Civil Disobedience: Defiance of Democracy

Whether the call to civil disobedience and a half hearted decision to resign from the Assembly is a bluff by Imran Khan or is he single minded about them awaits to be seen. Regardless of the course of action that will be taken by his party in the coming hours, Khan’s strategy since the start of this imbroglio has been coercion to bring about the fulfillment of his demands. Using his people as tool to mount pressure on the government, prima facie, it comes across as if Khan has only come with the sole intention of dismantling the power structure at the helm rather than the style of governance that needs considerable attention.

While his party members rejoice on the announcement of civil disobedience, they fall short of realizing the repercussions and the precedence this might bring in a country where the road to democracy is already strewn with many hurdles.

Glorifying his call to civil disobedience movement by alluding to similar movements in history, the PTI leader, wittingly or unwittingly, has decided to lead his people into further disarray and to use them as pawn in his face-saving tactic. Civil disobedience, initially being an elusive term, implies refusal to obey certain laws or government’s demands to show discontent to government’s policy and influence legislation. In 1919, Egypt’s Wafd party led civil disobedience movement against British occupation. Under the leadership of Saad Zaghoul, civil disobedience involved people from the cross-section of the Egyptian society averse to British imperialism. Spanning for four years till 1922, the movement resulted in success with the sacrifice of almost eight-hundred lives. Similarly, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia started after the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989 in revolt to the Communist regime in the country. While the Czech were able to wrest the country from the Communist government, they could not keep the country unified after the revolution which divided into two states, now known as Slovakia and Czech Republics.

While inciting people to civil disobedience vehemently, the point that Khan has conveniently disregarded is that he does not hold a mass support of people to take an outrageous step against the present democratically elected government implicit in ‘civil disobedience’. Conversely, support from his party members is waning and wilting. The insistence to civil disobedience by Khan in such a situation clearly indicates bullying to revamp the power structure in his favor. This brings the second worrisome aspect of civil disobedience. Although, civil disobedience is characterized as non violent based on boycotting, nonpayment of taxes, etc. However, concerning the directions in which the present situation might spiral, one just has to factor in the crowd phenomenon in a country with too many examples of protests turning into riots.

Looking beyond the immediate outcomes, it could be a severe setback to the democratic process in long term. It sets a gross precedence whereby any political party based on its political strength can gather people and incite them to write off state institutions. Demonstration and protests constitute as essentials of human and political rights and are widely acceptable symbols of democracy. The present demonstration turned fiasco by the two parties puts a question mark to this right of people in the country. Considering the short history of freedom of expression in the country, it risks invitations to curb display of discontent against the government. Along this, in future, this will confound the state about how to distinguish and address the genuine expression of popular will in mass protests. Also, it would be a blow to people’s trust in political leadership of the country as people would fear exploitation for a leader’s own assertion of sovereignty and supremacy over the constitution and legislation. Thus, critically speaking, Khan’s call to civil disobedience raises many questions regarding viability of democratic norms in the country in future.  

Although it is disconcerting to see the turmoil being created by the two leaders in the countries, my feelings are a mixture of anger and pity for Khan. For unlike Qadri, since the twilight of his political career, Khan had a clear vision of eliminating malfeasance and corruption in the country through independent judiciary and has shown eighteen years of struggle; he expanded and disciplined his party which proved to be a third largest party of the country in the last year’s election. However presently, it gives the impression that Khan has chosen to eclipse his efforts and accomplishments with a current series of political faux pas.   


Please, not so Gullible!

Generally, I find feminists’ beating of drums a niusance that women don’t have equal rights as men or women are oppressed in this society. I propose, rather, that you have to fight for your rights; nobody will serve them in a platter, we all have to make our own niche, sometimes forcibly even; else nobody cares about you. Besides the gross statistics of crime against women, I feel men deserve more consideration who shoulder most of the responsibilities and also, put up with the financial and societal pressures. But let’s not elaborate on this more, lest I am labelled ‘blasphemous’ by feminists’ lexicon. Rather, I’ll plunge to my real point.

So yeah I will start with narrating a short story. A cousin of mine once told me that she has a friend, belonging to a fine family, quite educated, and good-natured. The friend had a proposal. The guy’s family came to visit her house, scrutinized her, had a tea-party, but decided not to pursue further. When asked the ground of their decision against her, the guy’s family replied succinctly, “we didn’t like girl’s arms, looked masculine”. Actually, the girl was in sports and liked swimming. Downright preposterous! Right? Yet, these are the absurdities associated with marriage in our society.

I am talking about those pompous ‘larkay ki ammas’ who play on their sons’ leverage, thinking their son is sent from above and hence, deserves a heavenly girl. The manner they carry themselves, examining the minute details from A to Z is horrendous and laughable at the same time. I know an aunty who actually visited ten to fifteen girls for her son before consenting to (read ‘conceding to’) the last one. This culture exactly reminds me of Jews when God asked them to slaughter a cow for Him. People often treat prospective girls for their sons the same way Bani Israel questioned about the cow. Starting from her age, complexion, height, physique, family background, education, character, etc and etc everything about her suddenly become so terribly important. Everything should be perfect and should meet their archetype image of a girl.

The way marriages are mostly brought about in our society, I consider, is bizarre. By saying this, I am in no way trying to undermine the arrange marriage system, but rather question its complexities. What I find odd is that why does the guy’s family have the upper hand in arranging marriage? Why they only have the authority to make the proposal to girl’s family and not vice versa. This is not just a custom but rather it is the strong, powerful mindset behind it which lends more clout to a boy’s family and subordinates the girl’s. It is the outlook which states that women should be meek and at the disposal of men so that the rule of men is not threatened. It is the approach which seeks to strengthen men and make women vulnerable. Yet the irony is that this mindset is propagated and sustained by women and through women.

Hence, the entire furore by the feminists against the patriarch cal society is in vain because it is women themselves who presuppose the secondary status, considering it is better for them, making the society more male-dominated. The solution to bring men and women against each other only aggravates the situation because firstly, they are essentially different, and secondly, it is like defiance of womanhood which is a superficial way to elevate the position of women.

What is rather needed is the shift of paradigm because that alone is the first step towards change. If there is a capacity to kill, there is a capacity to die and that is exactly what applies here. Women should understand that they would continue to be oppressed unless they don’t want to, and that they can determine their position and role independent of men.

At the end, a quote by Martha Graham for women: You are unique and if that is not fulfilled then something has been lost.

Also published in Dawn Review

Oppression survives through silence

Two young boys are brutally killed in broad daylight. The killers ferociously thrash the innocent boys to death. They drag the dead bodies in the street and finally hang them. A throng stands closely watching the atrocity. It is a huge throng, of elderly, adults, young, tender age children. Yet, not a single soul has a shred of humanity to raise a cry, let alone stop the vicious manslaughter.

Who is more condemnable: the heinously silent crowd; the cannibal killers or both evenly?

I once read a quote by Dante Alighieri “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality”. Having read it a long time back, I did not understand it much then, but after watching the footage of this incident, its meaning clearly revealed on me.

This event may not have caused so much fury and distress nationwide had it taken place in the confines of a house. What gave to this incident grievous and agonizing overtone is the fact that it happened while a large crowd stood by. Everyone watched standing at their places, weak to do anything. No one felt sympathy or pain for those boys being violently beaten. As if no sense of morality and humanity ever prevailed.

Dante’s quotation most probably alludes to such people who witness crime and injustice but maintain their protective silence. Hence, they are equal culprits of the crime, rather more despicable. Their silence not only gives tacit approval to criminals that they can carry out the crime but also condones them. In the Sialkot incident, people who stood there while the violence ensued entirely undeterred in their presence, and who had all the power and muscle to prevent it, should be as severely punished as the main culprits. While the killers flayed the innocent boys mercilessly, it was the moral and human responsibility of the bystanders that they should have stopped those who were executing the massacre, and were only few in numbers.

The other most disturbing aspect about this incident is that how could people mishandle law that blatantly. The foundations for this gruesome murder were probably laid when people immolated a thief and then paraded the corpse in the city, without any response or punitive action from the government. A policeman stood gallantly in the patrolling car amid the caravan of people, as if this act of sheer barbarism is heroic. What rationale could there be for such acts in any civilized and educated society? Poverty, frustration, present condition of Pakistan, et al but isn’t the feeling of humanity and compassion above all this. Media also showed that disconcerting footage as if it is an illustration of bravery, instead of reproaching and castigating it. There was no hue and cry from public against those responsible for ensuring law, are abusing it themselves.

But that is not it. Take a look at the bigger picture. Every day we hear news about drone attacks and the scores that get killed. We conveniently assume that those dead are always terrorists and that contends us back to our snug lives. Neither our politicians nor members of civil society stage any outcry or demand that terrorists should be tried in court, rather than inhumanely killed in air raids. After all, justice should not be elusive-even to terrorists.

What kind of society are we becoming? This is a thought-provoking and solemn question to every sensible citizen who wishes to preserve the basic human values and wants to see the society safe and secure for generations yet unborn. While justice becomes a quaint notion in our society, oppression and violence is becoming the norms. Martin Luther King, in his essay ‘ Three ways of meeting Oppression’ leads a discourse on the three ways to resist oppression namely through acquiescence, through hatred and violence and lastly , through nonviolent resistance. Few lines of essays are notable in the context of the issue in hand, which are ‘to accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor. Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good….. Religion reminds every man that he is his brother’s keeper. To accept injustice or segregation passively is to say to the oppressor that his actions are morally right.’

Thus, whether the act of oppression directly affects us or is remotely linked to us, it is trivial or significant; whether it is an isolated incident like the one in Sialkot or the recurring as drone attacks; whether it relates to people of different religion, for example the Gojra killing and attack on Ahmedis holy places, or it is the sectarian violence; we need to condemn it and its perpetrators. This is only possible if we think on human level, irrespective of the faith, race, creed we belong to and also, this is the only way to make justice possible.

War Against Media

The concept of human security was given by the veteran Mahbub-al Haq. It entails seven factors like food security, health security, personal security, political security, et al; the latter needs some highlighting here. Where political security concerns free and fair elections, people’s right to democracy, it also has an important relation with people’s right to information and ideas, and to express their opinion. Hence, freedom of press and freedom of expression are part and parcel to political security. The extent of freedom of expression is undoubtedly characteristic and symbolic of how democratic and progressive a country is and can be observed by the response a voice of dissent is meted either from the government or the society: whether it is crushed, tolerated or embraced?

The Press Freedom Index 2009 by Reporters without Borders evaluated Pakistan at the lower end of the scale 159 out of 180 countries. This may not surprise many of us, considering the present gagging of Jang group and ARY News in parts of Pakistan after the shoe-throwing incident at His Highness Asif Ali Zardari.

Kudos to PM Yousuf Raza Gillani when he stated, in one of his preliminary speech in the Assembly, that his government stands for free press. However, the current coercion on media is the blatant contradiction of his very words. Yet, this is not the first time happening in Pakistan. This is the oft-repeated episode in this country which is not limited only to dictator rule. Every successive government has toyed with the press freedom. Be it the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif who gagged Jang Group in 1999 leading to a long standby between the two or the Islamization era of Zia-ul-Haq who had the audacity to flog journalists in public or Enlightened Moderation period of Gen. Musharraf who imposed martial law in the country, after which followed a blackout in all media.

Interestingly, two points are common in all these episodes to curb the power of media. Firstly, governments impose restrictions on press always to conceal their own shenanigans, and to strengthen and prolong their rule. The restriction on media always prove to be another faux pas by them leading to the second point in common that the effort to curb is usually the last nail hammered on the coffin to oust the government which the latter perform itself obliviously.

It is distressing that our culture and our governments give little value to the tradition of freedom of expression. What more can be shameful that a ruling democratic government hampers press freedom and that too so daringly and openly?

If PPP claims to bring democracy to the country, then mishandling with press freedom should not be their virtue. Somebody should tell them that democracy and freedom of expression are intertwined notions. Freedom of press is fundamental for the sustenance of democracy and is even more important than free and fair elections because press keeps the electorate informed of the performance of government which is more crucial for democracy than a mere earnest process of elections. But it’s sad to notice that in our country, the freedom of media has been time and again challenged and most of our people seldom fathom its consequences. Whether it’s an in international issue of Draw Muhammad Day, national crises involving government and judiciary at loggerheads, or comic incident of shoe-throwing, our press suffers both from the Machiavellian laws of government and the draconian attitude of society.

However, it is time our leaders take the lesson home that days of repression for media are over now. And that any attempt to control media would backfire. Media is now a power to reckon with and has a considerable and well-recognized niche. Moreover, with the opening of satellite channels, nothing can go inconspicuous and the ruling elite would be living in a fool’s Paradise if they think they can mask their deeds by controlling media.

The recent assail to media in parts of Sindh where PPP has its large vote-bank may have obstructed the news from the masses but it surely has marred the credibility of the government further on the national level. A humble suggestion for the government could be that instead of endeavoring to control the media, rather they should concentrate their efforts to improve the functioning of political administration.

Antagonistically, Free press and government can work in collaboration with each other to enhance each other’s performance and boost the repute of each other. Free press will lend credibility to government’s efforts and initiatives and can create a general goodwill for the government.

However, this should not deter us to say that we still need to work to achieve media that is well-regulated, with its principles and ethics well defined and followed. Media, that work in the best interest of its viewers and the society at large. Media, that follow code of conduct, and exhibit decorum and decency.

Allies, or Enemies?

In the last visit of British Prime Minister David Cameron to India, talking about Pakistan he commented that Pakistan “should not promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world,” and also accused Pakistan that it should stop its double game, talking of stabilizing Afghanistan publicly on one hand and on the other, clandestinely supporting Afghan insurgents.Whatever objective these pejorative remarks had; maybe to strengthen ties with India, chastising Pakistan’s spy agency or even if he seriously meant these words as he refuses to track back on his dictum, but one thing is clear to the Pakistani nation that the reward for alliance with America in this ‘war on terrorism’ is only bashing and smacking, and that too internationally, on our traditional enemy’s soil.

For the past seven or eight years, this nation has been persistently hammered that this is our war and hence we have to fight it. Our great intellectuals and leaders have desperately tried to prove this to the nation of almost 17 million. The war that originally started by America with the search of larger-than-life figures of Osama bin laden and Mullah Omer (and with obvious ulterior motives of gaining control of world’s resources) has now actually become our homeland war. Though we were a nuclear power, and still are, but we succumbed to the threats given to us. Now today we are the ones fighting this war and also are the fuel for this war.

Previously, radicalization was synonymous to Talibans and Al Qaeeda, but the investigation of Parade Lane Blast, blast in IIU etc, uncover that the situation is now slipping out of control. Our youth, probably hailing from middle class and educated families are also being recruited by Taliban or like agencies to perpetrate terrorism in the country. More and more youth are being enticed to join these paths as an easy way to hop to heaven. On the other hand our army is engaged in fighting the Talibans while drone attacks regularly kill countless innocent citizens. In short, we are the ones paying the highest price for joining this war which apparently has no advantage for us. Be it social, economics or political, we are only plunging steadily into the abyss from where there is no way back.

So the war started in the name of Osama bin laden has actually become a colossal humanitarian and security crisis. After eight years in this costly war, Hillary Clinton remarked that Pakistan should do more and speculated that Osama bin laden is hiding somewhere in Pakistan. With due respect, Mrs. Clinton, but what a dumb thing to say? If Mrs. Clinton knows that he is hiding somewhere in Pakistan then why can’t she just locate him for us, so that we can put an end to this merciless war and take back the road to development that is checked by this war.

When Reality Intrudes

I wish I were a snowflake
On a warm summer day
That melts peacefully away
Before it witnesses reality

I wish the coming of a dawn
Which distinguish white from black
That takes the mask off the oppressor
And liberates the trodden innocent

I wish to live in a world
Not oblivious to suffering of others
Where every life is deemed sacred
And Peace that embraces all

I wish the present was not as it is
Mountains of trouble were not as high as they are
Oceans of hatred become calm and shallow
Chasms between dream and reality disappears!

‘Aman Ki Asha’ revisited

O! Let us spread those carpets and beat those drums again, Let’s adorn this land with Henna (Mehendi) and listen to her songs, As the locals fly kites from their terrace.

The lyric of the song ‘aman ki asha’ seems so vivid, poignant and yet so beautiful. Beautiful, not only because it alludes to peace, to harmony and amicability between India and Pakistan but also, because it reminisces of our times of yore which now is the shared history of people of sub-continent. More so, this history is common not only to people of subcontinent but to people of South Asia on the whole in some way or the other.

South Asia is different from rest of the world in many aspects.

To begin with let us look at its history. Its particular location in the world, centuries of movement and trade made it a racial melting pot. Numerous civilizations have sprung up and spread in this region. The remnants of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro are the proof of earliest settlement, which may date as far back as 3rd Century BCE. Since then many people have trodden and settled in this region, especially Arabs, Turks and Central Asian. Some came with the purpose of trade like Arabs and Greeks. Arabs used to call this region Al –Hind and for them the region stretched from what is presently called Pakistan till Indonesia. Others came to conquer the region like Mughals whose magnificent era lasted for around four centuries. And still others came with the fair intention of trade, yet stayed to rule example British Raj.

For almost two centuries, this region has remained under colonial rule. After 1857, the Indian sub-continent was brought directly under British dominion. The legacy of this imperial rule forms an integrated part of South Asia. It has left a common heritage which is still manifested. South Asian countries have common legal, administrative and constitutional framework. Most of the countries have Westminster style of governance codified in their constitution. Although Sri Lanka and Nepal have left this system, but the latter remains the most widespread, and is considered ideal in the region.

The British rule, though it posed many challenges to the Indian sub-continent, but undeniably it was an epoch of development and advancement for the region. The British India was a single market. The cotton produced in west Punjab used to be traded to East Bombay for manufacturing of textile. Jute produced in East Bengal would be manufactured in the mills of Calcutta. Trade was facilitated by roads and railway linkages and the movement was free of charge. There was no obstruction in labor movement and immigration. Rupee was the currency used throughout the region.

The history of South Asia shows that although different races, ethnicities and religion existed here but no single race or religion was superior. Hinduism was pre-dominant but Mughals were the rulers. Though there is gradation is skin pigmentation but there were no racial difference.

Centuries of intermarriages and cultural infusion have made the people of South Asia similar. Though people can easily tell a Chinese apart from Indian, but it’s very difficult to tell a Pakistani apart from an Indian or a Bangladeshi from a Sri Lankan. Also, although every region has several and different official languages, with India having 22 official languages, Pakistan has 6, Sri Lanka has 3 inter alia yet, English, though, foreign remains the lingua franca of social and political elite throughout the region.

Yet, today, South Asia carries the burden of world’s most underdeveloped countries. With more than one-fifth of the world’s population living in this region, it is densely populated. The average per capita income of around 40 percent of the population is less than $1.25 per day, according to the statistics of World Bank, 2005. After sub-Saharan African region, it is termed as the world’s poorest region. Though, its two states are nuclear, Pakistan and India, but malnutrition is soaring in the two, with Pakistan suffering from 40 percent, India having 47 percent, and every year the number of infant mortality in the region is around 2.1 million. Both Pakistan and India were independent before China, but China today is fast becoming world’s strongest economy, while the former two remain far behind in the world. So the question that stares is, is it because our people are lazy, lethargic? Or is it rather that the region has continuously suffered from low human development because of lack of investment in the private sector and lack of good governance?

South Asia is the least integrated region. Several factors have led to this conclusion. The prominent among them are: conflicts within the countries and with each other; limited trade in the region.

The relation between India and Pakistan has mostly remained in disarray. Both countries have gone to war thrice in 1948, 1965 and 1999 over Kashmir issue which to date remains the bone of contention. ‘Should Kashmir be part of India on the basis of Maharaja’s accession or part of Pakistan on ground of its Muslim majority?’ is the question still mooted. Both countries spend profligately on defense. The year 1998 was the turning point in which both countries tested their nuclear arsenal and showed each other their might. According to estimates from the Search for a Peace Dividend in South Asia, if India and Pakistan were to freeze their defence expenditure at the pre-nuclear level of 1996, it is calculated that there would have been a 35 percent peace dividend in terms of cumulative savings which would have boosted growth in both countries. Becoming nuclear states presents a paradox. On one hand, it has increased the risk of a biological warfare, having potential of obliterating millions, even at the slightest of instigation, but on the other, the same raison d’être has also become a deterrent for the two nations to go to war. The aftermath of Mumbai attack manifested it. Both states were at the brink of a confrontation, but refrained from it and chose to solve the matter on the table, although the relation did turn bitter between the two.

Presently, Pakistan is fighting internal war against Taliban and the situation is worsening steadily, instead of getting controlled. The sporadic incidents of suicide bomb attacks and daily loss of innocent lives, besides those of military in this war are all indication of an emerging civil war. There have been numerous incidents of Baloch insurgency too in Pakistan, for which Pakistan blame India and Iran together.

Sri Lankan army has also been spearheading a crackdown against the rebels Tamil Tigers. The Tigers of Tamil Eelam though have their share of complaint against the Sinhalese Government. They feel being cornered in their own country, while they are the largest minority after Sinhalese majority. Their grievances revolve around not being granted due rights. They object to their rights being siphoned off and usurped by the Sinhalese majority. After the partition, Sinhalese, the pre-dominant populace in Sri Lanka, comprising around 70 percent, formed the government. In 1956, Solomon Bandaranaike, the erstwhile Premiere, made Sinhalese the official language. To make the matter worse, he made Buddhism the state religion. Most of the Sinhalese are Buddhist while Tamils are primarily Hindus. All this led to serious aggression and confrontation between the two and demand of Tamils to be given a separate state. However, the modus operandi adopted by Tamils to take their rights made them known as terrorists by major countries in the world. They resorted to violence, assassinating politicians and attacking the army.

India is the only democratic polity in the region that has kept its territory integrated and has been able to maintain its sovereignty. Though, there has been occasional incidence of insurgency in its provinces of Punjab, Assam, UP from Khalistan. Lately, it is becoming a rapidly growing economy and is pulling at least 1 percent of its population out of poverty every year.

The internal insurgencies have caused lofty human and economic loss for every country. Besides, it has led to an increasing friction between each other. Pakistan and Sri Lanka hold India responsible for supporting the insurgents in their region. Likewise, India always holds Pakistan culpable of terrorist attacks or internal strives on its soil.

Talking about intra regional trade, it is almost non-existent. The World Bank statistics reveal that trade between South Asian countries was only 5 percent in 2009 as compared to 20 percent trade in Southeast Asia. Though there have been numerous unilateral, mutual efforts to increase trade in the region, but no major breakthrough have been achieved yet. South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement or SAPTA concluded in 1995, with the purpose to liberalize trade in the area, with tariff reduction and provision of fair conditions of competition. But political factors along with the provision of logistics like port development, roads networks, custom clearance etc in the region continue to hamper the trade flow

However, the question that looms is what should be the way forward. Right now, we need a vision and a resolution to change and make better the present. The creation of European Union may present an interesting perspective for South Asians. Till Second World War, the European states formed alliances with other states against war with each other. But it was the vision and brainchild of Jean Monnet and Robert Schumann to create a united Europe that would never to go to war again. Starting from integrating coal and steel industries, forming Coal and Steel Community and increasing cooperation of European states to share their energy (Euratom), those efforts and treaties to unify Europe have culminated in Europe Union in 1993 after the Maastricht Treaty. Today, Europe is a single market, with free trade, with free movement of goods and people. Single currency, Euro, was replaced in 2002. Now, EU is a secular body, has a single army, uniform legal and judicial system, where people’s nationality on the basis of the country they belong to is less important than their supra-nationality of being European. The formation of European Union is the greatest achievement of Europe in the 20th Century.

Similarly, the peace initiative, Aman ki Asha started by the Jang Group and Times of India started this year may produce resounding and visible results ten years down the road. Increasing cooperation between the two states through exchange of art and culture is a very powerful way of bringing the people of two countries together. Yet, this cooperation should encompass the whole South Asian region. However, it must be noted that this initiative does not become a hollow framework but rather is influential in solving the real problems and issues and help in building bridge of trust and friendship in the region. The response to Aman ki Asha show and proof that people of this regions still believe in these five words, ‘lets give peace another chance’. Jai ho!