Friday, April 03, 2009

Voting Rights for Overseas Pakistanis (NRPs) and Other Thoughts on a Muslim Democracy

My Facebook status said: "Call it franchise, call it suffrage; now I haz it. I can vote!! I iz an enfranchised citizen of a Muslim democracy! Take THAT, W and OBL!!. And quite a discussion ensued.

The discussion was fun. Of course, a couple of friends assumed this was about me becoming an American citizen. Which is interesting, given what I said, but I digress. Another friend asked which Muslim Democracy gave me the vote and why. Interesting way to put it.

The news, of course, was this:
Overseas Pakistanis to get right of vote

Wed. April 01, 2009; Posted: 01:58 AM

Federal Minister for Overseas Pakistanis and Deputy Convenor MQM, Dr Farooq Sattar, has said that President Asif Ali Zardari has accepted a proposal from his department to give the right of vote to the Pakistani people living aboard. He was addressing the launching ceremony of Marhaba Musafar of Western Union at a local hotel here on Monday.
The Minister said that his ministry had also proposed to reserve seats in the National Assembly for overseas Pakistanis. He hoped that other political parties would support the bill moved by the overseas Pakistanis ministry in this regard. Referring to the current political situation in the country, Dr Sattar said that time had come for the masses to decide whether they want a liberal, enlightened and welfare state of Pakistan as dreamt by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah or the extremist one of Hameed Gul and Ziaul Haq. He added that silent majority of the country wanted the Pakistan of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He urged the people to play their role to develop Pakistan as per dream of Quaid-e-Azam.

MQM has been playing its leading role to make Pakistan an enlightened, liberal and welfare state, he said. Commenting on his party support to the privatisation of KESC, Federal Minister said that MQM was not against the privatisation process in the country and added we have witnessed successful results of the privatisation of PTCL.

We believe in the privatisation process in country and underlined the need of government role to support and promote the private sector in the country, he added. Dr Sattar alleged that the company had wilfully ignored its responsibility to provide electricity to Karachiites, adding that KESC administration did not fulfil the privatisation agreement. He pointed out that the KESC administration has not invested even a single penny in the country to enhance production of electricity.

The company is only concerning about recovery of dues through over-billing and hike in power tariff. He alleged that to extort money from the citizens, the KESC administration had installed faulty metres. He urged NEPRA to take the notice of the miserable condition of the citizens due the apathetic attitude of KESC administration. He warned that people have the right to protest against unannounced power outages in the metropolis.
And this just a few months after I raised this question with my own MNA (Khushbakht Shujaat, represents Clifton, where the parental homestead still is) during her visit to a Chicago-based radio show I contribute to.

The MQM is, of course, taking full credit. One friend on Facebook who's active with the MQM said that this was "democracy MQM-style", working for all parties to benefit. And I say it's a good thing if Pakistan has evolved as a polity to the point where a party that spent its early years fighting--often literally--for the right to put the ethnic identity of their original vote base on the table as a legitimate part of the Pakistani landscape now is working on issues that concern the common man and might not even result in a net gain in votes for them.  (One activist friend online specifically pointed out that the diaspora often leans towards supporting what they see as benevolent dictators that are "good for the economy" and "stability" and so on.)

The first question a friend asked was actually rather interesting: was I "celebrating or lamenting"? A reality check right off the bat! I guess I was looking at it as a responsibility. I left Pakistan at the age of 24, before I really had the chance to vote in any elections (the voting age was 21), and this is the first time I really feel enfranchised as a citizen of any part of the world--citizen of the world, if you will.

Another, pan-South Asian-minded friend with a base across the border went on to say that we should now work towards a real democracy--which, she said, would be possible if we root out corruption. An interesting point, but the logic of which I really don't buy. What we have is not corruption that can be rooted out the way it was rooted out in New York or Chicago; it is a systemic problem, if you ask me, rooted in the way the Raj structured the systems we still use) and needs systemic solutions. Honest law enforcement that people can believe in and not think of as less desirable than Taliban rule can not be achieved unless we pay a living wage for the street cop police and middle-level judges, for example...

But onward and upward, I am hoping this will help the diaspora feel like they have some real skin in the game back home; feel ownership and a stake in the politics of Pakistan. Maybe I am being Pollyanna'ish. But as I have said often, I have a 24-hour personal moratorium on raining on parades and generally throwing cold water on folks being happy about something--be it the Obama Inaugration or whatnot. And besides, this now gives us a stick to hit Overseas Pakistanis (our original, native term for what are now sometimes called NRPs in imitation of the Indian designation) with; if they don't vote, if they don't actually support a party--or help start one--if they don't like their choices, they should really shut up about Pakistan.

If you're on Facebook, you can read the whole discussion here.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Indian Muslims and Arabic

I am in the habit of pointing out to Indian Muslims that the difference in how pervasive neo-purist fanaticism is in Pakistan verus India is only one of degree. Especially when they bring out their "We told you so; it was a bad idea to begin with! See all the fanaticism you have in your country!" line. And don't get me wrong; I think learning Arabic is a wonderful thing for anyone, especially Muslims or anyone who wants their grasp on Urdu literature. (And Persian/Farsi helps, too.) But why is the National Council for the Promotion of the Urdu Language ( in India advertising an Two Year Diploma in Functional Arabic on their website, but only a One Year Diploma in Urdu?!