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Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

A magnanimous contribution by the worthy Mrs. Delirium to the blog

Discoursing the literacy rate in Pakistan is something of an oxymoron. In a country where clean drinking water is a luxury and basic necessities like electricity are not available, But what is new is the innovative use of technology to make a difference in the lives of millions of Pakistanis. The Telemedicine project, a 35 million rupee project, whereby  a network is established in the rural areas where health facilities are minimal to nil, patients can get examined and treated by the use of cameras and live transmission by consultants in tertiary care centers. Using trained paramedics, patients can get their querries attended to, get themselves examined by high-resolution cameras, get their investigations ordered and referred to the nearest tertiary care centre if urgent intervention is needed.

 In a country with a majority of rural population living well below the poverty line and where medical facilities are a luxury and poorly developed transportation infrastructure, the provision of medical advice by experts is a bane. Areas inaccessible by mobile vans can now be covered and patients can get treated at a fraction of the cost they would have to spend getting medical expertise in the traditional way.

The successful use of this technology can be extrapolated to dispense knowledge and spread awareness in general in the rural populace. In a country with majority of its population at the mercy of quacks, the Mullah the main knowledge dispenser and the feudal as the main arbitrator of justice, the applications of this technology can be multifold.

It can be used for the distribution and monitoring of knowledge and ensure its correct implementation in areas notorious for ghost schools, with schools synonymous with dilapidated shacks and sharing of their spaces with livestock.

In a country known for embezzlement of its development funds and White Elephants, the judicious use and implementation of such technologies can make a difference in the lives of millions of Pakistanis and bring a much-needed revolution in this nation.

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It was a usual banter over a cup of coffee with a diversity of views pouring in from across the table; some plausible others seemingly baseless. Someone termed it an induction and injection of ‘controlled chaos’ to tame the pawns and puppets safeguarding the interests of the western powers in the Middle East_ The Frankenstein thus cutting loose beyond the script and pulling the rug from under the feet of those who had invented the monster in the first place.

 As the discussion progressed, it all led us, at least partly, to believe that the epicenter of the volcano that has erupted lies somewhere beneath the oil wells prospering not only the holy land but a host of foreign masters and stakeholders. Now, when Robert Fisk points his unholy fingers towards the kingdom of Arabia there is something to watch out for……

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-the-destiny-of-this-pageant-lies-in-the-kingdom-of-oil-2226109.html

Robert Fisk: The destiny of this pageant lies in the Kingdom of Oil

The Middle East earthquake of the past five weeks has been the most tumultuous, shattering, mind-numbing experience in the history of the region since the fall of the Ottoman empire. For once, “shock and awe” was the right description. 

The docile, supine, unregenerative, cringing Arabs of Orientalism have transformed themselves into fighters for the freedom, liberty and dignity which we Westerners have always assumed it was our unique role to play in the world. One after another, our satraps are falling, and the people we paid them to control are making their own history – our right to meddle in their affairs (which we will, of course, continue to exercise) has been diminished for ever.

The tectonic plates continue to shift, with tragic, brave – even blackly humorous – results. Countless are the Arab potentates who always claimed they wanted democracy in the Middle East. King Bashar of Syria is to improve public servants’ pay. King Bouteflika of Algeria has suddenly abandoned the country’s state of emergency. King Hamad of Bahrain has opened the doors of his prisons. King Bashir of Sudan will not stand for president again. King Abdullah of Jordan is studying the idea of a constitutional monarchy. And al-Qa’ida are, well, rather silent.

Who would have believed that the old man in the cave would suddenly have to step outside, dazzled, blinded by the sunlight of freedom rather than the Manichean darkness to which his eyes had become accustomed. Martyrs there were aplenty across the Muslim world – but not an Islamist banner to be seen. The young men and women bringing an end to their torment of dictators were mostly Muslims, but the human spirit was greater than the desire for death. They are Believers, yes – but they got there first, toppling Mubarak while Bin Laden’s henchmen still called for his overthrow on outdated videotapes.

But now a warning. It’s not over. We are experiencing today that warm, slightly clammy feeling before the thunder and lightning break out. Gaddafi’s final horror movie has yet to end, albeit with that terrible mix of farce and blood to which we are accustomed in the Middle East. And his impending doom is, needless to say, throwing into ever-sharper perspective the vile fawning of our own potentates. Berlusconi – who in many respects is already a ghastly mockery of Gaddafi himself – and Sarkozy, and Lord Blair of Isfahan are turning out to look even shabbier than we believed. Those faith-based eyes blessed Gaddafi the murderer. I did write at the time that Blair and Straw had forgotten the “whoops” factor, the reality that this weird light bulb was absolutely bonkers and would undoubtedly perform some other terrible act to shame our masters. And sure enough, every journalist is now going to have to add “Mr Blair’s office did not return our call” to his laptop keyboard.

Everyone is now telling Egypt to follow the “Turkish model” – this seems to involve a pleasant cocktail of democracy and carefully controlled Islam. But if this is true, Egypt’s army will keep an unwanted, undemocratic eye on its people for decades to come. As lawyer Ali Ezzatyar has pointed out, “Egypt’s military leaders have spoken of threats to the “Egyptian way of life”… in a not so subtle reference to threats from the Muslim Brotherhood. This can be seen as a page taken from the Turkish playbook.” The Turkish army turned up as kingmakers four times in modern Turkish history. And who but the Egyptian army, makers of Nasser, constructors of Sadat, got rid of the ex-army general Mubarak when the game was up?

 And democracy – the real, unfettered, flawed but brilliant version which we in the West have so far lovingly (and rightly) cultivated for ourselves – is not going, in the Arab world, to rest happy with Israel’s pernicious treatment of Palestinians and its land theft in the West Bank. Now no longer the “only democracy in the Middle East”, Israel argued desperately – in company with Saudi Arabia, for heaven’s sake – that it was necessary to maintain Mubarak’s tyranny. It pressed the Muslim Brotherhood button in Washington and built up the usual Israeli lobby fear quotient to push Obama and La Clinton off the rails yet again. Faced with pro-democracy protesters in the lands of oppression, they duly went on backing the oppressors until it was too late. I love “orderly transition”. The “order” bit says it all. Only Israeli journalist Gideon Levy got it right. “We should be saying ‘Mabrouk Misr!’,” he said. Congratulations, Egypt!

Yet in Bahrain, I had a depressing experience. King Hamad and Crown Prince Salman have been bowing to their 70 per cent (80 per cent?) Shia population, opening prison doors, promising constitutional reforms. So I asked a government official in Manama if this was really possible. Why not have an elected prime minister instead of a member of the Khalifa royal family? He clucked his tongue. “Impossible,” he said. “The GCC would never permit this.” For GCC – the Gulf Co-operation Council – read Saudi Arabia. And here, I am afraid, our tale grows darker.

 We pay too little attention to this autocratic band of robber princes; we think they are archaic, illiterate in modern politics, wealthy (yes, “beyond the dreams of Croesus”, etc), and we laughed when King Abdullah offered to make up any fall in bailouts from Washington to the Mubarak regime, and we laugh now when the old king promises $36bn to his citizens to keep their mouths shut. But this is no laughing matter. The Arab revolt which finally threw the Ottomans out of the Arab world started in the deserts of Arabia, its tribesmen trusting Lawrence and McMahon and the rest of our gang. And from Arabia came Wahabism, the deep and inebriating potion – white foam on the top of the black stuff – whose ghastly simplicity appealed to every would-be Islamist and suicide bomber in the Sunni Muslim world. The Saudis fostered Osama bin Laden and al-Qa’ida and the Taliban. Let us not even mention that they provided most of the 9/11 bombers. And the Saudis will now believe they are the only Muslims still in arms against the brightening world. I have an unhappy suspicion that the destiny of this pageant of Middle East history unfolding before us will be decided in the kingdom of oil, holy places and corruption. Watch out.

But a lighter note. I’ve been hunting for the most memorable quotations from the Arab revolution. We’ve had “Come back, Mr President, we were only kidding” from an anti-Mubarak demonstrator. And we’ve had Saif el-Islam el-Gaddafi’s Goebbels-style speech: “Forget oil, forget gas – there will be civil war.” My very own favourite, selfish and personal quotation came when my old friend Tom Friedman of The New York Times joined me for breakfast in Cairo with his usual disarming smile. “Fisky,” he said, “this Egyptian came up to me in Tahrir Square yesterday, and asked me if I was Robert Fisk!” Now that’s what I call a revolution.

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Before I open my mouth (read punch my keyboard) on the sensitive subject, let me clarify I am not one of those who take to streets feverishly every Sabbath wearing resplendent shalwar kurtas with solemn vanity  _or come any opportunity_ chanting pro religion slogans. Neither do I sport a black and white, or for that matter, a dyed overflowing beard with or without a moustache. Any resemblance thereof to an anti American creature, living or dead, is thus purely coincidental or unintentional.

Having stated my case humbly and before I take any position, I don’t need to emphasise that a lot has been said on the subject already while rolls and rolls of print continue to be churned out day in and day out. There is a lot of controversy shrouding the mystery and the things for sure look complicated.  

While the stand of religious parties and anti American sentiment coming to surface was highly predictable, what I find shocking is the reaction of a certain so called liberal element of the society. The way the individuals representing a typical diseased mindset go overboard and get carried away presenting an irrational case to defend the killings is as inexplicable as those victims carrying the unlicenced guns or the accused killing the guys from behind and pleading for self defence.

It is the human blood that has been spilled which in any civilized society should carry substantial weight. The matter is sub judice and the case for diplomatic immunity is yet to be established. Horns are being locked at diplomatic levels and we are beginning to see the tightening of screws and arm twisting by US in this regard. One just hopes that the matter is settled fairly, as per the demands of justice, in the light of domestic or international law.

The outcome is hazy but what is disgusting is to see the complexes and bias blinding a certain apologist mindset nurturing in our society that is willing to go to any length to justify the American cause or interest.

Shame on you!

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Health and sports go hand in hand. What makes us so proud as a nation is our indulgence in games traditionally. Talking of traditional games, we have come a long way from historical bouts like kabbadi and gulli danda in our backyards giving in to modern versions. Nevertheless, tug of war (during these days of war) remains very much in vogue and continues to dominate our domestic and international playing fields.

Game playing is so popular in our environment that everyone loves to play games indeed. An art we have mastered to perfection over the sixty odd years. A nudge here, a push there, a bit of pulling and tugging at the right strings and bingo! There you go. Right to the very top at the helm!

Speaking in collective terms, there has always been a mention of a national game. Just like our identity, an entity that faded and fizzled into obscurity many moons ago. However, when probed ferociously, the evidence of its one time existence still figures somewhere in the annuls of history. Before it was all upstaged by the glamour and match fixing miracle of cricket, the game once played with sticks and a ball was called hockey. Not surprisingly, it met the same fate that it deserved much like squash and the glorious Mughal era. To put it simply, the game died its own death.  

Advent of democracy harboured a fresh lot of popular games in our playgrounds. Being a sportsman himself and a plump and healthy one too, a former prime minister introduced one of the most spectacular games of the current era. It involves direct or indirect trading of one of the exclusive species found in our legislative bodies adorably recognized as a horse. Some, however, insist that they are downright asses. Although there is no consensus but the assertion cannot be dismissed mildly.

Reverting to our discussion, the game was introduced at the healthy environs of Changa Manga. For convenience and security, the venue was later shifted to the palaces of Raiwind. But not before, benefiting from its popularity, the game was duly appreciated and patronized by the arch rivals during the no confidence motion against the then prime minister. Thus, serving such wide range of common interests, thanks to the auspicious democratic galore, the sport flourishes and nurtures to this day.

While some games have lost their luster and have been swallowed by merciless currents of time, there have been others that have just begun to ride the crest of a popular tide. It would be outright insulting with malafide intent not to mention an upcoming sport having a sweeping global appeal on the occasion. Its mesmerising simplicity and freaking spontaneity earned it a blind and loyal following from US to UK to Pakistan overnight, not to mention the heaps of praise.

Perched high on the charts, the sport is commonly recognized as shoe hurling. Talking of rules, there are hardly any rules known. The only rule that prevails is to target those who flaunt the rule of law.

To acquaint you with the mechanics of the popular game here is a glimpse. The level playing field comprises a highly well guarded security cordon encompassing our prized victim and high value target. Somehow, our gallant player manages to sneak in and advances within the striking  distance. Emotionally charged, he (yes I am resorting to gender discrimination for  the sport has featured just the valiant male volunteers so far) unlaces his shoe, picks it up deftly and hurls it upon our man just like a baseball ball all in one go. Our awe stricken president, current or former, being at obvious disadvantage for not holding a club or wearing a helmet for that matter has to duck or twist to dodge the face seeking projectile. Unfortunately, there are no miss and run options nor is there any second chance. Soon the striker is carried away by the authorities and the game is over.

With the kind of craze and awe the game is inspiring worldwide; it doesn’t take an Einstein to predict the prospective future of the sport. While the targets have been smart and reflexive ensuring a zero success rate, the world eagerly awaits the victorious moment when the first exclusive scalp is acclaimed.  

My personal take is chances are much brighter if the weaponry constitutes rotten eggs and tomatoes instead of a heavy shoe. What do you say!?

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With all due apology to late BB, whose soul rests peacefully as I safely assume, what follows is a remark that erupted on one of the pages of “The Express Tribune.”

Just reprinting my comment that ensued during a course of a discussion upon democracy, theocracy and blasphemy.

“We have to accept the ground realities and must take into account the dominant socio-political factors typically pertinent to our environment before going all out for a buzz or a slogan.

The fact remains that we are living in a society where the religion cannot be separated from the state. If the recent spate of events still cast any doubt in the minds, I am surprised!

From our experiences we have learnt, over and over again, that owing to sensitivity, there are subjects and topics that cannot even be brought up for discussion or debate. What’s the point in blindly following the tenets of western democracy if that cannot be applied to Pakistan in spirit?

We are still debating on the Jinnah’s perception of Pakistan and the (so called) ideology of Pakistan and whether or not it revolves around Islam?

I know democracy has never been allowed to take roots. Lets not talk about the effects or the results but lets just touch the basics. How far has it challenged the status quo or the exploitation upon which our entire social structure is built and weaved? In what way has it harmed the interests of the vicious circle comprising the feudal, elites, industrialists and religious/sectarian elements or loosened their grip on the system? Has it contributed anything in reducing the communal tension, sheer divide, polarity and fissures and stratification in a highly class ridden society?

If not, how do I believe that it is the best form of governance!?

Unless we are able to revolutionize our education sector and evolve a strong middle class as a result, we cannot expect much of a change. And how are we going to bring that about_ that’s a gross challenge!?”

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GetImage

A splendid piece of writing!

The book is gripping right from the word go. Laced with relentless scintillating humour and satire, Aravind Adiga pierces through the glossy crust and scum of democratic and shining India with ruthless impartiality and lethal audacity to bring to light the rotten core and bitter facade of an ailing third world society threadbare. The filth and garbage, sewage and waste, poverty and hunger, grime and smoke, corruption and pretence coupled with the irony of conventional belief systems and gods that engulf a typical third world nation have been emphatically unveiled. In a nutshell, a place where a water buffalo being productive ‘member’ of a family is far more valuable then a liability of an unwanted feeding mouth.

The story revolves around and covers the shrewd but cunning journey and transition of a downtrodden rural child to a successful entrepreneur from Munna to Balram Halwai and ultimately to Ashok Sharma.

During the course of this discovery and narrative, the author exposes what the democracy brings to and how is it interpretated by a common living man in India _ The contradictions that suffuse every pore of a class ridden and stratified social structure that lend all the inertia against any prospective change. Not just the gulf that divides the society in various castes and segments but the multiple religious, belief systems and creed silos that are prevalent.

Drawing an indirect comparison and alluding to it, on more than one occasion, the writer blames parliamentary democracy as a principal determinant that forces India to lag behind China. At the same time the mockery of socialist forces and Communist China are evident. He sees the parliamentary democracy system and the nexus that it invariably develops between the elite, feudals, landlords and the politicians and the police as the vice and protective barrier that shields and guards the status quo. As he goes

”Sir:

I am not a politician or a parliamentarian. Not one of those extraordinary men who can kill and move on, as if nothing had happened. It took me four weeks in Bangalore to calm my nerves.”

And

”I gather you yellow skinned men, despite your triumphs in sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, still don’t have democracy. Some politician on the radio was saying that’s why we Indians are going to beat you: we may not have sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, but we do have democracy.

If I were making a country, I’d get the sewage pipes first then the democracy, then I’d go about giving pamphlets and statues of Gandhi to other people, but what do I know? I’m just a murderer!”

While the line that hits the nail on the head follows

….parliamentary democracy, Father. We will never catch up with China for this single reason.”

The scribe uses an interesting analogy of the Rooster Coop to describe the element of the servitude and dichotomy of the system that divides the society into the elites and the masses. He compares a common man to a rooster who is being knocked around in a cramped space jostling and pecking for his survival in all that shit and stench. Watching his mates being slaughtered and their blood and innards lying here and there, he knows exactly what is in store for him but still does not rise to rebellion to question his ultimate fate. The following passage highlites the phenomenon thereby:

”A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 percent – as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way – to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse”

But not our white tiger, Balram Halwai. On the contrary, he accepts the key gratefully from his tender hearted master Ashok Sharma to mask his identity. As does his role model the bus conductor Vijay, who coming from a family of pig herds, illiterate and low caste, instinctively knows how to carve his way right to the top into the power echelons.
        
America returned Ashok is a misfit in the society. He cannot reconcile and come to terms with prevailing moral values, sprawling exploitation and filthy corruption that is rampant. Ashok finds himself at odds with the system. But relishing the intrinsic luxury of being a born landlord, that he is naturally entitled to, he prefers India as a living place. Oscillating between the rigid demands of his role in his family and social setup and the voice of his conscious, he is recognized as a weak link and a soft target by the observant and probing Balram standing on the far side of the abyss. Thus he is earmarked as a victim to unleash the simmering rage and angst, brewing for years, amidst all the communal tension and class disparity. Recognizing the possibility as perhaps his only opportunity to liberation and escape from the entrapment and rut that he is destined for, he murders his master and adopts his identity and makes away with a large sum of bribe money that was supposed to be paid to settle a case of tax evasion. The quantum leap lands Balram in the world of opportunity and entrepreneurship far from the grip and jaws of the vicious circle that had swallowed him for years. Nevertheless, there is a heavy price to be paid; A reality that is not lost on Balram turned Ashok. He knows what his family must’ve been through and chances of anyone’s survival even in the extended family are far-fetched.

While the story illuminates the stark and bare bone realities, nearly every heave and furrow along the contours of an ailing and diseased social setup, that is fast assuming the form of a dead corpse_ A fact predominantly true for most developing and underdeveloped economies across the global spectrum, there is a typical philosophical perspective to the whole episode. And that is…..

”Mr. Premier, I won’t be saying anything new if anything I say that the history of the world is the history of a ten-thousand-year war of brains between the rich and the poor. Each side is eternally trying to hoodwink the other side: and it has been this way since the start of time. The poor win a few battles (the peeing in the potted plants, the kicking of the pet dogs, etc.) but of course the rich have won the war for ten thousand years. That’s why, one day, some wise men, out of compassion for the poor, left them signs and symbols in poems, which appear to be about roses and pretty girls and things like that, but when understood correctly spill out secrets that allow the poorest man on earth to conclude the ten-thousand-year old brain-war on terms favourable to himself. Now, the four greatest of these wise poets were Rumi, Iqbal, Mirza Ghalib, and another fellow whose name I was told but have forgotten.”

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A twenty six years old young computer science graduate roams about in hunt of employment. There are no job openings and the inflation is sky rocketing. The young man is forced to sell fruits and vegetables in the streets to make his both ends meet. He doesn’t have the licence and one fine day the police intervenes and confiscates his cart. The young man is incensed and sets himself on fire. Sounds familiar?

This is not Pakistan. But this may well be Pakistan……!

There are obvious parallels to be drawn from the circumstances leading to revolt in Tunisia. Corruption, nepotism and unemployment were rampant. The society was said to be virtually divided in two classes. First, the elites and a closely knitted network and clan of top brass comprising relatives of the president or first lady (second lady in case of his second wife) having complete control over and exploiting the national resources and second the rest of the exploited nation.  Credibility of the government had virtually ceased. Food inflation had soared to the point of intolerance.

The violent sensation and overwhelming reaction sparked by the incident triggered everything ablaze. Masses took to the streets and brought the government to the knees within a matter of days. Head of the state who was elected by a landslide majority of almost 90% votes only a couple of years ago had to flee and seek refuge in Saudi Arabia to escape the wrath of the nation.

The vibes and tremors have been felt in the region. A ripple effect has been created that transcends nationalities and geographical boundaries inducing a chain reaction. People have set themselves ablaze attempting self immolation in Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania sending clear signals to the respective regimes. There has even been reported demonstration in prosperous and growth oriented Oman.

The emerging pattern potentially signifies a brewing unrest and upheaval against the totalitarian and autocratic, in some cases dynastic, regimes that have been imposed and linger on as a tradition. Whether the waves of change that have been triggered and initiated shake the foundations of these rules is anybody’s guess!?

University of Michigan History Professor Juan Cole in his interview with Amy Goodman on ‘Democracy Now’ describes the development as the first popular revolution since 1979’s Islamic revolution in Iran. Nevertheless, it varies widely in nature and dimensions. Juan Cole terms it a populist revolution spearheaded by labour movements, internet activists and rural workers. It has a tendency to evolve as a democratic movement much to the resentment and galvanization of Arab regimes having minimal entrenchment and roots in the populace where societies are marred by limited employment opportunities and economic stagnation. Ironically, a concern that is even shared by their worst adversary, Israel as any prospective development leading to more democratic formations in the region does not augur well for Israel.

Shibli Telhami, Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland interprets the revolution in a different light. According to him what is unique about this uprising is not just that it is the first one in the Arab world but also that it happens without any leadership. Apparently, it is inspired by a new empowerment and mobilization medium i.e the Internet, twitter and information revolution. As per Shibley, what we witness is possibly a delayed impact of the information revolution.

Uncharacteristic of Arab behaviour though, what has been surprising is the flurry of events and toppling of government in such a short span of time. While the rest of the Arab world may well resonate as the spillover effect is created lending greater impetus to the movement, the implications are far reaching. Poverty, hunger, disease and deprivation are prevalent in third world countries. People are resorting to extremes like suicides, killings and extortion in countries like Pakistan. Spiraling inflation, poor standard and quality of living, rising unemployment, towering debt, corruption and nepotism are the distinctive features and elements of our economy. With all those fundamentals and indicators yielding to limits how far off are we from impending flash point amidst those winds of change?

References :-

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/international/jan-june11/tunisia2_01-17.html

http://www.juancole.com/2011/01/juan-cole-tunisia-uprising-spearheaded-by-labor-movements-by-internet-activists-by-rural-workers-it%e2%80%99s-a-populist-revolution-democracy-now.html

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