Pakistan Needs an End to Dynastic Politics

A few weeks ago the Pakistani Twittersphere went ballistic when Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, declared herself a part of “Ruling Family,” thus suggesting as if she and her family, somehow, should enjoy some special privileges and rights within Pakistan. In a democracy, of course, such ideas are absurd, but sadly some major political parties in Pakistan are built as dynasties and while the average workers may get a chance to advance to a certain level, the top echelons of these political parties still consist of either the children of their founders or close relatives. At this point, the Muslim League (N), Pakistan Peoples Party, and Awwami National Party are all governed by either the founders or the progeny of the founders; same rules always apply to quite a few regional political parties.

If Pakistan hopes to develop a viable democratic system, and if the civic structures and practices are to be reshaped within this democratic norm, then the political parties need to be openly democratic, which means that the party leadership should not be passed from one generation of a family to another. The parties should hold open elections to elect their leadership and the top leadership positions should be open to all members of a political party. Otherwise the entire nation ends up becoming the private property of one large extended political family. Look at the recent Nawaz Sharif cabinet, for example. Almost all the major cabinet positions were either held by Mr. Sharif’s immediate family members or the members of his extended family. 1

Of course, when such is the case with the most powerful political positions in the government, then the children of these leaders feel aptly justified in thinking of themselves as a “natural” ruling class. Our so-called leaders forget that any powerful regime depends for its survival on the “willing” consent of the people. 2 For a group of politicians to consider themselves as part of a “natural” ruling class the recognition of this claim must come from the people, for if no one accepts you as ruling class then, your claims notwithstanding, you cannot become this so-called ruling class. The people, on the other hand, should see the kind of hubris that encourages our cultural and political elite to think of themselves as a “ruling class.”

The two major dynasties in our politics, the Sharifs and the Bhuttos, if we look at their histories, were both propped up by military dictators and served the interest of the dictators in the early years of their political rise. Of course, both these families eventually broke away from their masters and charted a political path of their own, but it is our job as the people of Pakistan to keep reminding them that they gained their ludicrous “ruling family” status by either selling their loyalties to the military dictators, or, if we want to go further in the past, by selling their allegiances to tour erstwhile colonizers. This critique of the “naturalized” claim to being the rulers must be posed consistently through the media and social media. The idea is to let no one get away with the claim that they, somehow, own our destiny as their birth right!

There is a lot at stake in the process of eliminating dynastic politics; the case is intimately connected with politics of personality. Any politics that relies on a narrative of liberation at the hands of one man, one leader, is bound to unleash the macro and micro fascist tendencies in our culture. In simple terms, fascism is nothing more than the deeply internalized belief that one single leader can, somehow, solve all our problems. Thus, any time we look around for one strong leader to liberate us, we are expressing our latent fascism. By eliminating dynastic politics, we might also be able to dislodge this deep seeded fascism in our souls and might then, ultimately, look for collective solutions to our manifold problems.

So, we all must look at our political parties to see how democratic they are in their structures before we give them the power to lead our democracy. Yes, there are some religious parties that do tend to be more democratic, but since they consider one single interpretation of religion as the solution to all our problems, their worldview becomes more exclusivist and less democratic. So, despite their democratic practices in selecting their leadership, their vision of the future will always be restrictive and reliant on one way of looking at the world, which can never be a recipe for success in a country as diverse as Pakistan.

So, over all, besides challenging all assertions of “natural” legitimacy by our political elite, we must also be watchful against all those who claim to know the future and have simple solutions for our problems!


  1. In fact, according to some reports at one point at least 17 members of Nawaz family held political positions and over all, it is said by some, 84 members of this family were in powerful top positions at one time. “Family politics of Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif
  2. I am relying on Antonio Gramsci’s explanation of “hegemony” as means of obtaining the willing consent of the people.

Arab Spring in Pakistan? No, Thanks

In an interesting and slightly misguided article about the possibilities of an Arab Spring in Pakistan, Michael Kugelman, (a senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC) begins his opinion piece with the following profound assertions:

Will Pakistan experience an Arab Spring? The question has been on many minds since revolution swept across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 – and especially since a major anti-government rally took place in Islamabad this month. . . .

It’s easy to understand why. Pakistan, like the Arab Spring nations, boasts a young and mobile communications savvy population. Its masses are victims of the same indignities that incited revolt in the Middle East: corruption, oppression, and injustice.

However, the similarities end there. Let’s stop talking about a revolution in Pakistan, because it’s not going to happen. (

That Mr. Kugleman’s entire argument relies on false analogies is obvious:

  •  The Arab spring has happened.
  • It was mostly a revolutionary attempt led by the tech savvy youth of several “Arab” countries.
  • Pakistan shares the same kind of material conditions with the Arab countries.
  •  Should the so-called “Arab Spring” happen in Pakistan? Yes.
  •  It has not happened.
  •  Conclusion: There must be something wrong with Pakistan.

Mr. Kugelmen then mobilizes the most hackneyed list to prove his point: corrupt leaders, Pakistani propensity for the cult-of-personality politics, and ethnic and cultural divisions. In this argument, revolution is offered as a progressive narrative that cannot be sustained in Pakistan because, we are to believe, Pakistan has not crossed a certain threshold of mass mobilization to join the other lauded revolutions that have happened and are happening in the Arab world.

The first problem with this framing of an argument is that it relies on a simplified understanding of revolution: it uses the spontaneous rise of the youth against their oppressors in Tunisia, Egypt, and other nations of the Islamic world as an ideal type. Thus, anything that cannot be posited as a universal popular response, somehow, fails to be of value.

What Mr. Kugleman and others like him fail to account for is the very complexity of Pakistan, a complexity that they posit as a detriment to the chances of any mass political mobilization.

Let us account for this complexity: Pakistan is a diverse nation, which has a written constitution, a defined system of government, a trained bureaucracy, and a viable educational system. Yes, in terms of political consciousness and political origination, Pakistan is far ahead of its Arab counterparts. Pakistanis have strong party affiliations and have several organized national parties and numerous regional political parties with very strong following. This is a great recipe for a democracy: organized political parties and their base is an absolute precondition for any viable democratic system.

Is there corruption? Yes, certainly. But all democracies have a set of illegalities that exist at legal and quasi-legal levels. The US political system is corrupt to the core: all politicians in the US system are paid for and bought by contributions. Now, of course, these contributions are legal, but if they purchase influence for the contributors, then that is a refined form of corruption.

So, yes Pakistani politicians are equally as corrupt as their US counterparts. But does Pakistan have the necessary scaffolding to structure and sustain a viable political system? Yes, absolutely.

Mr. Kugleman also forgets to mention that the so-called “Arab Spring” did happen in Pakistan and, in fact, it preceded the now valorized Arab Spring. In 2007 the lawyers movement supported by all major factions of Pakistani political spectrum was successful in not only restoring the sacked chief justice, but was also instrumental in the eventual ouster of Mr. Pervez Musharraf, the US-sponsored dictator of Pakistan.

Furthermore, given the particularities of Pakistan’s political climate, a mass revolution is the last thing needed in Pakistan. The current government, ineffectual as it may be, is the first government in decades that is almost there, almost about to finish its five-year term. The best path forward for Pakistan, reformative as it might be, is not to ask and hope for a mass revolution but the continuation of the process in the form of timely held general elections. Only this continuity will enable Pakistan to strengthen its institutions and build its political and public sphere.

So, not only has the “Arab Spring” already happened in Pakistan, it is also no longer necessary. Thus, it is the democratic future of Pakistan that we should be concerned about instead of hoping for a revolution that we absolutely do not need.


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Geo TV’s Shameful Silence on the Hunger Strike

Those of you who come to our blog often must be aware that for the past few days we have constantly been covering the anti-corruption hunger strike by Raja Jahangir Akhtar. An Islamabad based businessman and lifetime activist, Raja is on the fifth day of his hunger strike, a fact hard to miss around Islamabad. While the strike is now being covered by bloggers, national and international newspapers, the major Pakistani news channel, Geo TV, has been stramgely silent about the strike.

I just checked their website, and while they are covering what Indian Film actors are up to and even the news about a british farmer who has, it is being reported, “grown the largest onion” (I am not making this up; please check the screen shot), there is no mention of RJA’s strike for Pakistan.


As a scholar and editor and a Pakistani citizen I find this silence by Geo TV not only troubling but also deeply shameful. Obviously, since it is impossible to miss the strike, Geo TV has made a decision not to cover it and the reasons must be political.

I take this opportunity to request those who run this TV network to live up to their responsibility of informing Pakistani people about things that are important, especially if someone is putting his life on the line for the cause of Pakistan.

If they remain silent about it, then their’s would be a legacy of shame!

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Raja Jahangir Akhtar: A Hunger Strike Till “Death”

According to our sources in Pakistan, a local bussinessman and a lifetime activist has declared his intent to go on an indefinite hunger strike unless some of his demands about Islamabad and Pakistan are considered by the authorities. Mr. Raja, as is obvious from his press release, understands the futility of this gestures but hopes that his “death” will somehow mobilize the people.

I do not have a lot of details,  but provided below is a Youtube interview and images of his statements and list of demands:

Press Release

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In Support of Higher Education Comission, Pakistan

A few months ago while in Islamabad, I had the opportunity to meet several official so the Higher Education Commission (HEC). I must say I found each one of the individuals to be professional, courteous, and exceedingly competent in their respective jobs. This, for any Pakistani dealing with government institutions, was a rare experience. I  people I interacted with to be dedicated about their jobs and about the larger mission of the HEC.

As an academic based in the US, during the last decade I have experienced, first hand, the contributions made by the HEC in the field of higher education as the number of highly qualified and well prepared graduate students finishing their degrees in the US has increased dramatically. In the domestic sphere, HEC has been crucial in developing not only the institutional standards but also in promoting a culture of scholarship and research across the board. As an expatriate, anytime someone asks me a question about the higher education in Pakistan, I am always very confident to refer them to the HEC website as I know that they will be able to find help and guidance about their projects in Pakistan, no matter where the institution of their interest was located in Pakistan. HEC provides not only a central quality control for higher education but also a centralized institution with the domestic and global reach needed for an increasingly internationalized higher education.

It is extremely hard for the developing nations to build such wonderful institutions, especially in this era of IMF instituted structural requirements.  Pakistan has spent a lot of energy and resources in creating and sustaining this wonderfully useful institution.

In my humble opinion, to destroy this institution for the sake of political expediency is unacceptable and the dissolution of HEC will certainly harm the long-term interests and goals of Pakistani higher education.

I, therefore, strongly urge all those involved in higher education to vice their opinions against this dismantling of HEC. Please take a few moments to sign our petition, a collated version of which will be sent to the government of Pakistan:

Petition Link

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Some Good Pakistani Blogs

Now that we have started aggregating content from selected Pakistan-related blogs, we have found a rich array of blogs dealing with various aspects of Pakistani life. I thought I should take a few moments to introduce some of these blogs. My account of these blogs, of course, is in no way exhaustive. So, please feel free to suggest your favorite Pakistani blogs in the comments and we will include them in our Pakblogs section for our readers.

Art Ka Pakistan: Maintained by Nadia Hussain, this is a personal blog that provides ideas, thoughts, and commentaries of an artist and could be very useful to all those interested in art and artistic pursuits. Nadia describes her blog as follows:

Wannabe artist (except they’re called visual artists now), corrupter of young Pakistani minds, do gooder (and badder), lover, not a fighter and a general procrastinator. And Murree Brewery rocks.

Citizens for Democracy: I strongly endorse CFD’s effort who describe their mission in the following words:

Citizens for Democracy (CFD) was formed on Dec 19, 2010, as a coalition of professional groups, NGOs, trade unions, student unions, political parties and individuals outraged by the consistent misuse and abuse of the ‘blasphemy laws’ and religion in politics.  We came together at a meeting at Karachi Press Club, convened by Professional Organisations Mazdoor Federations & Hari Joint Committee (POJAC).

CFD calls upon all professional groups, NGOs, trade unions, student unions, political parties and individuals to join hands for its one-point agenda, to work against the misuse and abuse of the ‘blasphemy laws’ and religion in politics. CFD chapters have subsequently been formed in Lahore and Islamabad. Please see CFD stand and endorsing organisations at this blog. Email: Twitter: @cfdpk.

Desi Flavors: Maintained by Rafia Shujaat, Desi Flavors is a wonderful blog that provides quite a few traditional, some fusion, and some very innovative recipes. I could not recommend this wonderful resource enough.

[We have removed “Hope for Pakistan” as it was mirroring the Pakistani Spectator]

Journeys to Democracy: Maintained by Beena Sarwar, a renowned Pakistani journalist, this blog needs no introduction. If you ever need to find some incisive, thought-provoking analysis of Pakistani current affairs, this is the place to go.

Middle Ground: Defines itself in the following words:

Middle Ground is my place on web where I put together my thoughts. Middle Ground falls in the middle of extremism and liberalism. It shows the picture of tolerance, which is much needed in our country these days, than before.

It is a place on web where I write what ever interests me. Subjects may vary but they will always be something related to my country, Pakistan. I am trying to play my part by contributing in some way to the progressive Pakistan.

Mustafa Qadri: Maintained by Mustafa Qadri, one of our contributing authors and an active journalist and humanitarian, this is the kind of journalistic writing all the bloggers should aspire to and emulate.

Pak Tea House: This is one of the most established blogs of Pakistan and a place to visit for astute political and cultural commentary.

Secular Pakistan: This courageous blog declares its mission thusly:

We are here to advocate the dream of a state where a citizen is recognized because of his/her existence as a human being rather than cast, creed, sect or religion. Contributions, feedback and death threats are all welcome.

The Pakistani Spectator: The spectator is not just a blog; it is rather a newspaper-like multiauthor blog filled with interested commentaries and stories about all things Pakistan.

United for Justice: This is another good blog that aims to fight all kinds of discrimination in Pakistan.

Well, this completes my first round-up of good Pakistani blogs. I am certain that I have missed some very good and important blogs and would love to include them in the next such round-up. feel free to use the comment section below to suggest any blogs that you deem should be included in our next roundup and also in our Pakblogs section.


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An Interview with Fayyaz Baqir, Director Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center, Pakistan

Fayyaz Baqir

Interview contributed by Maggie Ronkin, Georgetown University

Q1. Could you share a brief history of the kind of work you did before joining the Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center?
In 1968, I joined the struggle for social change in Pakistan as a campus activist at Punjab University, Lahore. I hailed from an extremely conservative religious family in Multan and my father was Ameer of Jamaa’t Islami Multan (an extreme right wing religious political party). He taught me to be rational, disciplined, honest, and hard working. However, my compassion for the downtrodden and sinners urged me to seek new avenues for serving humanity. At the age of 17, I turned into a fire brand communist and organized the largest left wing students’ organization in the Punjab, which was known as the Nationalist Students Organization. I was its Chief Convener in early 1970s. Soon after graduating from the University, I joined the South Asian Institute and chose research and teaching as my career. In 1979, Pakistan’s popular elected Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was hanged by the military dictator General Zia ul Haq. After Bhutto’s death, several cases were registered against me in different police stations of the Punjab on charges of sedition, inciting people to rebellion, and disturbing law and order. The police raided various places to arrest me, and they locked up my brother when they failed to find me.

I went into self-exile in 1980 and lived in North America for the next seven years. During this period, I gradually got disillusioned with Marxist politics. My stay in North America enriched my life and understanding of human potential, but my thirst for finding the truth kept me restless. In spite of my intense and short-lived love affairs with socialism, capitalism, and other contemporary rationalist ideologies I always thought there was something missing in all these ideologies. There was something wrong in their assessment of human potential. In 1986, I happened to meet a Sufi teacher and my life changed forever. Sufism is based on sound understanding of human limitations and brings into play human potential through love, compassion, tolerance, and infinite faith in Allah’s mercy. Sufis kindle the light of hope in the lives of the wretched of earth. Sufi thinking is nicely captured in a statement of the great Sufi Master Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani. Shaikh once was asked that if his good disciples will go to paradise, what will happen to his bad disciples. The Shaikh replied, “My good disciples love me and I love my bad disciples.” Akhter Hameed Khan followed the same thinking in working for social change. Through his love, wisdom, and knowledge, he lit up thousands of hearts with the glow of hope, self-confidence, self-pride, and passion for change.

Q.2 Can you briefly discuss the Center’s mission and its major accomplishments.

The Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center (AHKRC) in Islamabad is a repository of knowledge on rural development and poverty alleviation. It was established to commemorate the life-long services of the great development activist Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan. The Center’s main objectives are to accumulate, generate, and disseminate research-based knowledge for policy advocacy with the government, influence public opinion, create reading materials for higher education, and assist policy makers and CSOs  (Civil Society Organizations) in future programming.

The principal objective of the AHKRC is to promote a macro and micro level understanding of the causes and processes of change in the rural areas of the south in general and in Pakistan in particular. The purposes of stressing this objective are to promote the use of such understanding to develop and/or support rural development initiatives and programmes; to influence government, donor, media, and NGO policies; and to facilitate necessary human resource development to make all this possible.

AHKRC is supporting the International Islamic University (IIU) in running a masters’ degree Programme on Rural Development, and the Director of AHKRC is represented on IIU’s Board of Studies. Recently, AHKRC also formed a unique partnership with Maggie Ronkin at Georgetown University and Nadeem Akbar, Islamabad Director of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, to create a videoconferenced summer course for US-based undergraduates on Justice and Peace in Pakistan in 2010.

AHKRC has started a research group to support the work of leading scholars from local universities who seek to understand and analyze development programmes led by development icons from Pakistan. The goals achieved by the support will include reviewing literature on the programmes; formulating research questions in consultation with practitioners; consolidating and analyzing existing data and collecting additional data in light of the research questions; undertaking comparisons with similar programmes, and anchoring the research process in the field.

AHKRC facilitated the publication of Shoaib Sultan Khan’s book “Aga Khan Rural Support Programme: A Journey through Grass Roots Development” and the Urdu translation of “Rural Development in Pakistan” by Oxford University Press in 2009 and 2010. The Center plans to publish a volume commemorating Dr. Khan’s remarkable intellectual, social, and literary achievements and “RSPs–Growth and Change” by Mahmood Hassan Khan in 2010. The Director and AHKRC-affiliated scholars are widely published in national and international research journals. The Director received UNDP’s award for being one of the ten most prolific contributors to the Global Poverty Reduction Network in 2008 and 2009.

Q3. What prompted you to this kind of work?

Pakistan allocates much less of its GDP to social development than do other countries at the same level of income. A large part of this modest budget is not even spent during each financial year. The amount which is spent produces much lower results than its potential. This low performance is not due to lack of resources. It is caused by the lack of administrative infrastructure below the district level, the disconnect between the socio-economic reality of the poor and technical solutions of the formal sector, and the progressive deterioration of the government’s planning capacity. There is no social infrastructure below the district level to fill the gap caused by the absence of administrative infrastructure.

However, during the past 25 years, some very innovative experiments by CSOs have created the possibility of replicating their successful experiments by government and NGOs on a large scale. This, in turn, has produced the need to create a repository of knowledge on sustainable social development. I believe deeply in the effectiveness of discourses of knowledge in solving human problems, which cannot be handled by discourses of power. AHKRC offered me the opportunity to undertake this work. The opportunity, in fact, is why I resigned from a position with the UN and joined AHKRC.

Q4. Are there any particular experiences that you would like to share with our readers?

From my school days, I grew up with friends who belonged to the working class–sons of street vendors, donkey cart drivers, bicycle mechanics, wood cutters, and domestic servants. Most of them were very bright, hard working, intelligent, and well behaved. As I started moving to higher levels of study, many began to drop out of school because they had to help their parents earn a living. It made me very sad at that time and it makes me sad even now. The motivation to turn life around has been with me since. However, my Sufi teachers as well Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan made me realize that profound and meaningful change begins with self-change. The importance of this teaching is ignored by most revolutionary and political ideologies. All authoritarian and extremist ideologies overlook this truth and use enormous force to “change” others. That gives rise to intolerance, violence, and extremism. I was attracted to the work of Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan because it helps me to be what I am. He taught people humility, simplicity, hard work, patience, love, and care through his personal example.

Q5.  How did you get involved in the course on Justice and Peace in Pakistan?

Maggie Ronkin

I met Maggie Ronkin through Nadeem Akbar last year, and she shared her vision of starting a course to open channels of communication between undergraduates on North American campuses and Pakistani civil society. This idea touched my heart. The need to do away with stereotyping by means of both Pakistani and American images is equally important. Pakistan is an amazing melting pot like the USA, and both societies need to understand each other well. Pakistan is a very diverse, vibrant, and complex country brimming with talent. It has a rich cultural heritage and has been at the crossroads of many civilizations–Arab, Persian, Chinese, Central Asian, European, and Hindu. Pakistanis’ broad mindedness, hospitality, and enormous capacity to assimilate positive external influences is not widely known in the West. The commercialization and sensationalism of the media has largely strengthened and perpetuated negative stereotyping of Pakistanis. This has severely hampered the potential for meaningful interaction between Pakistanis and people in other parts of the world. Not only is this Pakistan’s loss; it is the loss of the entire global community. We must make efforts to change the situation in both nations’ schooling, because reducing human choices for interaction reduces human freedom.

Please visit our website on Justice and Peace in Pakistan at and spread the word about our summer course!