You have to stand guard over the development and maintenance of democracy, social justice and the equality of mankind in your own native soil. [Mohammed Ali Jinnah]

Friday, January 11, 2008

In the aftermath of the bomb blast in Lahore, where do we stand in our own country? - Misha Rehman

In the aftermath of the bomb blast in Lahore, where do we stand in our own country?

For some like Marx, history is a linear progression-from feudalism to capitalism and so on. For the colonizers and now imperialists, man evolved from savages to barbarians to the civilized. Darwin spoke of mankind as ‘survival of the fittest’. Man, the superior of all beings in the universe, adapted and transformed the climate to suit their needs. With the advent of industrialization and the likes, we had technology to mold and change the world. From belief in a supreme being and divine law, the world moved to secularism and modern values. Thus, man has always progressed, to grow to something better, to something bigger than before-so history demonstrates, and so great thinkers tell us.

Have we really progressed, or with the passing of each day are we truly digressing to a world where law of the jungle prevails? Using new tactics and new technologies, which apparently seem to be the constructs of a modern world, our men are destroying our own social fabric, and crippling our own polity. This is the state of Pakistan. This is the day of morbidity where evil has risen. The men are standing translucent; we can see the ironies of life, of politics and statehood in a third world country, which is being dragged by the whims and fancies of everyone in the national and/or international arena, everyone but the people of Pakistan. These evil mongers rise to fill their pockets and cling on to their power. They rise to commit atrocities. They rise to curtail freedom. They rise to end Pakistan.

Let us trace back Pakistan’s steps to August 2006, just a year and five months ago. From the hue and cry regarding cases of the missing people, to the American imposed Islamic fundamentalism and Musharaf’s inception of enlightened moderation; from the killing of the prominent Balochi leader Bugti by the security forces, to the unaccounted raid that killed up to 80 people in Bajaur; from the radical Lal Masjid breathing right under the nose of the government, to the numerous bombings in cities like Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and Rawalpindi; from Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry’s unconstitutional suspension by the Dictator-President, to the killings of many Pakistani’s by foreign militants in Waziristan; from the treacherous killings in Karachi during rival protests against CJP’s dismissal, to the shameful deportation of Nawaz Sharif under the orders of the President against the decision of the Supreme Court; from the audacity of the President in wanting to stand in elections as an army chief after eight years of military rule, to the curtailment of media amid growing challenge to this very rule; from the belligerent breach of constitutional provisions by the imposition of a state of emergency, to the unlawful arrests and FIR reports against prominent lawyers, judges, civil servants, and politicians; from the assassination of PPP Chairperson and ex-Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, to the very obvious and shameful cover-up by the army, time and again we have been targeted as a nation. Now we are once again left bruised and battered on the 10 of January 2008: "Twenty people have been killed and 60 wounded. Most of the victims are policemen. It was a suicide attack,'' said senior city government official Mian Ejaz after a bomb blast outside the Lahore High Court.

We can not let this go unnoticed like the parrot that shuts its eyes when he sees a cat, hoping that the cat won’t see him. For if now we can not decide what has to be done, then only darkness prevails. We can not sit idle and wait for the monster to grow. We can not wait for it engulf us all, for the cat to gulp the parrot down, for the powder keg to explode, for the citizens of a nation to forfeit it all. Not money, not land, no, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about fundamental human rights, I’m talking about freedom, I’m talking about existence in its very basic sense, and I’m talking about life…

“Pakistan”, a term coined by Chawdhry Rehmat Ali, “the land of the pure”.

-Misha Rehman

A Page from the Diary of a Student

Aai aye haath uthain hum bhi...

Earlier today, as we sat down in our Contracts law class, a terrified girl rushed into the class, quite late and looking baffled. The next moment we realized that she wasn't just appearing baffled to get her late entry excused. "Please call up you dad to check if he's fine. There's been explosion outside the Lahore High Court. Many deaths and injuries"

There was a moment of silence. Then, the instructor spoke: "No my dad's else where. Actually... emm." Our lawyer-teacher then instructed his teaching assistant to call up the teacher's father so as to enquire his well being, while the class returned to the labyrinthine world of Contracts Act 1872. I have never had a wonderful time with the intricacies of contract law, but this session became particularly distasteful so I began to think about rivers of blood, and black coats and other evocative images and many other things and very soon the class was over. The instructor's dad was reported to be safe and sound, and he looked quite relieved.

Back at LUMS, things looked just fine. It was a cloudy winter afternoon and the breeze was blowing beautifully. I thought about how the same wind blows all around the country, all around the globe, and brings on its wings, news from distant places. What it does not bring is the smell of blood, even when blood has been spilled just a few miles away.

Later, at around 7:30, a few dozen students gathered in front of the dining hall, in response to the Student Council's call. Many times in the afternoon, recently viewed pictures from the TV screen kept popping up in my mind. Bodies of humans, piled up outside the picturesque High Court building, dressed up in khaki trousers and dark grey shirts, unmistakable members of the dreaded Punjab police. Memories retured from another day, more than two months ago, when tall and strong men, dressed up in similar attire were chasing us like rats in that very premises. They beat up our friends, humiliated us and made us walk with our hands held high, just like prisoners of war in our own country.

But that moment in the cold evening, sitting on the ground, amongst a sober gathering of students, as I raised my hands for fatiha, this is not what I was thinking about. I thought about the families of the deceased and what they must be going through. Nothing should waver us in our resolve to battle every oppressive move made by the state, but that resolve must also not blind us to the plight of human beings on both sides. Our battle is not against innocent human beings; it is against a system that pits some of us against the others, exploiting everyone in the process. It is a battle of ideas of justice against ideas of injustice. More than anything else, those who were killed today were fellow human beings, brothers in Islam, killed unjustly. They deserve all our prayers, all our regards, and the maximum of our support.

The students dispersed after enlisting their names for blood donation and making contributions to the fund that the Student Action Committee has promply set up to support the families of the deceased.

The dirty tricks Beena Sarwar

IMMEDIATELY following Benazir Bhutto’s tragic assassination on Dec 27, speculation began on who would head the party. There was barely time to grieve.

Pressures on the party leadership included insistent questioning by journalists, particularly the insatiable 24/7 broadcast media, the forthcoming elections then barely two weeks away, and crucially, the disinformation campaign started by the dirty tricks brigade that is always quick to swing into action.

Some journalists pushed the Fatima Bhutto versus Bilawal Zardari angle. Others pounced on the even younger Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (“Junior”) as the probable head of the party. Some rushed for quotable quotes to Benazir’s disgruntled uncle, Mumtaz Bhutto, known for his running feud with her. Hard-headed reporters, noses to the ground, understood the popular sentiment of the party — whoever next headed the PPP had to be a Bhutto. At the funeral, party workers raised slogans for Sanam Bhutto, Benazir’s last remaining sibling, to lead the party despite Sanam’s clear disinterest in these matters.

Cyberspace and drawing-room chatter, meanwhile, buzzed with the hopeful comments of the intellectual elite in Pakistan and abroad. ‘Civil society’ was excited at the prospect of the PPP finally ‘democratising’ — perhaps now a non-Bhutto would head the party. Perhaps now they would hold intra-party elections. Perhaps now some respected leader like Makhdoom Amin Fahim or, even better, Aitzaz Ahsan would be asked to don the mantle.

Not surprisingly, this well-meaning debate primarily took place among elitist groups who are not party members, and who reviled the PPP for its insistence on electoral politics. The polls boycott lobby held that participating in elections would ‘legitimise’ the Musharraf regime. The boycott move is believed to have originated with the dirty tricks brigade, known for its tactic of initiating “a cute slogan that raises an emotive response” as one political activist put it. Besides the fact that the president in any case claims legitimacy, they were unable to answer the question Benazir Bhutto had raised when pressurised to boycott: “Boycott, and then what?”

These people had also rejected, even vilified, Ms Bhutto for her ‘deal’ with President Gen (as he was then) Musharraf. She saw no way to proceed except through politics and defended herself in an email of Dec 3, 2007, made public after her death: “I still remain committed to the freedom and vitality of democracy, as [sic] the great Quaid-i-Awam had dreamt of. Yes, it is true that you have to deal sometimes with the Devil if you can’t face it, but everything is a means to an end.”

The dirty tricks brigade was quick to capitalise on the elite indignation when the PPP ended speculation with the announcement that Benazir Bhutto had left a will nominating as the party head her husband Asif Ali Zardari, the much maligned ‘Mr 10 per cent’ (a term known to have been coined by the dirty tricks brigade, although there is no shortage of contenders for such labels). There was further indignation at dynastic politics when Zardari was smart enough to pass the PPP’s leadership mantle on to 19-year-old Bilawal.

Why could the party not rise above negative traditions and do the ‘right’ thing? Perhaps its leaders felt constrained by their constituency — which is not the intellectual elite. This constituency of PPP workers was on the whole relieved at the quick decisions announced at the soyem (all of which, incidentally, counter the patriarchal model): Bilawal made the party’s symbolic head; Benazir and Zardari’s children taking on the Bhutto name; Benazir buried by her father’s grave as she had wished; her husband’s stated desire to also be buried there rather than at his own ancestral graveyard. Whatever the motivations behind these steps, their symbolism in perpetuating the ‘Bhutto factor’ and satiating the desire to atone for the martyrdom cannot be underrated.

The dirty tricks brigade, whose efforts to rig the elections Ms Bhutto had been about to reveal, continued undeterred. By Jan 1, in tactics reminiscent of the whispering campaign started against Benazir herself after Murtaza’s murder, a message was being circulated via SMS and on the internet implying that Asif Zardari was behind his wife’s death as the chief beneficiary — “all wealths [sic] of hers and her political power is now in Zardari’s hands”.

The unsigned message demanded that he be interrogated along with Rehman Malik “who used to manage Benazir [sic] foreign investment portfolio”. Those close to Benazir Bhutto scoff at these allegations, noting that she was too intelligent a woman to leave her “wealths” accessible to anyone other than her children.

On Jan 2, an Urdu newspaper in Karachi distributed free supplements with the (false) report that Fatima Bhutto had announced herself as the ‘real Bhutto’, suggesting that she should be leading the party. Such attempts to fan discord are of course not limited to Pakistan. PTI leader Imran Khan’s ex-wife Jemima Khan, who has developed into a political analyst since returning to the UK, wrote in the Telegraph, “If a Bhutto must run Pakistan, why not Fatima?”

Is Bilawal about to run the country? Aren’t there other more important issues at hand than who heads the PPP? Fatima Bhutto doesn’t even belong to the party. Neither does Ms Khan, although this hasn’t stopped her or others from nominating its leadership. Such presumption when it comes to the PPP is in sharp contrast to the restraint regarding other political parties.

Such efforts to deepen existing rifts are not just dishonest but downright dangerous at this point. The establishment delayed the elections that were to have been held on Jan 8 without taking the major opposition parties into confidence. The interim provides an opportunity for them to further target and weaken the opposition.

Already stunned at the loss of their leader, the PPP is now reeling from the registration of tens of thousands of FIRs against its workers. Its electoral candidates face charges that include attempted murder. All this only contributes towards the existing uncertainty and may generate more violence that could provide the establishment a pretext to further postpone elections. This must not be allowed to happen.

Although some go as far as to say that character assassination is the first step towards physical assassination, it is clear that political engagement and organisation are necessary for change. Those who vilified Ms Bhutto for pursuing these politics are now making her into an icon while continuing to vilify her party. It is time to make some choices: continue perpetuating the vilification campaign or focus on the more fundamental issue of taking politics in Pakistan beyond military interference.

The writer is a journalist and documentary film-maker based in Karachi.