Pakistan Press(30 Mar 2018 NewAgeIslam.Com)
Obfuscating Balochistan By Tahir Mehdi: New Age Islam's Selection, 30 March 2018





New Age Islam Edit Bureau

30 March 2018

Obfuscating Balochistan

By Tahir Mehdi

Ideology Is Irrelevant

Asha’ar Rehman

Illusory Happiness

By Zubeida Mustafa

Beyond Precedent

Ayesha Siddique Khan

Rays of Light Where the Sun Sets

By Khadim Hussain

The Power of History

By Sohaib Baig

Revenant of the Bear?

By Talimand Khan

Perceptions Of Corruption

By Salman Tarik Kureshi

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Obfuscating Balochistan

By Tahir Mehdi

March 30, 2018 Facebook Count

THE southern border of NA-272 Gwadar-cum-Lasbela, in the newly delimitated electoral constituencies, comprises the entire 800-kilometre-long coastline of Balochistan, starting from Karachi and stretching up to Iran at the western end of Gwadar district.

The geographical area of NA-270, encompassing four central Balochistan districts, Panjgur, Washuk, Kharan and Awaran, is a staggering 94,452 square kilometres. This is bigger than the area of KP and almost half that of the entire Punjab province.

NA-270 is, obviously, an extremely vast constituency. But the population living in it is exactly equal to the provincial average for a seat. That means it is demarcated in accordance with the law. There is nothing illegal about it. But is it ok? The population density in this constituency is eight persons per square kilometre while in Central Karachi district (NA 253-256), 43,000 people live in the same area. Can the people living in these two exercise their political rights with equal ease? In practice, political processes in such vast constituencies remain limited to the areas with the highest concentration of population, and the people living on the margins, in thinly spread-out localities, become ‘unfeasible’ for political actors.

The numerical equality of constituencies does not always result in equal suffrage.

We witnessed this in the elections to non-Muslim seats prior to 2002, when the entire country, or the province, was declared a single multi-member constituency. Candidates from Faisalabad and Lahore would mostly win on the four Christian seats in the National Assembly; these areas have the highest concentration of members of this community. Christians living elsewhere in the country thus lost all political value.

Constituency delimitation is not an exercise in geometry, neither is it an arithmetical problem to be solved. Though it requires both skills, it is about making people’s representation possible in forums that make important decisions about their lives and well-being.

The numerical equality of constituencies has been stressed upon far too much by election experts and advocated vigorously by civil society organisations; they have given no thought to its subtle implications for political representation or to our specific ground realities. The numerical equality of constituencies does not always result in equal suffrage. If it is taken too literally, it can, in fact, turn into a tool for marginalisation and exclusion.

The UK Constituency Act 2011 has also considered area as an important factor in delimitation and allowed a constituency to breach the lower limit of the population quota if its area exceeds 12,000 sq kms. Pakistan, too, has legally allowed the population number in Fata constituencies to be half that of the national average. This special treatment is accorded to the area to compensate for ‘the representation deficit’ that it suffers for not being a part of a provincial assembly.

More importantly, Elections Act 2017 specifies “facilities of communication and public convenience” as a guiding principle of delimitation. The same, however, found no mention in the election rules. The act also asks the Election Commission “… to reduce the distance preferably to one kilometre between a polling station and the voters assigned to it”. What distance would a person have to cover in order to cast his/her vote in the 1.000-kilometre-long NA-272?

There is gaping hole in the law, the rules and their application when it comes to delimitation in Balochistan, which is directly linked to the issue of representation.

The fact that the most unequal constituencies in Balochistan are also the ones inhabited by the Baloch population can only add insult to injury. Here is an overview.

The population of Quetta district has tripled since the last census. Like most provincial capitals, Quetta is multiethnic — the previous census showed that the Baloch counted as just a quarter of the population. It used to have one whole seat and a quarter of another in its neighbourhood. Now it has been given three whole seats which is in accordance with its share in the population. The seat population is almost equivalent to the provincial average. This also means that the two additional seats the province got from the national pool this time have gone to this district.

Pakhtun-majority northern districts of Balochistan shared four national seats in the previous delimitation and it has remained the same. The average population in these, too, is exactly equal to the provincial average.

However, the average population of six seats (NA-259, 268-272) that are predominantly Baloch exceeds the provincial quota by 16 per cent. These are also the largest in area.

For example, the constituency that starts from the doorsteps of Quetta and stretches up to the western most point of the country, covering a huge area of 63,000 sq kms, has 40pc more inhabitants than the provincial average. NA-268 Mastung-cum-Chaghai-cum-Kalat-cum-Shaheed Sikandarabad-cum-Nushki is one of seven constituencies with a population exceeding one million.

The combined impact of both factors will negatively impact the representative character of candidates elected from here.

If the total population of these six seats is simply divided by the provincial quota, the answer is seven. That means this area deserved to have seven seats in the National Assembly, not six. Where has that one seat gone? To Nasirabad division, which has been given three seats although its share comes to 2.1. This has resulted in seats with population numbers far below the provincial average. NA-262 Kacchi-cum-Jhal Magsi is the smallest constituency in the country with a population equal to half the provincial average. Another constituency in this division, NA-260 Nasirabad, is the fifth smallest constituency of the country, smaller than the provincial average by 37pc. This constituency is home to current National Assembly member and former prime minister Zafarullah Jamali.

It is clear that one seat has been moved from a predominantly Baloch area to Nasirabad division where Balochi speakers constitute about half the population. The other half consists of Sindhis and Seraikis.

This doesn’t align with the purported policy of mainstreaming the Baloch in the country’s politics. It is actually likely to strengthen the Baloch narrative of deprivation and increase their alienation. The political solution to what ails Balochistan lies in facilitating electoral politics in the province, and certainly not in obfuscating it.



Ideology Is Irrelevant

Asha’ar Rehman

March 30, 2018

THIS is a moment to celebrate for those who must value idea and ideology. We have not one or two ideological politicians rising to the occasion. We have a whole variety of them making their appearance in the run-up to a general election that must be fought to the bitter end, ideally in the company of less ideological souls.

This is not at all a rare happening, even for a country as confused about the whole idea as ours. Every now and then, there comes a point in Pakistan where the ideological worker raises his or her head above the muck created by power politics. The ideological worker chants slogans, earns some applause from the audience — mostly useless unemployed people like you and me who cannot find their ‘due’ place in political parties with any following — and then the ideological worker disappears just as unceremoniously as he had emerged.

However there are also distressing and demanding times when an ideological worker may be pulled out of obscurity and put in charge of the deceptively grand task of educating the people, crafting the likeminded from amongst them. Like N.D. Khan, an old and almost forgotten PPP name who has just been rediscovered and appointed as the head of some kind of a study regime within the party.

The people know that only those who are not really vying for power have the time to indulge the ideologically inclined.

This is reflective of the old technique a party practising power politics uses when it wants to make a statement about its commitment to ideology, for want of a better cause or slogan to build its case for power on. Mr Khan now has the unenviable job of reviving the PPP’s image as a party that worked by certain ideals and rules based on popular aspirations.

The PPP is struggling, as a national party. The parties which believe they have a better chance at capturing power in the near future may not be too bothered about wasting their time on niceties such as study circles. They would be best advised to take any talk about ideology or departures from it in their stride. Especially when ignoring the complaints of old ideological workers are likely to strengthen the party’s image as a real contender for power in the eyes of the people. The people here know that only those who are not really vying for power have the time to indulge the ideologically inclined.

Thus Imran Khan is absolutely on target when he tries to explain to PTI followers the difference between a party and a club. A club can maintain its exclusivity by following a strict admission policy whereas a party must move forward by including a variety of people. Even this rather long explanation is made redundant by the more recent reality-inspired stance that the PTI chief has taken. He says there is an election to be won and this objective will require entry of all kinds to the PTI. In other words, he is saying that power cannot be won by the ideological creatures. From Mr Khan’s pragmatic approach, it will ensue that an ideological politician is someone not quite relevant to what’s happening around him. But does the formula apply to Mian Nawaz Sharif, who says he has now, finally, turned into a nazriyati or ideological politician?

Indeed, the PML-N is considered, with reason, to be still the biggest claimant to power in the country. The masses are thronging to the meetings that Mian Sahib has been addressing. The party remains by and large intact so far in the face of extreme pressures. Project after project is being completed in anticipation of the 2018 general election. Why would the party’s leader then want to cross over and be identified as an ideological politician even when it is known that the slipping into this nazriyati avatar is a standard sign of surrender to the more powerful?

Now if you also happen to be a member of the endangered tribe and live with all kinds of ideological types you are duty bound to hail this latest arrival in our midst. Since it is not every day that big names cross over to our side we might take extra time to celebrate Mian Sahib’s rechristening. Not just that, as per tradition, in this moment of our victory, let’s not be light with our criticism of those who are not ideological.

Bootlickers, old and new, and those in the making, must all be condemned with as much noise as we can generate. But once we are through with the grand exercise in targeting today’s stooges of the establishment as opposed to the latest converts to ideology, it will be to our advantage that we look a little closely at what the new declarations to live by ideology mean in the overall context of power politics in the country.

The rules have not changed. Those wishing to take power must follow the same old routine. Those in the know say that even the large jalsas that Mian Sahib’s branch of the PML-N has been so proudly organising in Punjab and beyond will be of little significance unless the selection board clears him for the race. His own statements have repeatedly been showing that he didn’t give himself too much of a chance to pass the test.

The ultimate nazriyati tag that he has assigned to his politics now would indicate that he rules himself out of the contest. This may be taken as a formal undertaking by Mian Nawaz Sharif that, right now, he is not the leader that those seeking power in the immediate future would want to place their bets on.

It is a reconfirmation that for the time being at least, the applications for any role in the power setup from the PML-N platform may be addressed to those who still owe allegiance to the principles of power politics outside Mian Sahib’s little ideological kingdom.



Illusory Happiness

By Zubeida Mustafa

March 30, 2018

THE recently released UN-sponsored World Happiness Report 2018 ranks Pakistan 75th out of 156 countries in terms of how happy their citizens are. That is progress. Last year, we stood at the 80th position. There has been rejoicing at what is seen as Pakistan’s superiority in the ranking table above all its neighbours which includes China and India.

This made me wonder because statistics — objectively compiled one presumes — have a different story to tell. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the author of the report, bases its findings on six indicators, namely, income per capita, life expectancy, social support, generosity, freedom and corruption. At least two of these are calculated objectively by many UN agencies (World Bank and UNDP).

Pakistan is way behind its neighbours in per capita income and life expectancy. According to their data, per capita income is said to be $1,441 and life expectancy at birth is 66 years. The corresponding figures for India are $1,852 and 68 years. For China, they are $8,583 and 76 years.

A person who is anxious about his next meal cannot be happy.

In other words, the happiness rankings are based more on the people’s perception of the state of their satisfaction that may not necessarily match reality. When I probed Gallup about their survey which formed the basis of the report, I was informed that their sample size was 1,600 which Gallup described as “national representative” — a bit difficult to believe given Pakistan’s diversity and size of its population (208 million, according to the 2017 census). The interviews were conducted face-to-face in Urdu and the rural areas were also covered, unlike in the earlier years.

This gives rise to scepticism about the accuracy of the answers given. Empirical observation also points in another direction. Interpersonal communication can be a major challenge. The survey was conducted in Urdu which is not the language of most people in Pakistan. One cannot be certain how much Urdu the respondents would understand, especially in the rural areas.

Officials from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics once told me that it is not easy for its enumerators to get people to give accurate information for the household surveys the PBS conducts periodically. Hamza Alavi, the academic, who did groundbreaking studies on the biradari systems in a village in Punjab, confirmed the trait one encounters in work of this kind. He once described to me the length to which he had to go to win the people’s confidence to get them to talk candidly about their personal matters. He said that the common man in our society conventionally gives the reply that he senses is expected of him. Did Gallup encounter similar problems?

The methodology used is quite complex. The Frequently Asked Questions section on the Happiness website tell us, “The rankings are based on answers to the main life evaluation question asked in the poll. This is called the Cantril Ladder: it asks respondents to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale.” This may have puzzled many respondents.

True, money doesn’t lead to happiness. But a person who is mostly anxious about his next meal cannot be happy. Similarly, a life expectancy of 66 is an improvement on the lower figures of yesteryears. But this does not mean that all these years will be a period of blooming health given our shoddy healthcare system and living standards.

We are also plagued by the biggest enemy of happiness — inequity. The indecent and ostentatious display of the wealth of the ‘one per cent’ only creates frustration. This is further enhanced by the media. This has not been taken into account at all.

Culture and fatalism also have much to do with popular attitudes. No ‘good Muslim’ will question his lot in life. The general belief is that it is ungrateful not to be satisfied with whatever one has been endowed with. This leads us to the key question: what are such surveys designed to achieve?

The American Declaration of Inde­pendence recognised as inalienable the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. But with the results so visibly skewed, it only leads to complacency among the privileged and the rulers whose duty it is to look after the underprivileged. Such findings absolve them of their responsibilities.

The sixth World Happiness Report allots Islamabad 58 points more than India which gladdens many hearts in Pakistan. Even China has been left behind by 11 points. Iran trails us by 31 points. The natural response of the managers of our economy would be, ‘Oh they are so happy in their present state, we should have no reason to worry’. Or is this a psychological tool to silence the public with?



Beyond Precedent

By Ayesha Siddique Khan

March 30, 2018

THE recent judgement on the changes made to Election Act 2017 (which repealed the Political Parties Ordinance 2002 — PPO) whereby Nawaz Sharif was removed as party head has driven a wedge between legal experts. Proponents of democracy find themselves arrayed against the defenders of accountability.

Which institution takes precedence? Parliament or the Supreme Court? Is the apex court vested with any right whatsoever to nullify parliamentary legislation after it has received presidential assent?

In countries such as Pakistan that have written constitutions, it is this document that is supreme. Every action by state institutions derives its legal validity in purview of the constitutional interpretation given to it by the judiciary. The Supreme Court thus is endowed with the residuary powers to strike down any constitutional amendment or sub-constitutional legislation that are in contravention of fundamental rights or the Constitution’s salient features. However, any intervention by the Supreme Court must be exercised with great caution.

The court’s intervention must be exercised with caution.

Coming to this judgement, it was alleged that Election Act 2017’s Sections 203 and 232 diminish Articles 62, 63, and 63A of the 1973 Constitution. Instead of striking down these provisions, the apex court, appears to have ‘read in’ Articles 62, 63 and 63A of the Constitution.

The argument that the right to association is a fundamental one, as enshrined in the Constitution, was put forth. Article 17(2) is specific to political parties and their right to association is subjected to “reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan”. It was held in a 11-member Supreme Court decision in the case of Benazir Bhutto versus the Federation of Pakistan (that dealt with a ban on the PPP through a presidential order during Gen Zia’s regime) that no restrictions outside the text of Article 17(2) can be imported, transposed or ‘read in’ this provision of the law.

Further, only one bit of this judgement appears to have been used, while the overall ratio decidendi (the reason for the decision) appears to have been overlooked. From the Benazir case, a quote was borrowed that “…Article 17(2) of the Constitution contains the declaration of the right and the restriction in its exercise as authorised by the Constitution. Thus, it is not an absolute or uncontrolled liberty and is accordingly limited in order to be effectively possessed”. However, the very next line “the restrictive clause is exhaustive and is to be narrowly construed” was omitted from the Election Act 2017 judgement and a different colour was inevitably given to the Benazir Bhutto case.

Relying on the Benazir case itself, the court appears to have essentially transposed public morality into this provision by stating that it is part and parcel of the Islamic ideology of Pakistan and as per the expression ‘the integrity of Pakistan’.

Despite this broad interpretation given to the term ‘integrity of Pakistan’, the criteria that reasonable restrictions must be imposed by ‘law’ is not fulfilled. There was no law in operation then, which restricted the right of a disqualified person to head a political party. Such a restriction was provided under Section 5 of the PPO, but was repealed by Election Act 2017. Even if it is accepted that the repeal does not affect any liability already incurred at that time, for the Supreme Court to decide whether Article 17(2) restrictions apply, there must first be a declaration by the federal government that a particular political party is not acting in a proper manner; a reference of this is then made to the court. This apparently did not happen.

By interpreting Article 17 in light of Articles 2A (Objec­tives Resolu­tion), 62, 63 and 63A and the general scheme of the Constitution, the court may have gone beyond settled judicial precedent. Previously, in the Imrana Tiwana case, the bench ruled that the Objectives Resolution cannot be used to strike down legislation. Though admittedly, the court has not struck down Sections 203 and 232 but rather ‘read in’ them Article 62, 63 and 63A, why should a different standard apply? Is ‘reading in’ not to be done in a restrictive manner?

So, while this judgement seems to be morally correct, the rules of construction and judicial precedent set by a larger bench of Supreme Court have been sidestepped. The lack of clarity in this judgement could have been removed considerably, had the judiciary explained why the Benazir case was different. The judiciary has to ensure that judicial activism is to be exercised not only with caution, but also within the framework of the rules of construction available.

Ironically, the political parties that have approached the Supreme Court to regulate them might be celebrating this verdict today. Yet, there might come a time where it will haunt them.



Rays Of Light Where The Sun Sets

By Khadim Hussain

March 30, 2018

The world is witnessing an epoch making rise of a robust civil rights and Pakhtun Nationalist movement from the north western parts of Pakistan. More and more people, especially the middle class youth, increasingly associate themselves beyond tribal, regional, partisan, gender and class identities with the narrative of this loosely organised and inclusive uprising that calls itself The Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and that the youth commonly calls The Pakhtun Long March. Two factors might be observed as the motivating forces behind the rise of this movement.

The first and major factor is the accumulated collective agonies of a whole population—the Pakhtuns. At the bottom of the simple human rights based demands—bringing the police officer, Rao Anwar, who is suspected to be involved in Naqeebullah Mehsud extra judicial killing in Karachi,  to justice, formation of judicial commission for probing extrajudicial killings, competent investigation of enforced disappearances,  de-mining of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and stopping of humiliation on the widespread military checkpoints—lie the decades old collective anguish arising out of state policies that perpetrated violent extremism and war economy.

The indigenous and natural resources of the Pakhtuns were depleted through making the whole Pakhtun belt as war zone. The state, non-state, regional and international powers made the Pakhtun belt as a battleground that sprang up private militias, suicide attacks, bomb blasts, abductions, narcotics, gun running and car lifting as various components of economy. Schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, markets and community centres were attacked. Besides thousands of common Pakhtuns, hundreds of social elders were killed over the past two decades.

Large scale displacement uprooted millions of people from different areas of the Pakhtun belt. The ensuing humiliation suffered by the victims at the hands of state and non-state actors of this insane war made the whole Pakhtun community feel worthless.

With the economy of war and violent extremist paradigm comes political disempowerment. The articles on Fundamental Rights enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan were trampled through skewed interpretations and a whole part of the Pakhtun belt., FATA, was retained under the draconian black law of Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) for almost 15 decades. The federal democratic guarantees given in the constitution of Pakistan that provide a little space to ethno-national minorities in political decision making are continuously mutilated. The intent of state institutions to roll back the 18th Amendment is a case in point.

It is natural that the young activists of the existing organised political parties find a strong appeal with the additional component of the middle class youth leadership of the PTM. Perhaps Malala Yousafzai and Mashal Khan (and his father, Iqbal Lala) constitute the same young middle class Pashtun leadership who stand for the same narrative

The backbone of the genuine Pakhtun nationalist political parties was broken through the demolition squad of violent extremist private militias. Hundreds of hard core activists of Awami National Party (ANP) were target killed over the past two decades.  The political parties that had roots among the people were discredited through a baseless propaganda of ‘corruption’. Test tube politicians and test tube parties were thrust upon the Pakhtun belt. Patronage politics was encouraged and given space.

Pakhtun culture was distorted through the construction of an enforced homogenised and violent extremist narrative. Widespread racial profiling of the Pakhtuns were observed in mainstream media and in academic syllabi.

The second factor that might have motivated the movement is the existence of the Pakhtun Nationalist narrative and both parliamentary and resistance struggle that might be defined through the fundamental human rights framework and federal democratic dispensation.  Right from the Roshanite Movement of Bayazid Ansari in the 16th century till the continuation of the Khudai Khidmatgaar Movement of Bacha Khan till the present times, the PTM might have extracted wisdom from both resistance and parliamentary struggle of the Pakhtuns for politico-economic empowerment. Hence, the PTM/Pakhtun Long March seems to be the continuation of the existing narrative and struggle not an aberration. It doesn’t seem to be an alternative but another complementary milestone in the Pakhtun Nationalist struggle.

It is natural that the young activists of the existing organised political parties find a strong appeal with the additional component of the middle class youth leadership of the PTM. Perhaps Malala Yousafzai and Mashal Khan (and his father, Iqbal Lala) constitute the same young middle class Pakhtun leadership who stand for the same narrative.

The existing organised Pakhtun Nationalist parties successfully kept the enlightened nationalist narrative alive and exposed the suicidal state policies that created violent extremism and war economy in the Pakhtun belt. The organised Pakhtun Nationalist political parties also succeeded in making the federal parliamentary democracy as an agreed upon principle through parliamentary struggle.

The PTM was able to tell the stories of collective agony and unbearable anguish. It was able to break through the thick fog of fear and present the human losses and humiliation in a language understood by all those who suffered them. The simplicity and sincerity of the style and diction with which the stories were told by PTM activists in public made thousands of hearts beat with the same tune. The PTM, in fact, retold the narrative of fundamental human rights and right to life of a whole population of the Pakhtuns. It reconstructed the history of Pakhtun nationhood.

The PTM inspired other marginalised nations, ethnicities, groups and classes in Pakistan because of its paradigm of absolute non-violence, agreed upon human values, constitutional framework and counter violent extremism. It is, therefore, fast becoming a civil rights movement in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, instead of listening to the stories of collective agony with compassion, the state institutions have started framing the movement as a ‘foreign sponsored agenda’. The state seems to have sworn to itself not learn from history and use the same outdated and distorted tactics. The state institutions seem to be making argument against themselves. Is the majority of the Pakhtun youth working on a ‘foreign sponsored agenda’?

Both the non-violent resistance struggle and organised parliamentary politics must reinforce and complement each other if the dream of a peaceful, forward looking and prosperous Pakhtun society has to come true. Both paradigms are important for the achievement of cultural, social, economic and political rights of the Pakhtuns. It is, therefore, necessary that undue comparisons are avoided between the two paradigms. Activists of both paradigms must desist from reacting to minor provocations. Affiliates of both paradigms must not allow under any circumstances any violent attitude. Both must be aware of the elements that might have the proclivity to damage the other platform by using their platform.

Historical consciousness informs us that marginalised nations of Pakistan have to either go towards renaissance or plunge into the abyss of darkness in the present era. Decisions must be made on the basis of historical consciousness not personal whims and wishes.



The Power Of History

By Sohaib Baig

March 30, 2018

SOMETIMES people think that only western societies have given science its ‘true’ right. This makes them loftier than other civilisations, including Muslim civilisation, because science is supposed to be a noble and necessary pursuit that all humans should aspire towards. For many of us, this is a serious concern that affects how we act and what we believe. The way most Muslims these days would react is to show how science used to flourish centuries ago in Muslim civilisations. By doing this, they would be reassuring themselves that nothing is wrong with Islam, and that Muslims certainly do have the potential to go ahead and develop new scientific innovations.

Although both of these approaches utilise history, they would still be very limited in responding to and in capitalising on the criticism. And this is one of the key problems we have in dealing with the past. What would be a more useful way of responding to the criticism that modern science doesn’t mesh well with Muslims and Muslim civilizations? Well, we could begin by attempting to contextualise the critique itself. Since when did modern science become a standard by which to judge a religion and its contributions to mankind? This is a historical question, trying to draw attention to the historical emergence of this critique itself. Indeed, this “standard” has not existed forever. The Qur’an doesn’t tell us that we need to believe because belief will lead to scientific development and technological innovation. Rather, it calls itself “The Furqan”, which means “The Criterion”: the ultimate arbiter of truth and falsehood – a position that is falsely claimed by modern science, and accepted even by many who assert belief in the Qur’anic claim as well.

When we ask “since when,” we effectively have a completely different perspective of the question itself. That’s when we can see that this emphasis on modern science that is implicit in the question is a very modern development indeed– it simply revolves around a newfound belief in science that is particular to a European modernity. It is not timeless or transcending, even if it may appear to be so to us now. After showing how recent and particular the critique itself is, we could further use history to address another concern implicit in the original critique: is a life lived according to the dictates of modern science even the best way to live life? Now, relax: this isn’t to doubt the usefulness of modern science. This is just to ask whether modern science is the most important thing in the world that humanity has always been striving for. The answer isn’t exactly an emphatic yes when we turn to history. In fact, modern science begins to look surprisingly insignificant in the larger scheme of history. Billions of human beings lived without modern science before the modern age. Obviously, each life differs, but you could argue that the people historically did not see themselves as suffering from a lack of modern science. They lived complete lives. Of course, it’s hard to miss something you never knew existed – however, that in of itself shows that despite popular conceptions today, modern science isn’t the absolutely necessary and ultimate goal that humankind has always been striving and aching for since the descent of Adam (AS) onto this earth.

In the previous flawed attempts to answer the original critique (that Muslims were great scientists too!), we can also come across a delicate distortion of history. Even if Muslims had been developing science for centuries, their science could not have been exactly classified as modern: their practice was fused with a spiritual and religious understanding of the world, of man’s position as the vicegerent of God on earth. They didn’t share in the later European conceptions of nature as a raw force to be conquered and endlessly exploited to serve man’s needs. Besides, Muslim scientists historically didn’t occupy the same position in society as their modern counterparts do today. They weren’t connected to the giant networks of multinational corporations, drug companies, insurance agencies, marketing departments, political lobbying groups, banks and finance companies, public education, and so on. Thus, by looking back at history in a proper manner, we can learn many things. We learn how recent and modern the critique is, and how it is not a fundamental mystery of life. We also learn about the plurality of ways of living, of how modern science isn’t absolutely a fair way of judging the quality of life in the world, throughout history. And finally, it also points us to the plurality of ways of doing what we call science – through history, for example, we can learn how Muslims themselves approached their own version of scientific enterprises, of how these were intrinsically connected to their deeply God-conscious worldview.

This is the power of history – by raising powerful historical questions like “since when,” about our most dearly held views and taken for granted “facts”, our perceptions of the world and our ideals can be turned completely upside down. It is thus inextricably intertwined with our beliefs regarding ourselves, our faith, and other ideas, whether we perceive it or not. It is our non-contemporaneous present. That is why, at the end of the day, venturing in history requires an immense amount of soul-searching, immense re-evaluations of the ideas we may currently worship. It forces us to view the latest man-made fads that may be touted as the “best ideas or accomplishments in the world” as they actually are. It broadens our horizons and reveals the limitations of our delusions of success and ownership. It shows, ultimately, that God truly is the Greatest Being and Force. We can benefit deeply from nurturing a deep and proper relationship with the past. Through history, we can begin to discover the world and our souls.



Revenant Of The Bear?

By Talimand Khan

March 30, 2018

The current mass expulsion of Russian diplomats by the United States (US) and its European allies is reminiscent of the cold war era’s espionage skirmishes and diplomatic rows. Last Monday the US and its European allies expelled 100 Russian diplomats from their respective countries while the US went a step further closing Russian consulate in Seattle. The row is the reaction of alleged Russian involvement in the murder of Sergei Skirpal, a former Russian spy, in London.

Though, the cold war era assumed a metaphorical importance and became an unavoidable reference period in international relations, the current alignments might not assume the characteristics of the Cold War era’s bipolar world.

First, the emerging alignments lack political and religious ideological underpinnings and intensity of the 20th century. By and large Christianity and Islam were in unison in opposition to Communism. Therefore, that element of ideological glue is missing in this new alignment which is based on vested geo-strategic and economic interests necessitating containments of the adversarial powers. As was seen in the past, a majority of Muslim states bore a visible tilt towards the West.

Secondly, Russia replaced the USSR whose former states in Eastern Europe are now members of NATO and European Union. Currently, Russia has one and half explicit allies, Turkey and Syria in West Asia and half in Europe, because Turkey straddles West Asia and Europe, while Iran, though presently its interests converge with Russia and Turkey in Syria, its position in other theatres like South Asia is not clear so far.

If the US violates its hospitality in Afghanistan by prolonging its stay to control the Afghan foreign policy or reduces it to a launching pad for vested interests, it may also create unrest in future

Thirdly, the new alliance between Pakistan, Russia and Turkey is being shaped by reactive diplomacy and shifting interests. About two years ago, similar to Pakistan, Turkey was firmly allied with the US and was supporting the US War on Terror particularly in Iraq and Syria. Turkey even went so far to shoot down a Russian aircraft fighter in 2016.

Russia responded strongly to the incident by severing trade and economic ties with Turkey which badly affected Turkey, particularly its agriculture and tourism sectors. In case of intransigence, there was also a possibility of Russian support for the Kurds in the region. The adverse reaction by Russia forced Turkey to apologise which turned the tides.

The US looked askance at Turkey’s changed behaviour. However, the abortive attempt of military coup against Erdogan in July 2016 proved the last straw to break the camel’s back. Erdogan smelt rat and directly blamed Fatehullah Gulen, a Turkish dissident based in the US. But the probability of the US machination behind the abortive coup was not ruled out either. Whispers and reports prevailed in the diplomatic circles of a possible Russian intelligence tip saving Erdogan.

This pushed Turkey, a NATO member, closer to Russia. Much to the chagrin of the US and its European allies, currently there are reports that Russia sold S400 missiles to Turkey. This renewed cooperation between Russia and Turkey turned the game in Syria by supporting Asad’s regime to regain lost areas. Presently, as per reports 80 to 85 per cent is under his control.

In fact, Russia began to assert its position and global status under Putin after coming out of the hangover of USSR’s dismemberment. More or less, Russia-US relations swing between cooperation and competition. Tensions surfaced with the debacle in Georgia and Crimea looked upon by Russia as a direct threat to its hegemony in the region. However, Russia refused to remain indifferent in case of Syria as it did during the first Gulf War in 1991, War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq after 9/11 and later toppling of the Qaddafi regime.

Donald Trump’s policy speeches during the election campaign, particularly of reducing US military global non diplomatic engagements clearly articulated the US-first approach. Trump made it clear that instead of protecting other countries priority had to be given to the US. Perhaps that policy increased Russian expectations of Trump recognising the aspirant status of Russia, particularly in the region and areas of its immediate concern.

Though, Trump won the election in face of stiff opposition by the US media, some also suspect the establishment role. But the ensuing controversies regarding the alleged role of Russia’s influence in the Trump presidential election of November 2016, perhaps forced him to revise his policy.

Trump also revised his election campaign’s timeline regarding Afghanistan and adopted tough position on Afghanistan-Pak. Unequivocally and publically he talked tough on Pakistan’s adverse role in the current conflict in Afghanistan.  Though, Pakistan already began to divert toward the East anchoring on China and extending an olive branch to Russia, the events of the last few years brought the erstwhile rivals close to each other.

Unfortunately, the high level Russian military delegation visit to Pakistan and particularly to North Waziristan last year and the US army general’s recent allegations of Russia providing arms to the Afghan Taliban did not bode well for the region, especially Afghanistan and from North to South West Pakhtun region on this side of the Durand Line.

The mindboggling question is, whether Putin will settle scores with the US by contemplating some sort of Syria like action in Afghanistan or will it restrict to the level of providing arms and military advice to the Taliban. What would be the reaction of the US? It has created fresh fear in the minds of conflict weary and affected Afghanistan as well as Pakhtun on this side of the Durand Line.

If the US violates its hospitality in Afghanistan by prolonging its stay to control the Afghan foreign policy or reduces it to a launching pad for vested interests, it may also create unrest in future. But currently Afghanistan does not look to the presence of the US on its soil as they did to the Soviet intervention.

The contours are diametrically different. The opposition to Afghan revolution was not widespread and across the board in Afghan society as was the case in Taliban’s archaic retrogressive regime. Moreover, the opposition to the revolutionary regime came from the religious extremists and tribal feudal reactionaries which was foreign instigated and sponsored. The Soviet intervention, opposed by both Noor Mohammad Taraki and Amin, further made the revolutionary regime vulnerable and provided excuse to western interference in the name of Jihad.  However, a sizable portion of Afghan population in the form of PDPA, Parcham Parties and the Pakhtun nationalists on this side of the Durand Line had a soft corner for the Soviet.

In contrast, Taliban’s regime opposed by majority of the Afghan, was not accepted even by the former so called Mujahideen leaders and was considered as a proxy regime. The US led action was later sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1386 (2001) against the Taliban regime was welcomed by the Afghans.

However, blatant intervention by Russia supporting Taliban will affect Afghanistan and Pakhtun on this side of the Durand Line and runs the risk of alienating them completely. Now it is the responsibility of the citizens of the ‘civilised’ world, including Russia, to raise their voice against interventions by global as well as regional powers and to cease the inhuman game of proxy wars in poverty afflicted countries for vested geo-strategic interests, particularly in Afghanistan and adjacent Pakhtun region.



Perceptions Of Corruption

By Salman Tarik Kureshi

March 30, 2018

No, this piece is not primarily about the famous Index published by Transparency International — although that will also come up in a bit. It is about governmental probity in this Islamic Republic that we and 200 million other souls inhabit.

The corruption of certain members of our political elite, we are told, is the worst of all the problems besetting us. So enormous is the problem perceived to be that the second largest political party in the country has built its entire raison d’être on this single issue, without proposing anything else distinctive in its party programme.

Politicians’ corruption is perceived as, presumably, a worse problem than poverty, hunger, terrorism, crime, armed insurrection, loss of sovereignty, ethnic and sectarian violence, state failure, and so on. OK, well, perhaps not quite as bad as those, but certainly something to get worked up about. That is a position one can certainly accept and proceed to examine at that level.

For the ordinary citizen of this land of ours, who has dealings with municipal officials, land revenue officials, tax officials, the lower courts, the police, it is plainly understood that there is a kind of service fee involved if anything needs to get done — at the least ‘chai pani’; at the most, the sky is the limit. And this service fee is shared all the way to the top of the bureaucratic pyramid. This is not to mention the businessmen and corporate executives who throng Islamabad, wining and dining and fawning over everyone from Section Officers to Federal Secretaries, in order to have SROs (Statutory Regulatory Orders) issued to favour their particular businesses…SROs that often completely contradict existing statutes. Now, one may call this ‘bribery’ or ‘corruption’ or whatever one wants, but the fact is that these kinds of gratifications are woven through the entire warp and woof of our state institutions. And these gratifications are not destined for the hot, little hands of our parliamentary leaders

Zia may himself have been personally honest, but his time was when political and bureaucratic corruption both struck deep roots and grew to monstrous size

Nor is this kind of bureaucratic corruption an exclusively post-independence phenomenon. There is a story from the days of the British Raj about a Senior Civil Judge who was confronted by his superior, an English Sessions Judge, with the accusation of having taken a bribe of two lakh rupees from a litigant. The Civil Judge, who hailed from a leading Sharrif family of his province, was shocked and outraged. Drawing himself up to his full height, he boomed, ‘That’s an absolute lie. And an insult! I received Five lakh rupees, nothing less.’

Now the story is probably apocryphal, but there is no denying the ring of truth of the completely amoral attitude towards the privileges, and wages, of power. Nor would it just have been the native Indian employees of the British. The “white” functionaries of the East India Company were routinely expected to enrich themselves at the expense of the natives. The epic heights of corruption attained by the first two Governors-General, Robert Clive and Warren Hastings, set the pace for those who followed.

And even these were only following long-established Indian traditions. Consider the custom of the Nazrana, the compulsory gift any litigant or favour-seeker was required to place before the Kazi or other officials before whom he was to appear. The French traveller Francois Bernier, who visited India during the reign of Jahangir, noted the deep corruption that permeated the functioning of the Mughal state and the dispensation of justice, the celebrated Adl-i-Jahangiri notwithstanding.

Now, before any of my readers think I am in any way attempting to “justify” corruption, let me clarify that this is not my intention. I merely wish to point out that, in our part of the world, corruption is as old as time itself. It is, and has long been, an institutionalised systemic corruption, shared up, down, and across the various channels of authority.

I believe my point is clear. All those state functionaries who control the actual levers of power also have mechanisms for keeping those levers well greased. This is how the system works…and how it has worked since time immemorial.

But now there is a Johnny-come-lately, who has entered the charmed circle of corruption and is demanding his share: the elected politician.

In the first few years of Pakistan’s independence, there were few major examples of political corruption. Political incompetence, yes; even outright stupidity; and misuse of power or privilege. But few major scams featuring political figures surfaced during the 1950s and 1960s. It is probable that the politicos were simply not significant enough, in terms of real power, to be considered worth wasting big bribes over. Corruption clearly was a bureaucratic phenomenon, since this was where power resided and, as we know, all power corrupts.

But, come 1972 and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan had the first really effective political government in this country’s tragic history. Whatever the merits or demerits of that administration’s governmental style, there were surprisingly few instances of the finger of corruption being credibly pointed at its leaders, barring a couple of notable exceptions. This is despite the best (or worst) efforts of his successor to discover the blots in ZAB’s copybook.

However, this cannot be said for the evil regime of the General with the comedian’s moustache and hooded executioner’s eyes. Zia may himself have been personally honest, but his time was when political and bureaucratic corruption both struck deep roots and grew to monstrous size. American and Saudi aid was pouring in because of the war in Afghanistan and there were plenty of juicy commissions around for the sharing. Even less savoury fortunes were being made in the illegitimate weapons and drugs trades. One began to hear of numbered Swiss accounts and of billions of dollars moving there from this Land of the Pure.

And the numerous governments we have suffered between then and now? Since Transparency International began to publish its annual Index, the years 2004 to 2007, when Pervez Musharraf was in power, saw Pakistan slotted among the most corrupt 10 percent of the indexed countries. Since then, it has risen somewhat in the Index and was near the top of the lower 30 percent of indexed countries in 2017.This still suggests a sadly corrupt country.

The point is that there is a difference between the systemic corruption of unelected civil, military, and judicial officials and that of our elected politicians. The former is a regrettable fact of life. The latter is used, rightfully or otherwise, as a reason for the sacking of Prime Ministers. This is what happened in 1958 (Noon), 1988 (Junejo), 1990 (Benazir), 1993 (Sharif), 1996 (Benazir again), 1999 (Sharif again), 2012 (Gillani), and 2017 (Sharif, yet again).

Let us also clearly understand that corruption, however reprehensible, is not the worst of political sins. Consider: nobody accused Hitler, or Stalin, or even Zia, of financial corruption. Need one say more?