Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Thoughts, Comments, Updates on Pakistan

Folks must be following the latest news about Pakistan...no, sorry; wait, which news? And the thing is, whichever of the two major ways Pakistan has been in the news in the last few days that you are following, you will think that it is obvious which news out of Pakistan I am talking about.

But here's a little round up--followed up by something new.

So, at least out here in California, the first one-two exchange was, on the 12th, I think it was, two items making the rounds on the electronic transom. The first was an op-ed by Benazir Bhutto. It appeared in the Washington Post and later, I gather, in the Toronto Star, etc.:
A False Choice for Pakistan
By Benazir Bhutto
Monday, March 12, 2007; Page A13
I was actually going to post something about that article, saying, as I have before, that it is really wonderful to hear out-of-power Pakistani politicians, be they BB, NS, or Imran Khan. After all, when she says the following, one can only nod one's head in agreement:
Islamic parties have never garnered more than 13 percent in any free parliamentary elections in Pakistan. The notion of Musharraf's regime as the only non-Islamist option is disingenuous and the worst type of fear-mongering.

...

The West has been shortsighted in dealing with Pakistan. When the United States aligns with dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, it compromises the basic democratic principles of its foundation -- namely, life, liberty and justice for all. Dictatorships such as Musharraf's suppress individual rights and freedoms and empower the most extreme elements of society. Oppressed citizens, unable to represent themselves through other means, often turn to extremism and religious fundamentalism.
And even extrapolate to say that it's not just Pakistan "The West" has been shortsighted in dealing with. And what she says is very, very relevant to a lot of places, from Vietnam and Cambodia to South American and Iran. And the events in Pakistan since the 12th of March are a case in point. But I will come to them in a minute; I am trying to go chronologically here. [Do read the blog post I have linked to above, though, especially if you're not from Pakistan; it will explain why, despite the kind of thing in the paragraph above, people like me have issues with a "progressive, secular, moderate leader like Ms. Bhutto.]

So hard on the heels of that op-ed, there was another story about Pakistan making the rounds around that date. And it was summed up in The Times of India's headline:
Is US ready to dump Mush?
CHIDANAND RAJGHATTA
WASHINGTON: The writing seems to be on the wall for Pakistan’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Uncle Sam, the General’s patron-in-chief, is showing signs of cashiering his favoured stooge and preparing grounds for his succession...
going on to point out that "a spate of articles in the US media pillorying Musharraf has set the tone for a change." Prominent, of course, was the "Paper of Record", chiming in with an article actually listed under the section title "Wondering" and titled "One Bullet Away from What", with the operative point being that the one bullet that might take out the General might not usher in a Pakistan enthusiasticly going the way of the Khomeini revolution or the Taliban's Afghanistan.

And again, this article/these articles said things that would have someone like me nodding my head in agreement--if they did not also rub salt in our wounds by stating as amazing and revolutionary insights that my family, for example, thinks it's been mumbling for three generations. This for example:
The last time Pakistan went to the polls in 2002, religious political parties received just 11 percent of the vote, compared with more than 28 percent won by the secular party led by Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister.

And that election may have even been a high-water mark for the Islamists, who were capitalizing on surging anti-American sentiment after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
As I have said on this blog before, whoop dee friggin' duh!

Now "coincidences" like the above temporal juxtaposition of the Benazir Op Ed getting prominent publication at the same time that well-placed leaks out of a US administration are getting play are something that folks who lived on the business end of the Cold War are well familiar with, even if the American media--no less the average taxpayer--might be blissfully unaware of. And just that might have been enough to keep the chattering classes, well, chattering. But then all hell broke loose in Pakistan itself--and, in some ways, in a rather unexpected way.

You see, one thing I have always said about Pakistan is that one of the problems we have in keeping our governments honest and our military in its barracks is that we don't, as a rule, do street protests about actual government high-handedness--or bread riots. And on the other hand, like everyone else, we're not very fond of lawyers as a profession. And judges, like a lot else in Pakistan, are just dismissed as part of the whole corrupt system. Except once in a while.

So it was, that when our sitting dictator, as dictators are wont to do, acted rather summarily in trying to remove our sitting Chief Justice, and the Honorable Judicial Lord would not go quietly into the night, things got ugly on Mall Road. [Actually, the actual "dismissal" happened on the 9th, I think; but the stuff hit the fan a few days later.] But it didn't start there, either.

A day or three before the Chief Justice's "dismissal", there was a letter circulating, purporting to have been written by Naeem Bokhari, a prominent Pakistani lawyer and TV personality. It was basically an indictment of sorts. Now Naeem Bokhari is sort of a Greta Van Susteren meets Larry King with a Texas twist; his interviewing style is definitely fun, one might even say deliciouslly so, mixing an urban lawyer's sensibilities with the odd down-to-earth Punjabi aphorism. And he was a prominent talk show host when Pakistan didn't have a proliferation of private channels, so he was a phenomenon. But despite the obviously well-written letter that, at that point, given Mr. Bokhari's profile, even the Teeth Maestro was asking readers to take seriously (as you can see at the link above), my first reaction was one of caution. And not because I had any real reason to. Let's just say that, from personal experience, my own impression of the gentleman isn't all sugar and honey.

And then Gen. Musharraf ups and dumps the Judge. And the lawyers take to the streets--most prominently in Lahore, the city where Naeem Bokhari is a member of the Bar. I am not going to recap everything. You can read all about it on All Things Pakistan and other places. The pictures of lawyers with bloodied suits, and lawyers hurling stones. There's been discussion of not respecting these folks. That boggles my mind; here are people from the most straight-laced profession, in a country that doesn't usually have organized street protests by educated professionals (riots, working class folk in Karachi, yes; running gun battles in working class neighbourhoods, yes; but actual protests against government policies? when? where?)

Lots of folks have said a lot of things; from the perversion of process and the rule of law, to the hijacking of institutions, and so on. But things I want to draw attention to include:

The second largest Muslim nation--and one that is more often in the news nowadays than the largest one--having someone in the streets besides bearded folks chanting pro-Taliban stuff is a good image for making the point that a large, large part of the Muslim world lives, and wants to live by laws and constitutions and have the advantage of proper, healthy institutions of state.

This might be one of those times when important parts of Pakistani society actually stand up and jerk their rulers' chain. Some check on the powers-that-be-by-default is a good thing. And it's not just the lawyers. We also now have the Pakistani netroots (to borrow another American phrase) taking up cudgels beyond just protesting the banning of blogs. The Teeth Maestro, a gentleman who's been in the forefront of activism on the issue of blogs and Internet censorship has launched an online campaign agitating about the issue of justice in Pakistan. The call to action going around looked like this:
Dear Pakistanis,

Assalam Alaikum

There is not a single Pakistani who is not irked by the recent events in Islamabad where our judicial system was turned into a circus at the hands of the powerful and influential. Since that fateful day Pakistanis the world over have been objecting, hundreds have braved the streets to show physical resistance while millions are unable to physically join the cause, but definitely want to have their voices heard.

We as peaceful non-political activists, Proud to be Pakistanis, have launched a petition where we appeal to all Pakistanis who would like to object to this mockery of our judicial system to register our protest by signing our name on the online petition created for this cause. The petition is as follows

Pakistanis Condemning the Mockery of the Judicial System in Pakistan

I, a citizen of Pakistan do hereby petition the President of Pakistan, to do as follows:
  • That the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, be reinstated
  • That the Chief Justice of Pakistan be released forthwith from house arrest
  • That all his inalienable rights (including the right to liberty) be restored forthwith
  • That the hearing of any reference be done in accordance with the law and in an open fair and
  • transparent manner and that at any and all such hearings the media and other impartial observers be permitted to attend
  • That the Supreme Judicial Council be re-constituted with fair and impartial members
Sincerely,

A Pakistani

If you agree to the simple five point petition please step forward and peacefully defend your country.

Sign the petition here – http://www.proud-pakistani.com/petition/

------- What can you do to help --------
  • Forward this email to all your contacts immediately so that the voice can be heard from every corner of the globe
  • If you maintain a blog or website display our banner supporting the cause White Band for Justice .... powered by Proud Pakistanis
  • The Proud-Pakistani.com is a non-political organization and would like to motivate the patriotic spirit amongst Pakistanis, join the effort by dropping by our blog http://proud-pakistani.com
  • Actively collaborate by joining our mailing list http://proud-pakistani.com/list/
  • If you have any Pakistan specific issues please forward them to pakistan@proud-pakistani.com
Lets be Proud to be Pakistanis

I definitely am, ARE YOU !!!

Dr. Awab Alvi
And quite frankly, that's the kind of thing I'd like to see more Pakistanis, in Pakistan and expatriates, engage with. These are, again, interesting times, in Pakistan. And some widsom in what we do, how we engage with government, and what activism we engage in is called for.

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