduct during previous child sexual abuse incidents that surfaced in Kasur.
The lackadaisical response of the police, local authorities and the Punjab government suggests that they have yet to realise the gravity of the situation. Those who are responsible for protecting children are not taking their duties seriously. It is time to act now before the situation spirals out of control.
Various NGOs that are working towards protecting the rights of children have produced an endless array of reports on child sexual abuse. These reports paint a depressing picture and offer alarming statistics. According to figures released by a local advocacy group, the cases of child sexual abuse in the country have increased by 36 percent this year as compared with similar crimes reported during the previous year. According to Sahil, a child rights organisation, more than nine children are abused every day in the country.
The data on the crimes committed against children in Punjab raises question on the performance of the police in the largest province of the country. The police need to be sensitised on the abductions of women and young children. They must learn to act quickly and aptly in these cases.
According to legal experts, sexual abuse is rampant in various parts of the country. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system either allows criminals go scot-free or the investigation ends up in the hands of a weak prosecution. But the fault predominantly lies with the police and their ineptitude during crime scene investigations and follow-up probes. As a result, the medico-legal officer seldom receives any forensic evidence to send to chemical examiners. This weakens the prosecution.
In our society, violence against women and children has a largely structural dimension. The number of rape cases have increased over time. The callousness of the accused can also be gauged from the cases that have come to the fore in recent times. A majority of the victims are girls between the age of six and 10. In many cases, videos are recorded to blackmail rape survivors and their families to not to register a case against the incident. Some gangs that have been involved in these acts have been identified in different cities of Punjab.
Punjab needs an independent child rights commission to investigate sex crimes against children. The menace of child abuse cannot be addressed without a thorough research on the causes of this social problem in different districts. Civil society activists and community organisations should also be involved in this process. This commission should be prepared to implement a suitable plan of action in light of its probe.
The commission should function without any interference and control from the state bureaucracy. It should establish offices in all districts of Punjab and priority should be given to districts that have the largest number of child abuse cases. The commission shouldn’t be run by state officials and should instead be managed by lawyers, former judges and child rights activists.
TRAGICALLY shunned and ostracized yet struggling to battle against the odds by working in a salon to fund her education, when Marvia Malik, Pakistan’s first ever Transgender TV newscaster, stood in the news studio reading out news, reaching out to an audience that generally discourages and manifests averseness to the very idea of transgender engagement in public and social affairs, she was not only making a personal history, but was rewriting the social history of a region that has conveniently stereotyped transgender attitudes and responses, by reducing opportunities for them to eke out a respectable living and deeming it appropriate to inflict them to horrific modes of violence. Analysed in this context, Marvia’s news casting was allusive of her audaciousness at creating a respectable social space for herself within which she could materialize her learned skills, and manifest her eloquence and gift of speech, something dispossessed from the transgender community.
However, deeming Marvia’s personal success as a potent indicator of social acceptability of transgenders in Pakistan is nothing but a fallacious approach. It is of course, a significant instance, but it is the only one. While Marvia was able to carve a space for herself, the heart of the matter is that till date transgenders in Pakistan continue to suffer atrocious modes of violence. This is aptly manifested in the cold blooded murder of two transgender in the northwestern area of Peshawar, just a couple of days after Marvia made her TV debut. Such cases abound in number and usually the perpetrators of the crime move about scot-free.
Though the government claims to work for ensuring transgender protection, be it through its recognition of transgenders by issuance of National Identity Cards in 2012, or the much recent decision to send transgenders for Hajj, the reality is that, legal victories for ensuring transgender inclusivity hold little worth when the parochial social contours of the Pakistani society barely make it possible for transgenders to survive without the fear of outright castigation. This duplicitous social reality, where on one hand the government and NGO’s are working towards bringing about reforms pivoting around transgender security and on the other hand a large population of the country making survival an ordeal in itself for transgenders is problematic to say the least. It is not only an outright rejection of the constitution of the state, Article 25 of which maintains that “there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex”, but is a ghastly reality that is strengthening the narrative of marginalization, where it comes across as a norm rather than an oddity which in contrariety needs to be combated for warranting social integration.
In the wake of this reality, it is the pervasive incongruous social attitudes that mandate an overhaul. For this fore mostly of all there needs to be a widespread social acceptance of the positive role that the transgender community can play in the progression of the country. Though the August 2107 census of the country places the population of transgenders at 10,000 only, Bindya Rana, transgender activist and founder of Gender Initiative Alliance, holds that there are about 300,000 to 500, 000 transgenders over the country. Tapping the potential of a sizeable population of transgenders, by providing them adequate opportunities for education could be a real game changer for the country’s marginalized community. However, for this organizational malpractices’ need to be focalized as well where when transgenders are employed in any capacity, they should be deemed much worthier than earning capital through dance or beggary alone. A sad case in point is whence a couple of years ago the regional revenue office in Karachi resorted to hiring transgenders for debt collection, they were categorically instructed to dance outside debtor’s homes to disgrace them into paying up. Moreover, it is time that equitable punishments are not only sentenced but subjected to perpetrators of crimes against transgenders. For this the police force of the country needs to render its due role, a task that it has generally failed at. A report by NGO Aurat Foundation highlights this grave reality, stressing on the fact that the police officials usually disregard complaints by transgenders conversely profiling and harassing them in public spaces.
Furthermore, the media, whether print or electronic, can play an encouraging role in highlighting the plight, concerns and conundrums of the transgender community. Instead of focusing prime slot TV shows on inconclusive bantering between politicians of opposing parties, it is time that real issues are brought into focus, streamlining the state narrative in the favor of transgenders inclusivity and allowing the public to perceive them as capable agents for social change. Liberation from societal tags mandates displaying a level of herculean resilience despite the mammoth odds impeding ones social and individual progress. While Marvia Malik was able to do so, others from her community are not lucky enough and need social acceptance through public support. Envisioning social inclusivity by disregarding marginalized quarters of the society is akin to dwelling in a fool’s paradise. It needs to be comprehended that one’s gender identity does not make him lesser of a human. One’s speech patterns do not make him worthy of someone’s impudence. For humanity cannot and should not be pigeonholed. While Marvia’s case is a positive step in the right direction, Pakistan cannot claim to win this race for this is just the beginning to the road towards social inclusivity and a lot awaits to be done.
WHEN Malala Yousafzai visited Pakistan recently, many welcomed her. Some did not. People are free to have their opinions and hold on to them. Even if one group does not like or agree with the opinions of the other, as long as there is no incitement to hatred/violence or attempts to impose and/or suppress opinions of others, people have the right, guaranteed by the Constitution, to have the opinions they want to have. One group’s ‘outrage’, a commonly used term nowadays to express disagreement, is no reason for not having an opinion or for invoking the law to have it suppressed.
But when there are attempts to impose opinions or there are attempts to use institutions to propagate opinions, the role of permissible limits and regulation needs to be discussed. In this particular case, a school system announced, during the Malala visit, that they were going to observe an ‘I am not Malala’ day. Many private schools chose not to go with this particular school system but some did.
It does not matter what your opinion about Malala or Malala day is. The relevant question here is: how do we decide what private school owners are able to do in their schools? Pictures on social media, post-fact, showed young children bearing placards saying ‘I am not Malala’, etc and some teachers also doing the same and shouting slogans against Malala. What if I, as a parent and citizen, do not want my child to be a part of this protest? Should this decision rest, solely, with the school owner/principal?
If today a school system were to announce that they are going to celebrate an Osama bin Laden day or if a school or school system announces that they are going to ban spoken Urdu in their institute, to ensure their children learn better English, should they be allowed to have this space?
Private schools, generally, get very upset when there is talk of regulation. They fear poorly thought-through regulation and arbitrary and poor implementation of regulations as well. And they are, generally, very right to fear such regulation. I cannot think of an instance when the state has done an even decent job of regulating anything. Look at the recent attempts to regulate fee hikes. It has led to some very poor laws (mostly to do with price capping) and even poorer attempts at implementing them.
But having said that, there is no escaping the fact that the current state of almost no regulatory structure for private schools in this area is also not optimal.
We might have to experiment with new ways of thinking about regulation. Some things are and should remain the responsibility of the state. Creating and implementing building codes cannot be delegated to communities or groups of parents. Even if building code implementation is passed on to private parties, it will have to be companies that have expertise in engineering, etc. And it will have to be within the framework that is set up by the state.
But for others, we should experiment. Schools are not private spaces. They may be privately owned and they may be run as businesses (we have let that happen) but this is no argument to say they are within the private space of the owner. Even for factories and commercial spaces the state sets the rules for what can and what cannot happen in them. Schools are very special spaces. We have a lot of young people in them. These young people are not adults yet and so others have to bear the responsibility for a lot of decisions pertaining to them.
As they get older, the burden of responsibility can shift, but for the very young, others have to bear the responsibility of taking decisions and the responsibility to look after their interest. The state has legitimate interests in this space. Parents’ rights are paramount as well. And neither of these get suspended when children enter schools.
For issues that may be related to out-of-curriculum additions and activities, the consent of parents, through some reasonable system of representation, should be required. We have to think this through carefully as this can be a double-edged sword. If a school wants to have classes for local language (Punjabi, Pashto, etc) but parents are keen on acquisition of the English language only, should the parents be able to say no? What if this was about the national language?
Clearly, a balance between power and representation is needed. All three, parents, owners/teachers and the state, are legitimate stakeholders in this space and should have a say in matters related to what goes on in any school, private or public.
The issue is about creating the right, optimal or even working arrangement for accomplishing this and for ensuring that the interests of all three are reflected in these arrangements. Currently, there seems to be a very strong skew in favour of the state in public schools and in favour of owners/teachers in private schools. In Albert Hirschman’s terminology, we are really talking of creating avenues for an effective voice for legitimate stakeholders here.
The state has a comparative advantage when it comes to creating the larger framework and setting the broader parameters about curriculum and the legal or acceptable limits. The owners/parents are best placed to take the more nitty-gritty and everyday decisions. Parent bodies cannot be given the power to thwart the freedom and autonomy to do needed experimentation in teaching/learning, but they should have a say in determining what their children learn. How we effectively balance this can be tried through experiments in school-based governance. But clearly, we cannot leave this space in the hands of one or another stakeholder.
International Dimensions of Afghan War
April 4, 2018
For the United States, the Afghan war has been its longest, even more than its intervention in Vietnam. What is worrying there is no end in sight of the Afghan conflict with far-reaching implications for the region and world at large. It has facilitated the rise and consolidation of the Taliban and Da’ish in Afghanistan, given rise to emergence of the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan and other militant groups that the Pakistan military after making enormous sacrifices has been able to establish peace. It is, however, unfortunate that Washington fails to recognise the enormous sacrifices and efforts Pakistan has made in retaking areas in control of the TTP and securing them.
The US looks at Pakistan through the Afghanistan prism, setting aside the country’s intrinsic importance. Continually accusing it rather unfairly that Pakistan is not doing enough and the Haqqani Network and Taliban Shura are using its territory to launch attacks in Afghanistan. It has suspended economic assistance and adopted other coercive measures. However, realising that the logistic lifeline to Afghanistan passes through Pakistan and it can play a critical role in stabilising the region it will only go that far. Pakistan’s military leadership is willing to cooperate with the US provided it gives sufficient weightage to its security concerns as related to India and deals sternly with anti-Pakistan militant groups residing in Afghanistan. The Chabahar route is not available to the US due to its hostility towards Iran.
Apparently, there are two schools of thought among Trump’s advisers, one favouring a hard line and the other a more balanced approach towards Pakistan. The recent changes in Trump’s cabinet, however, have brought hardliners John Bolton, a former ambassador and Fox News commentator, as his national security adviser and CIA Chief Mark Pompeo, a Trump loyalist, as secretary of state. How these new appointments will play out will be carefully watched. But going by past records of these appointees a tougher approach by the US is expected that may not be in the interest of peace. This also negates lessons learnt over the years that military victory against the Taliban in the current circumstances is not possible. Even the recent increase in the US military personnel and greater use of firepower have failed to achieve any substantive progress in Afghanistan and the military stalemate continues, with nearly 40% of territory not in the control of the Afghan government. Civilian casualties have also grown as a consequence creating resentment and affecting support for the government in certain segments of society.
The deteriorating security situation in areas bordering Pakistan have resulted in substantial decrease in trade with Afghanistan and allowed India to take advantage by further expanding its trade and influence. Moreover, weakening of the writ of state in these areas has given a huge boost to drug trafficking. Afghanistan today ranks as the foremost producer of opium, with its adverse consequences for society and on the adjoining states especially Pakistan and Iran.
The Saudi-Iranian confrontation has had its impact on Afghanistan. The Saudi government is apprehensive of the growing Iranian influence in Afghanistan and wary of the role they would play in peace negotiations. Nevertheless, Afghanistan has to steer its relations with both countries with great sensitivity. Iran, besides strategic and economic considerations, is interested in the safety and wellbeing of the Hazara and large Shia community that constitute the Tajiks. Iran has been opposed to the Taliban but realising that they are a reality has developed contacts and supports their staunch opposition to US military presence.
The Chinese primarily have an economic interest in Afghanistan and have for several years been engaged in mining of minerals and other commercial activities. But realising the danger that the security situation poses to the western region constituting Uighurs and other militant groups China remains keenly interested in Afghanistan’s stability. Its adverse fallout could affect the full potential of the CPEC project.
Beijing also is not certain of American designs in the region. There is a perception in certain quarters that the US would like to prolong its stay in Afghanistan to remain in the vicinity of its strategic rivals and opponents — China, Russia and Iran. It would probably also facilitate the US to watch nuclear and missile developments in Pakistan. Considering that the US has sufficient technical prowess in the form of satellite imagery, listening devices and ground operatives the question arises: Does it really need to be physically present in a dangerous zone? However, the US would certainly not like to leave Afghanistan in a chaotic state for the Taliban and Da’ish to prevail and build it as their stronghold. At the same time development and nation-building in such anarchic conditions is not feasible. Moreover, President Trump has categorically stated that nation-building is not what Washington is aiming at. The Europeans and Chinese may have a different approach and would prefer to invest in development for they know that without it Afghanistan will remain in perpetual turmoil. It would also not be incorrect to presume that European countries, like other nations, are fatigued with their prolonged involvement.
Russia has a strong interest in the stability of Afghanistan as its spillover effect could undermine peace in neighbouring republics or autonomous regions, especially those dominated by the Muslim population and minorities. Although at the tactical level due to the current state of hostile relations over election meddling, annexation of Crimea and nuclear and missile build-up, the Russians would prefer that the US remains bogged down in Afghanistan.
It is thus becoming increasingly clear that regional and global cooperation is the only way to strengthen the hands of Afghan government and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. For this to happen, Pakistan and India need to stop using Afghanistan to fight their proxy wars. And the US must get over the false assumption that it can achieve its political and strategic objectives in Afghanistan through the military might alone. The Taliban, too, have to pursue the path of negotiations. They do not have the political wherewithal or widespread acceptance or experience of running a transformed Afghanistan.
IMRAN Khan came to Lahore a few days ago, which was not an unusual occurrence at all. Many in the city would say he ultimately belongs here despite the fact that he chooses to spend most of his time in Islamabad’s hills and beyond. His party, however, did try to create a special occasion out of the latest ‘homecoming’ of the person they reverently address as Khan.
The need for coming up with Imran Khan occasions and events has been increasingly felt in the face of the relentless campaign run by Mian Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz in Punjab and outside. It is a kind of an early poll drive as well. Mian Sahib with an equally determined Maryam is leading the pack. The others, Imran Khan and, according to their own ability, the PPP, Jamaat-i-Islami and PML-Q leaders are following the route.
The weather will also be a consideration for the leadership that has a history of rushing to Murree and Nathiagali or whatever other resort they can manage at the slightest rise in mercury. This is a very serious question being asked more and more frequently in the plains with the onset of the hotter months.
Can and will the PML-N leadership be able to sustain their protest campaign deep into the summer — into the months when the load-shedding hours will increase dangerously and it will be tough for the privileged to get out of their imposing four-wheelers?
These questions are followed up by concerns expressed by those who are adamant that whatever the level of acrimony, a poll campaign in the most oppressive months of June/July will inevitably be devoid of verve, colour and energy. Apart from various other possible ‘reasons’ for a delay in the polls, the weather definitely has a popular ring to it. Not just the heat, for certain parts of the country rains may well be something to contend with during these months.
The politicians must not leave anything to chance, whatever predictions the weather pundits may make in the coming weeks. The polls are a must to end the conflict that has been raging in Pakistani politics, with the PML-N and its allies fighting to retain power against challengers most prominently represented by the PTI. There are no guarantees that the big election will solve this dispute but it is an option at least worth trying. It is in the interest of the parties that many of the necessary measures be taken before the sun gets into its blazing mode.
One segment of these preparations is the membership drives that many parties have recently undertaken with various degrees of fanfare. For instance, the camps set up by the PPP in Lahore as part of its membership drive were more a reminder of the seriously brittle state the party has progressively fallen into over the years — more briskly ever since the rise of the PTI in recent times. It is obvious why the PPP leaders have not been all that keen on even vaguely discussing the results of the membership campaign — particularly so in Lahore where the sounds and sights still speak of a long and unbroken PML-N reign.
The PTI is trying. It did attempt to use the latest visit by Imran Khan to drum up sentiment that can be channelled into lobbying for the polls a few months later. It had been arranged for the PTI chief to address a few gatherings. The media in Lahore is polarised across, by and large, pro- and anti-PML-N lines but there are certain sections here which make no effort to hide their bias against Imran Khan.
They were quick to point out that the attendance at one or two of the gatherings Khan spoke at was poor. There were in the end a few more robust meetings for the PTI to boast of but the general impression was that from now on the party needs to consistently put up more populated, more vociferous shows in the city to combat the images of resistance aired from the Nawaz-Maryam rallies.
There will be those who will say that Imran Khan needs to be more careful in ensuring not only that he is seen in the company of large crowds, but that he is also selective about what he says and when. Quite a lot of talk was generated by a remark that the PTI chief made during one of his speeches in the said Lahore tour.
It was a repeat of what has been generally ‘alleged’ over the last many years. Imran repeated the criticism in which Lahore is said to eat up everyone else’s share in Punjab — Punjab in turn being a favourite province in the federation. Many people made fun of the statement by the chief which said that Lahore was hogging as much as 55 per cent of the total provincial budget. The theory was that as a beneficiary, the city would not react kindly to one of its own sons painting it as some kind of a usurper.
Seriously? Is this how vain it has gotten? Will a city proud of its place take offence at a remark about it being dragged by its stern administrators into a controversy its people would have wanted to avoid at all costs?
Imran Khan will, of course, have his own pragmatic reactions to these questions, along the lines that define his politics for power today. Many others who are more than just occasional visitors here would disagree. They live here with their heads held high and would — or must — confront any allegations of discrimination with a fairness that should be the biggest asset of a city.