Friday, November 16, 2007

Rashid Rehman visits LUMS

Mr. Rashid Rehman, of the The Pakistan Post, came to LUMS during the third day of the Hunger Strike on Wednesday. He was invited by the student protesters to discuss his experiences as a student activist of the1960s. More than a 100 students and faculty members had gathered to hear him talk. Seated on a patch of grass among the student protesters(many of whom were observing the hunger strike in accordance with the daily plan throughout the week), Rashid Rehman gave an interesting lecture about the sort of student activism which defined the 1960s. Many of his anecdotes were informed by his personal structuralist and socialist perspective. The talk was most enjoyable, and although a wide variety of leftist, rightist and centre-leaning students were represented in the diverse crowd of students present, the students all appeared to agree on one point - the necessity for citizens, and especially students, to raise their voices in order to achieve justice in society.In the question and answer session, interesting questions were raised about the ideological trend of the student movements in the 1960's in comparison to the non-partisan student movement arising in LUMS in the twenty-first century.


Samia Altaf said...

This is dedicated to the students of LUMS in appreciation of their courage.

From Dr. Samia Altaf, Pakistan Scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Washington DC)

Helping Pakistan

Pakistan, the most dangerous country in the world, with loose nukes and angry jihadis, is unraveling. It needs help. To be helped it needs to be understood. Urging a transition to “true democracy,” after the fourth military dictator has suspended the constitution for the second time and sacked a judiciary that dared to question his legitimacy, betrays either naiveté or disinterest. Both will hurt in the long run, if there is a long run.

Understand that there has not been much difference between military and civilian rule in Pakistan. When unreal hopes are betrayed by one, the other is accorded a relieved welcome. Four painful cycles ought to be enough to make that clear. The pundits wringing their hands at the ills of dictatorship today are the same who saw huge silver linings when the fourth dictator, the “enlightened moderate,” came along to clean the democratic mess.

Understand that both dictators and democrats have attacked the judiciary in the same way, both have pandered to the religious fundamentalists in the same way, both have harassed political opponents in the same way, both have enriched themselves in the same way.

Understand why this is so. Understand that the vast majority of the 160 million people have gained nothing since they were “liberated”—not from those who founded the country, not from the democrats, not from the dictators, not from the priests. Half of them are still illiterate, a third are below the poverty line, many still die from the lack of clean water, and many still live in another century. Any surprise they are not active participants in the struggle for “true democracy?”

Understand that the forgotten have no expectations of political equality or fundamental rights from their rulers, be they dictators or democrats. No political party has bothered to make that the central thrust of its campaign and one that did in the past only abused it cynically. All the leading democrats are ever ready to ditch the aspirations of their supporters and cut a deal with the dictator of the day. It is an easier route to the top.

Understand that in a deeply unequal society without individual rights, and with extreme dependence of the many on the few, the functions of political representation and social protection are inseparable. Understand that the natural state of such a society is one of patronage. Understand that the unprotected and powerless are as rational as anyone else—when forced to participate in an electoral game, they vote for the most powerful patron with the strongest links to the ruler. Understand that the preyed upon want their protectors to be on the winning side first and represent their political ideology second. Ideological somersaults and shifting loyalties matter but are a luxury unaffordable in the real world that exists for them. Count the number of political representatives who have been part of every party that has ever ruled the country. Watch how high they hold their heads; watch how much they are sought after.

Understand this is still very much a monarchical society in which the ruler, in whatever garb, believes he rules by divine right Understand the culture in which every ruler, legitimate or illegitimate, begins to see visions of being anointed by the Almighty to “save the nation.” The more incompetent and unprepared the chosen one, the greater the proof of divine purpose. The third dictator (the “meek”) used to say, in so many words, with awe and humility: “Look at me, what is my worth? Would I be here were it not for the will of Allah?”

The leading prose writer of the country called such leaders “men without stature.” Calling them pygmies would have landed him in jail for abusive language. And why does the Almighty continue to find such pygmies? Because He is putting His chosen people to His severest test! Understand this is an environment rife with such fatalistic beliefs.

Understand this is a society in a stage of development where political parties are personal affinity groups with lifetime leaders—the leading democrat is chairperson for life of a party she inherited from her father. Understand this is a banana republic in which the “best” president and the most “appropriate” prime minister are determined not by the people but by meta-patrons abroad. Understand this is a place where a prime minister can be parachuted from above one day and be consigned to the doghouse the next. Understand this is system in which the king’s courtiers can to switch loyalties any minute and have to be continuously bribed. Count the size of the cabinet; compare that to the output. And, nary a protest from any side, nary a protest on any count.

So what does a transition to “true democracy” mean in a situation like this? Understand that representative democracy is not going to emerge any time soon by pressure from below. Democracy will be the name given to a sharing of power amongst the elites holding the wealth, the guns, and the controls over rules and rituals. And, barring anything different, this democracy will go the way of previous democracies, each morphing from “true” to “sham,” each leaving the country more wounded and vulnerable than before. Has this not been the story of the last sixty years?

How then can we get something out of the elite democracy that we will inevitably inherit? Not by imagining a battle won, not by wishing for some ideal unfettered democracy, but by working towards a system of some checks and balances that limits the accumulation of power and the abuse of office by ruling groups, a system that advances human rights and access to justice, and one that enlarges the space for hearing the voices from below.

By some quirk, this was a scenario beginning to unfold with the assertion of independence by the judiciary, by its questioning of arbitrary executive authority, by its taking up the causes of ordinary citizens. This was the first institutional development in over sixty years that promised a meaningful step towards good governance in the interest of the ordinary citizens. And even before one could be sure it was for real, the fourth dictator (the “enlightened”) smothered it, quickly and ruthlessly, risking even his carefully varnished image of moderation in the process.

De Tocqueville said it long ago: “Unable to do without judges, it [the government] likes at least to choose the judges itself and always to keep them under its hand; that is to say, it puts an appearance of justice, rather than justice itself, between the government and the private person.” Pakistanis know why. Governance in Pakistan is allergic to accountability. Pakistanis know now what has to change.

So, going back to “free and fair” elections, back to “true democracy,” as promised by a dictator, ruling under an emergency, to a bunch of democrats ready to cut a deal, is not going to do much good. It will be very old wine in very old bottles. Well-wishers of Pakistan, at home and abroad, need to grasp the one promising development in an otherwise sorry history. They have to agree on a one-point agenda—the Supreme Court has to be restored; the independence of the judiciary has to be guaranteed. This is the only leverage we have at the moment, the one issue on which a broad coalition can unite. This is where the fight for “true democracy” begins. Whomsoever is next anointed by God would need to be put to this test of sincerity. Otherwise, the moment and the opening would be lost. Those who are fighting would need to go on fighting.

Anonymous said...

was this talk by rashid rehman videotaped? id love to see it...

Good said...

You are invited to cast your vote on Opinion Poll at and also post your comments without disclosing your identity if you like.

You, the brave students of Lums, are already doing a fine job. Keep it up and keep going. Allah will be with you.

My Blogs said...

Dr Samia Altaf. Democracy we never had and, may never have, unless and until the corrupt, unprincipled,and opportunist elite is thrown out as it happened in bloody revolutions in France, Russia and Iran. Talibans are leading the revolution for Pakistanis across the borders and around the tribal belt for the simple reason that there is nobody within Pakistan to initiate and implement the revolution. Revolutions always originate from a sense of deprivation among the masses or a large majority of the people, by whatever name you may call them. The gulf between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' is too wide today than it was in the 90's. Look at the wealth the elite has amassed during the last eight years. Bank loans worth billions of rupees have been written off. Condoleeza Rice is on record for having said that the U.S. provided US$ 11 billions to Pakistan since 2001 to fight terrorism. Where are those billions? These did not come into the state treasury. U.S. provided US$ 50 millions to improve upon the election commission. We spent 25 millions on computerization of electoral rolls and shortlisted voters by over 20 million. In 2002, there were 72 million voters. In 2007, there were 50 million voters. U.S. provided US$550 millions under FATA Development Strategy program for the tribal agencies. One year has passed and not a single dollar has been spent.Where is that money?

Look at the prices of daily use. There has been a ten-fold increase in prices in eight years. Has the income of the people increased by that percentage? Look at the prices of plots and houses, gone up by geometrical progression. You cant buy an apartment for less than 5-6 million rupees. Only 5% of the households in Pakistan own a motor vehicle. You have to pay twice the purchase price in 5 years if you take a car loan from a bank. Where on earth that is happening? Banks pay 5-7% to their depositors but charge upto 15% from their customers, not big industrialists or businessmen, but the middle class loanees of cars. Why?

The pharma industry is minting money by substituting expensive European and American raw materials with Chinese raw materials. We are playing with the lives of the people without a blink. What a shame!

The people, by and large, cannot afford medical aid. Who is responsible?

Who let the clerics of 'Lal Masjid' go on for years doing what they were not supposed to do right under the nose of the federal government? Who let the Talibans become a gigantic threat along the borders, in the settled peaceful territory of Swat valley, in the tribal belt for such a long time?

The Pakistani nation is bewildered as to who is behind all that. Is the ground being prepared for the landing of U.S. and NATO forces in Pakistan? Is the ground being prepared to give a base station to the U.S. to keep an eye on Iran, Russia and China? Is the ground being prepared to make Karachi an international free port under the governor-generalship of British Crown?

There are far more questions than answers in the minds of the people, literate or illiterate, in urban or rural areas.

Today's Pakistan is very much different from the Pakistan of the 90's. But who is going to understand it unless the heavens fall upon those who are in deep slumber at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Cholesterol Say Paak
Nadeem F Paracha
Nov 8, 2007

An old friend of mine, once watching one of those cooking oil TV commercials claiming the oil was " cholesterol say paak," asked, "kya matlab, kya cholesterol napaak hota hai?"

Well, such are the ways of language used without much thought. Language learned and spoken without meaning, becoming jargon and rhetoric lapped up and spouted out to trigger off responses that are more instinctive than thoughtful.

So, this reminded me of the way the press these days is out and about using the word "civil society." When they say something like, "the lawyers were joined by members of the civil society in their protest against the Emergency," are they suggesting that those who preferred to stay at home, or rather, had to put in their daily eight hours of work at the office, are uncivil?

Because if there is a civil society, then there must be an uncivil society as well, right? Now what can that be? Maybe it is a society of people who actually go out and vote during a general elections, but prefer watching a cricket match on the tele when members of the "civil society" give a call to come out on the streets "to defend democracy."

Of course, it does not matter that most fine, well-bred members of the "civil society," these days seen in newspaper photos jumping up and down and decrying the "murder of democracy," hardly ever venture out to vote. This stark irony is not lost on the uncouth members of the uncivil society, though. Those barbarians.

Mind my barbaric, uncivil sense of comedy, but I just couldn't help stumble into a short, sharp burst of manic laughter after watching a photo in an English daily of a decked up lady standing outside the posh Agha's Supermarket in Karachi, carrying a placard denouncing Musharraf's Emergency.

Of course, the dreadful, dreadful Emergency did not stop the famous supermarket to stack up its usual stock of imported goodies though; a tragic, catastrophic, awful happening that only used to plague the uncivil people of former Communist countries.

But had this been the case here, the lady would have flown out to Dubai by now. To hell with democracy. After all, as most uncivil beings will tell you, it's easy to defend democracy on a full stomach. If so, then does this mean that the civil society's recent revolutionary antics and chants are nothing more than a loud burp?

However, even more intriguing is the desperation being exhibited by most English dailies in trying their utmost to bang on our uncivil heads that "members of the civil society" are now very much part of the lawyers' movement against Musharraf. Right.

I mean, actually putting a photo of a "demonstration" held by one woman (one civil woman, mind you), is rather stunning an act. How about putting a picture of a busy shopping area in Lahore, or busier business district in Karachi. That's a demonstration as well, isn't it? A demonstration of life as usual. And it certainly has a lot more people than the one standing outside the supermarket and the fourteen outside the Karachi Press Club.

The leading heroes of the wonderful "civil society" these days are the protesting lawyers. Gets me all excited and teary eyed. Yeh tho khusi kay ansoon hain, paglay. But expect a barbaric member of the uncivil society to spoil my joy. His name is Yasir and he sells paan and cigarettes on Karachi's Zainab Market.

About a month ago, while talking to his assistant, Anwar, I heard him saying something about a lawyer's rally in Karachi that was covered by a famous TV news channel. " Abay, kal Waheed Bhai koh TV pay dekha tha? Kya chilaangain maar raha tha!"

I barged into the conversation and asked who this Wahid Bhai was. As it turned out, Wahid Bhai was the ex-lawyer of one of Yasir's maternal uncles who was (according to Yasir) "wrongfully" arrested for some petty crime. Yasir said that the crime was so flimsy that a junior lawyer could have gotten him off easily. He said they went through three inexpensive lawyers (one of which was Wahid Bhai), but all of them gave Yasir's family and uncle such a run around that the uncle actually decided to go to jail and complete the two years sentence the judge eventually handed him.

"And now look at him (Wahid Bhai)," said Yasir (in Urdu). "He's on TV waving his fists and swearing to bring down Musharraf's dictatorship." Hearing this, I let out a cynical burst of laughter. But Yasir remained serious. How uncivil of him.

I've angered a lot of friends recently with my stand on the current situation in the country. I am no lover of dictatorship nor was I so hunky-dory when the Emergency was imposed. But I am not the one to miss out on the ironies and the contradictions in the ways of the people decrying the Emergency. As I have mentioned here, the "civil society" reeks of hypocrisy and pretension in this respect, and I raised an eyebrow when the former CJP ordered to put yet another fanatic in charge of the Lal Masjid. And don't even get me started on the TV news channels. From news relaters they became news creators. "Democracy" and "Jihad" became brands targeted at a market of bored audience who now looked to these channels as new entertainment avenues. Speaking live to terrorists and extremists and talk programs mutating into political versions of the Jerry Springer show certainly beat the mundane ways of a soap opera or a music video. No wonder these channels started getting more advertising than the entertainment channels.

So, on Wednesday last some channels did manage to return. One of them talked about the economy in a show which was otherwise known to tackle political events, while the other channel managed to run at least one of its fiery political talk shows, Luqman.Com.

Of course, Bhai Luqman would seem rather out of it while talking economics, so he decided to still give the viewers another brimstone and fire performance by bashing the civil society's most popular target: Benazir Bhutto.

However, last month, it was quite a sight observing the faces of the members of the "civil society" as they shockingly watched millions from the uncivil society turn up to greet Benazir Bhutto. They hated it. Her arrogance and charges of corruption on her withstanding, I have noticed that the thing that bothers the "civil society" about Ms. Bhutto the most is the way she and her party reminds them of the dreaded " awami raaj." Rule of the great unwashed.

Yes, in spite of all the ideological and political changes it has gone through, the Pakistan Peoples Party still remains to be the only party in Pakistan capable of at least giving the common people (the uncivil lot), an illusion of peoples power. Also, unlike the "civil society," most of the uncivil people who turned up to greet Ms. Bhutto on that fateful day in Karachi, actually go out and vote. And she knows this and thus doesn't seem to be disturbed by the tyranny of confused middle-class morality that looks to be ruling the agendas of our news channels and the "civil society."

And here lies my problem with this "civil society." This protest movement being splashed so dramatically across newspapers and websites these days is now deeply rooted and emerging from this twisted moral mentality. That's why you can now actually hear fanatics like Hamid Gul, conservatives like Nawaz Sharif, the so-called "objective" anchormen and the likes of that decked up supermarket aunty singing along to the same tune.

The aunty also makes me understand why one can now also see some editors of frivolous fashion pages suddenly delivering passionate tirades against the powers that be and why all of a sudden we see the unleashing of similar tirades by the overrated young daughter of late Murtaza Bhutto (no saint, he) and, lo and behold! Jamaima baby!

A couple of days ago, a group of students from a prestigious university in Lahore arrived at my office to meet me. They said they were angered by the fact that a progressive man like me who stood up against the Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship as a student, has decided not to join the "movement against the Emergency."

"What movement, where?" I asked?

"Don't you read the papers?" One of them asked.

"I do," I said, "but I usually get my news by driving around the city. I see a look of uncertainty on the faces of the people, but no great movement," I said.

"Go on the BBC website and you'll know," said one of the girls.

"I did," I said. "But it seems the BBC or CNN or whatever is talking to the civil society rather than the uncivil one. And it is the throngs of uncivil men and women who really matter," said I.

They looked puzzled. Disappointed. Until one of them, a young intelligent looking lad who also claimed to be a Socialist, started to quote from an Imran Khan speech that he gave on their campus the day the Emergency was imposed.

"Wait a minute," I said. "What is a Socialist and a group of progressive young people doing listening and nodding to a reactionary?"

He had absolutely no idea about the contradiction I was trying to point out. But then, failing to avoid contradictions is an endearing feature of the "civil society."

The truth is, had the "civil society" reacted the same way against all the Fazaluulahs and Abdul Rashids, the Hamid Guls and the Shahid Masoods as it is does against Benazir Bhutto or Musharraf, I would have been more than glad to join their great crusade.

But it can't. Because to me, this crusade, in which I see the lawyers, the democrats, the extremists and the liberals hurled desperately together on the same boat, is a boat being captained by a skewed bourgeois mentality concocted from pieces of religious confusion, splinters of paranoia, chunks of hypocrisy, twists of naivety and most of all, a happily full stomach.

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