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Archive for the ‘Revolution’ Category

Are we eventually not back to the square one? The ever so familiar situation repeating itself every so often _ the civil military stand off and the government and judiciary finding themselves at loggerheads yet again feeding ample fodder to the insatiable milling machine of media thankfully to sensationalize and spice things up to their liking, churning out conspiracy theories by creating an unnecessary hype at times while acting irresponsibly by neglecting the imperative developments and details at others to mislead ( read to keep informed) the public at large but to keep their business and entertainment (talk) shows going round the clock. 

The history is perhaps tired of repeating itself over and over again but we are not. While the cynical circular spectrum of events continue to go round and round statically with no linear development over the six decades, interestingly the question remains who is actually at fault? 

Was the judiciary at fault when ZAB riding the crest of a mammoth tide of popularism was hanged? Certainly! Was the judiciary at fault when the over zealous Sultan Muhammad Nawaz Sharif stormed the supreme court overwhelmed by his lust of power? Certainly not! Is the judiciary at fault now when it is taking government to task over a couple of security and political issues? Anybody’s guess! 

More? Was it democratically elected Nawaz Sharif at fault when he dismissed the then COAS Musharraf or was the military takeover a logical reaction to Sharif’s voracious desire for omnipotence while undermining the freedom of various state institutions? 

While it appears deceptively simple to single out Army as the most criminal force and factor in the equation that has arguably rooted out seeds of democratic culture that have been sown time and again but haven’t the democratic institutions failed time and again and caved in owing to their intrinsic weakness, imbalance, disharmony and reckless measures? I am certainly not for khakis to step in or marching boots to trample the constitution at their own free will. There are far too many lessons to learn from the autocratic Islamic revolution led by Hazarat General Muhammad Zia ul Haq and later, in stark contrast, the radiant era of “Renaissance” unleashed by enlightened moderator Mush__ both reminding us of the ages of darkness ironically in one way or the other. But the fact remains that unlike the rest, Military is the only disciplined and organized institution of the state with supposedly far less public dealing and external influence. In all fairness, doesn’t Military get more than its due share of blame for the failure of state or democratic process or institutions? Again, even if for the argument’s sake, Military is the mother of all ills, isn’t failure of a major state institution to understand its due role and to overstep its limits or jurisdiction blatantly time and again be deemed as the failure of democracy or system itself? 

If so, this brings us back to the million dollar question, how in the world do the tenets of western democracy offer the best solution to our typical political, social and economic problems that have failed to grab roots in sixty four years?

 If going to the polls with 35 million bogus registered votes every now and then and casting our vote in the favour of the candidate solely on the basis of birardari or “kinship” as Anatol Lieven ( Pakistan a hard country) puts it earns us the licence to be a democratic state, who are we fooling by expecting a change to take place simply by sticking to this ritual? Not to undermine our society, but have we got the literacy, awareness, religious and social freedom and justice, tradition and maturity to inculcate that culture of expression of freedom, tolerance, mutual respect, equal rights for all human beings that constitute the spirit of democracy together?   

If not, then why are we obsessed with the secular models of western democracy that will never work for us or has never gained roots in the sixty four years of the existence ofPakistanas a state? 

My dear friends and intellectuals who cannot see beyond the dazzling virtues of democracy and exist as if only to keep on harping about it, let us be honest and analyze is democracy the only system that has brought about change coupled with social and economic upliftment round the globe or region? We may snub China for poor human rights standings but what has brought about that magnificent rise in its economic power and splendour? Democracy? Why forget the Asian tigersSingapore? While the state has remained a kingdom with no natural resources of its own (even the drinking water is to be imported from the neighbouring Malaysia), who can deny the remarkable turn around in its stature and economic fate that has earned it the informal title of the ‘Most orderly state” in the world just in a few decades? 

Call it our mindset but name a single mainstream political party that has nurtured democratic culture within its rank and file. Does passing the leadership on to the next generation or the memebers of the family like personal fiefdom or heritage does not negate the spirit of the democracy itself? Or is it perfectly cool to build on a monarchy of  Sharifs, Bhuttos, Zardaris & Madaris while harping about democratic traditions and process?

To cut it short, there may well be countless virtues and democracy may still be the best form of governance but what good is it if it does not deliver but rather dis-enfranchise the masses to the point where the state is brought to the brink of its existential threat?

To me, democracy is after all a means or mode to deliver! 

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The world we are living in has changed and is transforming at a phenomenal pace. If technology has revolutionized one thing over the years that for sure is communication. Gone are the days when voice of masses, a populist movement or uprising could be hushed or silenced by authority and censorship. Liberation of media, advent of internet and social media in particular has changed the rules of the game altogether. If someone has any doubts, please revisit the events of recent upsurge in Tunisia, Egyptand Middle East. What was the dynamic behind the abrupt change in the region that brought an autocratic rule to its knees within days of the suicide of a young university graduate despite all authority and censorship?

Yes. As much as the followers of strong leadership theories (I being one of them) hate to believe, it was the popular campaign and well co-ordinated effort through social media such as Facebook, twitter, youtube and blogsphere that moblized the educated and impassioned youth to the point that rattled the forces of status quo and shook the foundations of the monarchs and military backed regimes in the entire region. In the event of such a deluge, if leadership gets arbitrary and widespread temporarily, is beyond the discussion but more importantly what we have witnessed lately is the real power and potential of a virtual medium and social marketing in achieving objectives of an uprising or an upheaval when it has the potential to connect and resonate with the aspiration of the masses. Grasp over English language or not, a thin or narrowing tip of pyramid constituting a stream of spearheads has shown to represent and influence an exponential base and human resource at the bottom.

What brings me to resort to such an introduction is an excellent article published in the daily ‘The News’ today (June 18th, 2011; Taking social media by storm by Malik Siraj Akbar). It discusses at length about the similar phenomenon that is brewing in the much neglected but largest province of the country i.e Baluchistan. Arguably one of the least developed areas having low population and even lower literacy rate, the most critical and lethal element remains the relevance. There is no denial that Baluchis today find themselves in utter state of deprivation and negligence. Though this galvanization and resentment against the state is not a nascent development, the recent socio economic events and catastrophes have definitely alienated and disenchanted the Baluchs further.

The gruesome reality and mystery regarding the fate of missing persons remains shrouded. How ruthlessly we dealt with a 79 year old Sardar and Baluch icon, Sardar Nawab Akbar Bugti in particular and other political and national figures sharpened the wedge a great deal and intensified the feeling of unflinching hatred against the state. Baluch nationalistic sentiment is gaining momentum and only gets stronger following each clash with the security forces. It has got to the point where they are resorting to target killings and living in the province for a Punjabi or a non native is a potential life threatening risk. The lukewarm and listless response to the earthquake in Baluchistan a couple of years ago further aggravated the economic woes of the people. So much so, the blogsphere and press talked about deliberate flooding of portions of Baluchistan with allegiance of military and police to safeguard the interests of some Sindhi influential landlords during the devastating floods last year.

Poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, unemployment and deprivation remain the chief concerns of the tribal and gallant Baluchs. Mineral rich Balochistan is brimming with resources like natural gas, copper, coal and recently discovered huge reserves of gold. A long stretch of coastal belt runs along the shores of Makran and Gawadar but unfortunately any plans to develop potential goldmine of port of Gawadar have been jeopardized mainly because of the insecurity and partly owing to the cold war and conflicting interests of giants like America and China in the strategically located province.              
          
Isn’t it ironic that a democratic government cant even associate itself with marginalized population ( a mere 5% of the total population) of the largest ( that constitutes 44% of total area of Pakistan) but most backward and sparsely populated province of the country?

Although the history of nationalistic unrest and military intervention and use of force to curb such elements dates as far back as independence, the widening chasm and technological revolution demands a grossly varied approach to the issue. There was much propaganda of an impending economic package for Baluchistan by the prime minister but nothing has materialized so far.

Coming back to the point, there are  a number of blogs and forums that represent Baluch nationalists and promote their extreme agenda and hype on the web. Talking of most popular ‘Baluchistan’ page on Facebook alone, considering the low literacy rate, there is a following of close to 6000 individuals which by any standard or stretch of imagination is substantial. The worsening law and order and security situation doesn’t help. Thanks to social media, well organized, energetic and flambuoyant youth are quick to grab bits of news and information and share and disperse them within the community and cyber space within no time.

If the infested and bleeding wounds of Baluch pride and marginalization are not daubed with serious dialogue, concerted and well organized effort and if what the article reveals about the extent of co-ordination and the activity and commitment of Baluchs to use social media as an alternate platform to counter all censorship, we have a mammoth, ominous and worsening political challenge to tackle at our hands.

http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=53240&Cat=9&dt=6/18/2011

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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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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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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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