Friday, May 10, 2013

Political fatwas, tigers and stage falls. But elections in Pakistan have started...

by Salman Hameed

Pakistan's elections have started (live updates here). Despite the bloodshed, assassinationstiger death (yes - it was too hot for this rare tiger used as an election prop), stage fallskidnappingtargeting of secular parties by the Taliban, there is a lot of enthusiasm for the elections. In case, you have been only hearing about the right and center-right parties in the elections, here is a reminder that socialist parties are also around. Here is the band Laal, which is known for singing political songs, imploring people to vote in the upcoming elections in this cool video:

Laal: Chapna (Habib Jalib) from Taimur Rahman on Vimeo.

Couple of other things entertaining things: To complete the mockery of fatwas, one of the politically religious parties, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), declared that voting for Imran Khan's party is "haram":
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Saturday declared it ‘haram’ to vote in favour of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan and his candidates.
Imran Khan, according to Fazl, is being sponsored by the West and the Jewish lobby. 
Fazlur Rehman used every word that would foment hatred against any person in the conservative masses of Pakistan. He called Imran an agent of “Americans, Jews, Ahmadis and a person of ill character”. 
“A person who could not make his own children Muslim nor Pakistani, is dreaming of becoming prime minister of Pakistan and making the country an Islamic welfare state,” Maulana said. 
“The Yahoodi (Jewish) lobby’s money is working (for Imran),” he said.
And he has sufficient evidence to back it up: His own word. Oh - he is so humble!
“I am asked, ‘what is the proof that he (Imran Khan) is an agent of the Jews,’ I say there is only one proof and it is my own responsible personality. I am so righteous that I would never talk ill against anyone. This is enough that Maulana Fazlur Rehman says that he is a Jewish agent.” 
He went on to give a joint declaration of the clerics belonging to the JUI-F. “We the Ulema have agreed that giving vote to PTI is haram. 
Anyone who casts his or her vote for Imran or to a person who is contesting election on the ticket on PTI is involved in haram and such a person is going against Sharia,” the chief of the JUI-F said.
Aha. And this is again a reminder that even when people say they want "sharia", it is unclear what sharia do they mean. But I also like another entertaining claim by the Jamaat Islami (JI) leader during the elections: the liberals in Pakistan should register themselves as a religious minority:

All those claiming to be liberals in a country made for the supremacy of Quran and Sunnah should register themselves as minorities, Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer Syed Munawar Hasan declared on Sunday. 
American intervention in the country had lead to anarchy and those siding with the US had no place in this country. If they were happy to call themselves as liberals, they should enter their names in the list of minorities, the JI chief suggested while addressing an election rally held at Bagh-e-Jinnah near the Quaid’s mausoleum.
No, no. This is not satire. But it is still funny.

On a more serious note, I will leave you with two more things. First, here is a fantastic music video by Beyghairat Brigade. It is brilliant, sarcastic, biting, and critical of the military and the colluding politicians. But it is also blocked in Pakistan - or at least in some parts of the country. Here it is:

Dhinak Dhinak by Beygairat Brigade | Official Video from Farhan Adeel on Vimeo.

Finally, check out this excellent article, The Tragedy of Pakistan, that provides an excellent context for the present election (tip 3quarksdaily):
Beyond simply outlasting a bloody election showdown against the TTP, the future leaders of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan will have to drastically reform an extractive and unaccountable state apparatus in order for the democratic project to have a chance of succeeding against the violent and ideological onslaught of anti-government militants. 
With 180 million people, 100 nuclear warheads and nearly 50 banned terrorist outfits, Pakistan has always been too strategic for the politics of the country to be swayed by what its people want. As the unwanted stepchild of the anti-colonial South Asian independence struggle, Pakistan came out of the partition of the subcontinent with an ignominious legacy as Britain’s military buffer zone against threats from the west. Though the British kept all of India under a firm paternalistic rule, the provinces that make up present-day Pakistan were deliberately denied political development because of their utility as a recruiting ground for soldiers and landowning elite collaborators. Though constitutional reforms came towards the tail end of British rule to give greater political representation to locals, they were little more than a cosmetic attempt to put an Indian face onto autocratic rule.
To this day, the country functions according to the structure developed over two centuries under the British Raj; the Civil Services of Pakistan, the backbone of government, traces its lineage to the colonial era Indian Civil Services — the elite English bastion of political power in India. The acknowledged expertise of bureaucrats, combined with their high-class social background, has vested them with veto power over the demands of ‘inept’ politicians in the formation of state policy. This has resulted in a modern Pakistani state that is not run by politicians but rather said to run in spite of them. 
The travails of a historically autocratic state have been intensified by the curse of geography. If it were located anywhere else, Pakistan would be dismissed as irrelevant — and might then enjoy greater control over its domestic policy. Instead, it is surrounded by Afghanistan, a hotbed of dysfunction where the War on Terror was inaugurated, Iran, a declared rogue state attempting to develop nuclear capabilities, and China and India, the two major emergent threats to American economic might. Before 1989, Pakistan was also neighbor to the Soviet Union. With such borders, Pakistan has traditionally served as a critical outpost of support to Western interests in a hostile region. 
In light of this, it is understandable why the governors of Pakistan, civilian and military, failed to establish accountable and responsive institutions of political economy. It also explains why the country is held hostage to the neoliberal economic program and security paradigm. Since 1948 when the Pakistani army leveraged the country’s location vis a vis Soviet Russia for a lucrative position as a US proxy in South Asia, global stakeholders have jumped at the chance to pay for the privilege of maintaining some form of control over Pakistan’s goings on. Presiding over a resource rich but economically weak nation, the country’s leaders have been unable to fight the impulse to accept. This has encouraged outward-looking politicians to mortgage Pakistan’s foreign policy and loot as much as they can from state coffers before they are inevitably and unceremoniously thrown out of power. The free flow of money has disincentivized military governments — for military governments are the disproportionate beneficiaries of Western aid — from doing the hard work of creating a sustainable tax infrastructure in the country, one that would push the people of Pakistan to invest in their own country, or financial regulatory bodies which would require the government to show returns on that investment. 
The most fundamental obstacle, however, to the implementation of democratic governance in Pakistan has been ideological. As control over people has become territorialized by the borders of an ever-shrinking state, ideologies particularly pan-Islamist ones have found themselves competing for limited territory and votes — and therefore power. In such an environment, the atmosphere of tolerance has been shattered by the arrival of an exclusivist religious ideology from the Persian Gulf. Seeking regional proxies in South Asia to counter Shiite Iran, the Gulf States and particularly Saudi Arabia have invested a large amount of capital in the Pakistani state while promoting the development of a strict and doctrinaire Wahhabi Islam. It has penetrated the country via new Saudi-funded madrassas, or religious schools, that are blossoming across the country, some of which have subsequently been implicated in training terrorists. These institutions have made a home in the absence of a state that long ago abdicated responsibility for responding to demands for public education and welfare.

And it concludes with this:
The autonomy and integrity of the nation has long been the plaything of others. Now the Taliban are providing the single greatest impetus in recent times for national soul-searching. Martyrdom for the sake of democracy in Pakistan will only be meaningful if state and society succeed in formulating a functional and responsive government. Otherwise, the ideological vacuum and lack of public support of the present Islamic republic will provide an easy path for a calculating and determined militant opposition to enforce its repulsive dogmas on the country.

Read the full article here.

In the mean time, lets hope the elections go smoothly and without violence.


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