A Great Milestone for Pakistan: Second Successive Elected Government Ends its Term

June first was a historic day for Pakistan: as the caretaker prime minister took his oath of office, Pakistan, for the first time in its history, completed the full term of its second elected government. The skeptics would have us believe that it is no big deal, and that democracy has not solved many of our problems. All of these objections are valid but also rely on a faulty narrative, a narrative that democracy by itself can, somehow, immediately transform a nation. Democracy, however, is a messy and a long-term process and it takes years, decades sometimes, for things to change, but electing our representatives every five years through a fair election is the absolute first step toward greater change.

Yes, this government probably made a lot of mistakes, but they have had quite a few accomplishments as well and we, regardless of our party affiliations, should bear that in mind. As the system develops and becomes more transparent and responsive to people’s needs, it would continue to prefect itself.

Democracy, however, needs a responsible, aware, and critically conscious citizenry. I am not one of those who believe that only a college degree can make us into critically aware citizens; I think people can always be aware of their material conditions and then ask the government to remedy the ills around them. But I do believe that critically aware education can play an active role in enabling us to become more informed, tolerant,and responsible citizens of a democracy.

Democracy by itself is not a panacea for expedited development; it does not solve all our problems simply by being there. Democracy is first and foremost a process and it also creates, over the long-term, a system of government that MUST respond to the will of its constituents. It is this accountability in front of the people that makes democracy the best possible human-made system. Yes, sometimes the will of the majority can take us to places we do not want to go, but if the minority voices are heard and if the press does its job, or is allowed to do its job, of always informing the public and holding the powerful accountable, then a democratic system has a higher chance of perfecting itself in serving the people.

There are those in our society who believe that they are the only one’s who know the best interests of the people and the nation. Most of the times these privileged and powerful people have lived far removed from the every day exigencies of life; their needs are fulfilled, often at the cost of the future of our children. But from their safe, cozy and privileged existence, they deem that their opinions, somehow, should have more weight. Maybe, some of their claims are true, but to think that a few privileged individuals who have neither seen any want int their lives nor have had to struggle for existence can somehow KNOW the dreams and aspirations of the people is a dangerous kind of hubris.

There are also politicians who see being elected as an end in itself. For them, taking a public office means that they get the right and power to plunder the nation, build private wealth, and use their power to oppress people. This is the most dangerous group, for their actions are often invoked to “prove” that democracy and electoral politics is inherently corrupt and hence not suitable for Pakistan.

There are also those who consider  themselves the custodians of faith: they want us to believe that only their version of truth is worthy of our reverence and all others are either suspect or fit for elimination. sadly, these traders of faith also pit us against each other to a point that we come to hate others even when we do not have any personal interaction with them or even know them. This is another form of politics of hate and exclusivism.

And of course, there are also those who are actively engaged in destroying our national infrastructure and take pride in killing civilians and solders, all in the name of God.

These are some of the internal dangers that we face as a nation and as a result fascist thought and practices offer themselves as the ultimate solution to our problems. Against the material and ideological challenges to Pakistan, democracy, sometimes, comes across as a s slow, corrupt, and ineffective system. But we must never acceded to any other alternatives, especially the ones that silence the people, rely on hate, or ascribe our destinies to a coterie of unelected “leaders” who do  not have the power of popular vote behind them. We must continue to struggle for the creation of an open, fair, and transparent system of democratic government with the hope that an open system is more likely to become humane, representative, and accountable to the people. We all also must live responsible, compassionate, and informed lives. And, despite the myriad of our problems, we must remember that in the end we are all Pakistanis and, regardless of our differences, our destinies are intertwined with each other and with the future of Pakistan.

This government has concluded its term. Yes, there was corruption and a lot of those associated with power have done questionable things, but, to be fair, the government also tried to address people’s problems and did formulate policies to make people’s lives better. And all of this was done in the public eye with open debate in the national assembly: that is democracy! When our elected leaders make their decisions under the scrutiny of the press and with the full knowledge of their people, there are no secret deals possible.

So, while one government, imperfect as it may have been, has successfully concluded its term, let us prepare ourselves for the next one, and the one after that, all elected by the popular vote and held accountable by the people!


Why it is Absurd to Compare Pakistan Army and Pakistan Police


Lately, it seems, everyone is comparing the general conduct of the army and the police with reference to the two marches on Islamabad. Of course in this comparison, the army always comes out ahead. These comparisons are inherently absurd and are like comparing oranges with apples.

Both these institutions are still organized along colonial lines, which means that their organizational structures, training, and general conduct is based in our colonial legacy. The army, for example, has not only maintained the same rank structure as created by our erstwhile masters, it has also kept the informal symbolics of the civilian-military relationships also intact. The royal Indian army, of which the Pakistan army is one offshoot, was strictly professional, very well trained, and very well-funded: the Pakistan army has kept those traditions and, I would  say, further enhanced them. Furthermore, Pakistan army, when not deployed, is mostly stationed at self-contained and very well maintained cantonments, often separated from the cities, now more than ever, with either a security wall or a security barrier. Within the army itself, the battalions are fully self-contained units: this means that all the needs of a soldier are met, and the officers are trained to make sure that the needs of their soldiers are met. Thus, if there are two soldiers stationed on a check post, you can be sure that their three meals will be provided right on time and so would be their tea and other rations. If they fall ill, or are injured in the line of duty, they will have access to the best healthcare system that a nation can provide. It is no wonder, then, that the Pakistan army is more disciplined, organized, and better led. The officers are not only trained in the specifics of their professions, but also, formally and informally, trained as the leaders of men.

I remember that my first company commander–who later retired as a lieutenant general–taught me not only to check the weapons, and teach classes on tactics and small arms, but also the habits of thinking about my troops’ welfare. As an army officer, one either had to be completely callous or part of a terrible battalion to not learn the basic attributes of a good officer. It is this investment of resources, training, and organizational specificity that makes army such a professional and well honed instrument for the state. Furthermore, there is no direct political meddling in the general affairs of the army. I mean, if my battalion is deployed in aid of the civil power, chances are no one, other than my superior commanders, can tell me how to conduct my business. As a military commander one is protected from the pushes and pulls of political power or even the common vagaries of daily life. These organizational, material, and symbolic markers are crucial to training a professional army, and the Pakistan army, therefore, live sup to its impeccable reputation.

The Pakistan police also inherited its organizational and administrative structure from the British. Our police is still organized under the Thana/ Police Station system and relies quite heavily, and without government sanction, on the methods of policing and interrogation that were in vogue during the colonial times. None of the police organizations, however, is self sufficient and self-contained. Neither their officers, nor their men get the kind o intensive training that is provided for the army. Furthermore, the police interacts directly with the public and its leadership structures is deeply politicized. The police is also very ill-equipped and its soldiers neither get the kind of facilities that their army counterparts enjoy, nor do the police officers are trained to care for the welfare of their troops. (How many times have you driven through Islamabad and seen a policeman trying to get a lift to his job). Chances are, if four policemen are manning a post, they are expected to fend for themselves. There is likely to be no quartermaster’s truck bringing them their daily food and tea?. And before you blame their officers for not doing enough, take a look their budget!

Of course none of this excuses any violence committed by the police against PAKISTAN-MILITANCYevery day citizens, but when the government puts them on the front line in crowd control situations, then a lot of things can go wrong. In Islamabad, compared to police, who have faced the maximum brunt of the popular outrage, often under trying circumstances, the Pakistan army has been mostly behind the scenes. Thus, when they show up to resolve the issues–like they did at PTV station–they can afford to be magnanimous, for the dirty work has already been done by the police. Sadly, in this powerful game of political chess police has paid a heavy symbolic and material price: they have been beaten, abused, stoned, and generally criticized. I am not saying that all their actions were right, but despite their material and symbolic disadvantages, they have done their job: they have, by and large, protected the buildings and areas they were tasked to protect. Given the limitations placed on the amount of force they could use, this is not less than a spectacular performance. However, in order to really create an efficient and professional police force, the police will have to be reorganized and funded in the same way as the army.

The reason I am writing this is because a lot of my former army friends are right now gloating–digitally and otherwise–at the incompetence of our politicians and the army. I have read digital boasts about army being able to control the whole thing in one hour (My reply to that is “what are they waiting for?), and exhortations from others for the army to take over. Naturally, Pakistan army does not need any such comparative narratives: they can claim to be a good force without putting others down, but they do this because they have lately, like all other state institutions, faced criticism and some hostility from their own people. I have no problem with that. I think in a real democracy all institutions must be constantly under public scrutiny, for without that democracy cannot exist. But, on the other hand, try standing in the streets and try to control a bunch of protestors and then come back and boast about how much the army is loved and how effective it can be.

Police_IslamabadSo, overall I think all these comparisons between the performance of the army and police are flawed as they neither take into account the inherent structural and administrative inequalities, nor do they gauge the nature and extent of public involvement of both these institutions.

In the end both police and the army are instruments of the state with completely different missions and modes of functioning, and we should not be too hasty in privileging one over the other.

Announcements Editorials

Happy Birthday: Pakistan Forum

Today is the third birthday of The Pakistan Forum, which was launched under the title “Pakistaniaat Forum” as a blog affiliated with Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies. Not surprisingly, our first ever blog post was about the journal:

Pakistaniaat Call for Submissions–December Issue

That issue was successfully published and since then we have published four more issues of Pakistaniaat. The blog has now taken a life form of its own. From simple announcements to a few occasional commentaries from me, The Pakistan Forum has now become a multiauthor blog that also features a blog aggregation page, a link exchange page, and, the most important, features writings by more than twelve contributors. We promise to continue doing our best in the field of Pakistan studies and in our general engagement with issues related to Pakistan. In the last two years, we have published 442 blog entries, have received 326 comments from our readers, and more than 80, 000 unique visitors have visited our blog during this time.

Please accept our thanks and do visit us, read our posts, and share your thoughts with us. We are honored to be of service to Pakistan and its people.


Write for US

Now that we have transformed our blog into a multi-author, newspaper-like format, we would love for you to contribute your work. You can either email us your writings ( or register with the website as a contributor and upload your content directly.

Our Topics of Interest:

Pakistani Politics and Current Affairs

Pakistani Culture, History, and Stories

Pakistan-Related Announcements

Why Share your Work:

We believe that Pakistan is at a very critical juncture right now and it is imperative on us to foreground and showcase the progressive, enlightened, and inclusive voices of Pakistani intellectuals and writers. So please contribute, pass the word, and place our link on your websites and blogs.

Let us work together to fight the forces of intolerance and hate that seem to have claimed the Pakistani public sphere.

In Solidarity,

Editors, Pakistaniaat Forum


An anatomy of exceptionalism

An anatomy of exceptionalism

December 19, 2010 (5 days ago)

Reviewed By Brig A. R. Siddiqi

THE bedrock of Masood Ashraf Raja’s thesis in Constructing Pakistan is a critical study of Muslim ‘exceptionalism’ and ‘separateness’ leading eventually to ‘nationhood’ and partition. The author admits that the book does not offer the history of Muslim nationhood as a ‘unitary progressive narrative’, nor does it pretend to be a comprehensive chronicle of the Congress-led and Muslim League-seconded freedom movement leading to the end of the British Raj.

With regard to the end result — the partition of India — the freedom movement had less to celebrate and more to reflect on the disastrous consequences.

The term Muslim exceptionalism did not necessarily embrace the urge to create a separate homeland on the basis of a divided India. It was much like the natural urge of a Bengali to look, dress and speak like a Bengali and still coexist with a Pathan and Punjabi.

Pakistan, as a separate nation state was contrary to the ulema’s idea of a universal Islamic state without frontiers. They would legitimise statehood only in the name of Islam and hence the constant opposition of theologians and the ulema to the creation of Pakistan. That includes ulema on both ends of the spectrum — a religious reformer like Mawdudi, on the one end, and a nationalist Hussain Ahmed Madani on the other. Mawdudi was as much opposed to Pakistan as was Madani. Both had been bona fide Indian nationals and accepted their status as such.

In his book Composite Nationalism and Islam Madani argued that ‘Partition was the handiwork of the secular elite of the two communities and not of the religious leaders’.

What then was the driving force behind the making of Pakistan? What was the Quaid actually fighting for? A theocentric or a theocratic state?

The question that arises then is: was the driving force Muslim exceptionalism or the Hindu thrust for the re-conquest of India and its re-conversion into a sort of Bharatvarsha after centuries of foreign domination? It could be either. In fact, much more can be explained in metaphysical rather than in simple physical and political terms. There had never been any lack of ‘discourse or social communication between the two communities.’

Amir Khusro, Nizamuddin Auliya and the entire panoply of Muslim saints down to Delhi’s Khawja Hassan Nizami are considered a rare combination of the spiritual and the temporal. Hindus too had their own pantheon comprising Bhagat Sur Das, Tulsi Das, Meera Bai and of course Mahatma Gandhi intonating Ram and Rahim in the same breath.

The term Muslim exceptionalism in pre-partition usage was just another word for the All-India Muslim League’s demand for an independent Muslim state. The demand for Pakistan rose entirely from the prospect of a brute Hindu majority ruling over a Muslim minority and the ensuing inequalities and possible repression.

It is said also to have arisen from a sense of the loss of past glory that once belonged to the Muslims and the hope to revive it in an independent Muslim state. Muslim exceptionalism remained blissfully untainted by the rabid communalism of Bunkam, Chandra Chatterji, Swami Dayanad Saraswati, Swami Shadhanad down to Tilak, Dr Shayama Murkerjee and many others.

Masood Ashraf Raja has based his explanation of Muslim exceptionalism on ‘foundational’ literary texts of great Muslim writers and intellectuals of the 19th century. He mentions Mohammad Hussain Azad, Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali, Maulvi Nazir Ahmed, Shibli Naumani and Akbar Allahabadi, etc. as its pillars.

Prof Mushirul Hassan, in his classic A Moral Reckoning: Muslim intellectuals in 19th century Delhi simply overturns the argument by highlighting the patriotic sentiment underlying and galvanising the work of the various intellectuals. Even Sayyid Ahmed Khan, wrongly said to be the pioneer of the two-nation theory, had been a great Indian patriot.

Though apprehensive of the status of Muslim minority under Hindu majority in the post-Raj independent India, he remained dedicated to the idea of an undivided free-India. Prof Hassan goes on to quote, at length, from the works of Farhatullah Beg, Zakullah and Nazir Ahmed to demonstrate their love of the land even if in the specific context of the Delhi culture and literary writings.

How could a community of such devoted and creative Hindustanis such as Khusro, Ghalib and Bahadur Shah Zafar subscribe to the theory of Muslim exceptionalism, least of all separatism? Even Iqbal, the ideological father of Pakistan, composed the Tirana-i-Hindi and hymns in praise of Raja Bharatahari and called Lord Rama ‘Imam-ul-Hind’.

The Muslims of India accepted India as their homeland. They interacted with the Hindus to produce a rich Indo-Muslim culture, cuisine, architecture and Urdu as a rich literary medium. The scope and rationale for Muslim exceptionalism remains open to debate.

Constructing Pakistan
By Masood Ashraf Raja
Oxford University Press, Karachi
ISBN 978-0-19-547811-2
156pp. Rs495


Abstracts From Pakistaniaat Vol 2, No 3 (2010)

The first special issue of Pakistaniaat, edited by Dr. Cara Cilano, has now been pblished. Provided below are the abstracts of four wonderful articles inclduded in this issue.

Please support the journal through online/Print subscriptions or by purchasing some print copies.


The Break-Up of Pakistan

Philip Oldenburg
Essay traces what the author identifies as the four phases of the 1971 conflict:  the initiation of military hostilities in March 1971; Kissinger’s visit to Peking; the war with India at the end of that year; and the transfer of power to Mujib.

The Birth of Bangladesh/Nefarious Plots and Cold War Sideshows

Roger Vogler
This Paper examines, from the perspective of an American architect living and working in India at the time, many of the events and circumstances that led to the destruction in 1971 of Pakistan as it had originally ben constituted 24 years before.  Among these were the enormous geographic challenges faced from Pakistan’s inception, its deep-seated ethnic incompatibilities, its huge economic imbalances and rampant political egos, and a devastating typhoon.  The paper also explores the tragic human consequences of an American foreign policy that could only see these events and circumstances through a prism of Cold War hatred and suspicion.

Superpower Relations, Backchannels, and the Subcontinent

Luke A. Nichter, Richard A. Moss
In his 1978 memoirs, President Nixon claimed, “By using diplomatic signals and behind-the-scenes pressures we had been able to save West Pakistan from the imminent threat of Indian aggression and domination. We had also once again avoided a major confrontation with the Soviet Union.”[1] Kissinger’s far more detailed chapter on “the tilt,” in the first volume of his memoirs, White House Years, complements and largely corroborates Nixon’s. Kissinger argued that Nixon did not want to “squeeze Yahya” and tried to put forward a neutral posture to the bloodshed in East Pakistan so as not to encourage secessionist elements within an ally, Pakistan, which was divided into two wings over 1,000 miles apart astride India.[2] Above all, before his secret trip to China in July 1971, Kissinger wanted to preserve the special channel to the P.R.C., and he saw three obstacles to handling the situation in South Asia: “the policy of India, our own public debate, and the indiscipline of our bureaucracy.” Kissinger stressed that the U.S. attempted to restrain India by making clear American opposition to Indo-Pakistani conflict and attempting to force the Soviet Union to control their ally, India. Nevertheless, the two South Asian countries marched towards conflict following a string of natural disasters in East Pakistan—later the independent nation of Bangladesh, an election loss for Pakistan President Yahya Khan to Mujib Rahman, and Yahya’s subsequent crackdown in East Pakistan against Bangladeshi independence.

Pakistani-Chinese Relations: An Historical Analysis of the Role of China in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

Mavra Farooq

The purpose of this essay is to bring into focus the cordial relations that existed between Pakistan and China during the Bhutto Era from 1969 to 1977, and to highlight the role of China during the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971.

Both countries had different ideologies and backgrounds. Relations between the two countries developed on the basis of national interest rather than ideology. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto writes:

States deal with states, as such, and not with their social systems or ideologies. If such an argument was carried to its logical conclusion, Pakistan should have friendly relations only with Muslim states and should isolates itself from the rest of the world. It is a historical fact that Islam, as a political force, has suffered more at the hands of Christian states than of others… It is unlikely that China is going to be responsible for the fall of Granada or Pakistan or for wrestling of Jerusalem from the Muslim States. Our reactions are based on the Bandung principles and on the adherence to the concept of non-interference. Nowhere is it mentioned in the scriptures of Islam that fostering friendship with non-Islamic states involves a compromise of identity.1.

This research article undertakes a historical, analytical and documented study of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s foreign relations and politics with China with the goal of explaining how and why Pakistan had friendly and cordial relations with China. The main question is if both countries have different ideologies why are they so close to each other? In international relations, there is neither a permanent friend nor enemy; interests are preferred.

Announcements Commentaries Culture Politics

The Floods in Pakistan: Short Interview with Fayyaz Baqir, Director Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center

The Floods in Pakistan
Short Interview with Fayyaz Baqir, Director
Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center
Islamabad, August 20, 2010

Maggie Ronkin

Donor link:

1. What regions of Pakistan and sectors of the population are affected most by the tragic flooding?

Vast swaths of land in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (previously the Northwest Frontier Province), Southern Punjab (the Siraiki region of the Punjab), Sindh, and Balochistan have been devastated by the recent floods. These floods are considered to be the worst in the entire world during the past hundred years. It is not an exaggeration that fifteen million families have been rendered homeless, and hundreds of thousands of homes have been wiped off the face of the earth. Hundreds of villages are no more. Standing crops over thousands of acres, cattle, infrastructure, and productive assets of millions of families have been lost due to flooding. A woman from a very well off and respected family of a rural district contacted by phone said “Everything is gone. We are beggars”. Scores of women from small farm and landless families burst into tears when asked about their plight. “There is no food, no water, no medicine, no help” most of them narrated. If they do not receive assistance soon, they may reach the point where they think that there is “no hope”. Such a situation will add another dimension to the crisis because desperate minds are fertile ground for militants. This is a great humanitarian crisis to which the world’s conscience needs to respond. The scale of this tragedy is so enormous that the country’s entire population is reeling in shock.

2. What does the devastation in Pakistan look like to you on the ground?

Thousands of human settlements are under ten or fifteen-foot deep water. Dead cattle can be found everywhere. Innumerable people are stranded in areas surrounded by water. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, children, and elderly people who managed to move out of their houses leaving behind their assets accumulated over a life time have squatted along the roads. Tents are in extremely short supply, so the homeless sit under the burning sun without any shade to cover their heads. They often seem overwhelmed and unable to decide what to do. There are shortages of food, safe drinking water, and medicine. Whenever food arrives, scrambling for it leads to scuffles, and inevitably, the poor, weak, and households headed by women are hurt the most. There is no organized, visible, and dependable government assistance available.

3. What can be done to counter “donor fatigue” and the perception that indigenous aid organizations are untrustworthy?

Please be assured that the media are underestimating the resilience, resourcefulness, and capacity of the people to cope with the disaster due to the presence of hundreds of formal and informal institutions and mechanisms that help people on a day-to-day basis. Credible, effective, and trustworthy actors certainly abound. They include philanthropists, NGOs, custodians of shrines, voluntary associations, government agencies, and, yes, the army. Some politicians also have played very active and constructive roles in reaching out to people. All tiers of the government cannot be trusted and government cannot reach out everywhere given the enormous scale of this tragedy.

Two factors are key here. One is that DCOs, those in charge of districts, enjoy much less power, respect, and authority than did their predecessors, the Deputy Commissioners (DCs). Therefore, they are much less effective. Another is that elected local government officials were released from their jobs a few months ago. New local elections were not held because the ruling parties in each province wanted elections when they could achieve “favourable” results. Establishing links among doers, donors, and communities in need is the most important step. It is not transparency of government and relief assistance alone but sharing of information in general that is most critical. We need information gathering, analysis, packaging, and dissemination through electronic, print, and verbal means in a big way. Mainstream and alternative media have to play active roles to build links and trust. Once trust and links are established, donor fatigue will go away.

4. In what areas is need greatest this week (e.g., shelter, food, medicine, etc.)? In what areas will need be greatest a month and three months from now?

As images circulated across the globe show, affected people and communities have lost everything. The greatest need this week is for tents, food, water, and medicine. One to three months from now the need will be greatest for productive assets like seed, cattle, ploughing instruments, water pumps to drain out trapped water, building materials, and credit.

A package to meet the basic food requirements of a family of 5-7 people includes 20 kg flour, 5 kg sugar, 5 kg oil, 1 kg tea, 5 kg pulses and lentils, 3 kg dry milk, and a few boxes of matches. It meets a family’s food needs for one week and costs Rs. 3200 (US $38). This is the cost of 5 lunches on the go in the USA. Millions of families need help. However, even making a donation to help a single family is like lighting a candle.

5. What can US-based educators do to best represent and encourage interest in the tremendous challenges now faced by ordinary Pakistanis?

Please link up with credible charities, NGOs, and autonomous government departments. Disseminate information on effective local actors to donors, volunteers, and technical experts who can help the affected communities, and raise and disburse funds. One way to identify effective local organizations is through the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy (PCP). The PCP accredits NGOs in a thorough and rigorous process, and a list of accredited NGOs is displayed on their website. Another way to identify credible organizations is through the UNOCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. It has a district and function-wise list of credible NGOs in the field.) The World Bank-supported multi-million dollar Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) is another source for finding credible partners. Their partners are well scrutinized and selected after a careful appraisal process. Last and not least is the National Centre for Human Development (NCHD), which is headed by a former civil society activist and media professional who is highly respected for her competence, integrity, and commitment to the downtrodden.