Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What's with the PPP?

In all the angst that is turning up in the chattering and protesting classes in Pakistan, one question is coming up pretty often: whatever happened to the PPP? Others express a complete disdain for it. And I don't want to sound naive; the PPP and its founders and others since have done much to deserve all the reactions they get: both positive and negative.

But too often today, too many people talk only of Zardari. Or, if they want to discuss politics just a wee bit more, of the group that was close to BB herself as the counterpoint. But the PPP today remains the largest grouping in the country and, as such, consists of, and has always consisted of, a coalition of groups. It was set up as a left-of-center vehicle that, if you believe some of the very first die-hards, very rapidly was dominated (taken over, if you believe some folks) by the personality of the charismatic (evil genius, if you believe others) of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. There were the left-of-center (and some outright "Left") activists. There were the urbane, well-read, (and, in some cases, most nobtably and visibly nowadays Aitzaz Ahsan) Leftist lawyers and intellectuals. There were the gritty, "awami" activits, not least those from Karachi's Lyari section and it's Afro-Pakistani/Baloch community, but others as well. There are the Sindhi nationalists, both inside and, on-and-off, supporting from the outside. And, of course, there were those who were just taken by the charisma of the man--either because he convinced them that he would carry their causes to victory or because of the sheer electric power of his personality. And there were other such components--not least the professional politicians, the feudal lords, the industry-walas, and the military folks that hitched their stars with a rising star. The opportunists, if you will.

The amazing thing is how long the coalition that Zulfi built has lasted. I often tell the story of a colleague of my father's (they were both college professors) who, in the late 80's still had a larger-than-life picture of the man in his "drawing room", even as he shook his head with disappointment written all over his face and said "He had such a dynamic start; but power went to his head. For a man who had risen on street power to get to where he said 'I can crush street power with state power'..."

The morning after Benazir was assasinated, I was on KQED San Francisco's Public Radio Station and halfway into the discussion, after everyone had discussed the personality of the heir not-quite-apparent, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, and the modalities of how a successor will be picked, I had to pull everyone back and say, "Wait a minute; y'all are forgetting one person. The husband. He's paid his dues; spent a decade in jail (whatever the conditions of his incarceration)--and he has always been a smarter person--and speaks much better English--than caricatures of his have given him credit for."

Of course, we all know what happened next. To cut a long story short, Zardari took over the party at the head of the opportunist wing, and that wing is now dominant.

Personally, in terms of discussing the internal dynamics of the PPP, I think what is interesting to follow is whether the Uncles (Mirani and that generation that worked directly with ZAB), or the Young Turks (the above-mentioned Amin F & Co., which, as in the case of Amin Faheem himself quite literally, are either children of that first generation, or younger people who joined later) or the Leftist Lawyers (the aforesaid Aitzaz, et al), or anyone else can throw up a leader that can bring together and hold a coalition...

Otherwise, as I also often say, it might be time to build a new political movement, a new coalition in Pakistan; something that has only been done twice since indepence--once by Mr. Bhutto himself, and once, on a regional level, by Altaf Hussain and the MQM...but more on that another time.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Muslims and Democracy...c.1950

This is for all those--both Islamists and Islamophobes--who ... remember this is from -- before those who would totemize Islam (Islamists, if you will) started to dominate the discourse and the News:
"... we have proved it to the world more than once. We established Pakistan because of our passion for what we call the Islamic way of life. This is no narrow sectarian, or medieval, or theocratic or intolerant conception. It means no more and no less than this: that we believe in God and atheistic doctrines cannot flourish amongst us. That we believe in the equality of men and the equality of civic rights and opportunities for all, irrespective of their religious belief. That we believe in social justice, ... that we believe in democracy, not as a political creed; but as a part of our religious faith ... the way of life that we have chosen for ourselves, [is] not a new concoction, but one that is based on a body of belief and tradition that have been handed down to us by our forefathers"
full speech audio at:
Liaquat Ali Khan, First Prime Minister of Pakistan, at the Commonwealth Club of California on May 16, 1950.

March 23rd is "Pakistan Day", the anniversary both of the day in 1940 when the All India Muslim League adopted as its official position the "Lahore Resolution" (a.k.a. the Pakistan Resolution). and of the day in 1956 when Pakistan adopted its first constitution and becoming a democracy--thus finally ending almost a hundred years of a British sovereign reigning in large parts of South Asia.

I'd like to propose that we declare March 23rd "International Democracy in the Muslim World Day". Any takers?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

30th Anniversary of the Iranian Revolution

The 30th anniversary of Khomeini's return to Iran should be something we all take the time to reflect upon. From thinking about what the role of the US--and the West generally--has been in Persia, (supporting the Shah; hosting Khomeini...), to what the Iranian model and experience says about what the possibilities are in Pakistan, to what neo-purist interpretations of Islam have meant for the world at large today, the list is endless.

Here's a flashback from a BBC journalist: