Lahore Massacre: Mourn and Then Stand Up for Our Children!

Another day, another massacre: target, our children. This is the sad reality of Pakistan, a country gone so wrong that to put it on the right course of history (if we can collectively figure out the right course) seems to be a task beyond human capabilities.

This time the same perpetrators–those who claim to know the mind of God and can only enforce their version of religion through violence–targeted women and children at a park. I could call them cowards, but that would be stating the obvious and I am also tired of such labels. There is a limit to what one can accept as normal, and killing children in the name of any God, no matter how holy, can never be right!

We have been here before: last time they came and killed our children, we resolved to send them a message. We announced an end to such cruelties and enacted laws, laws that would not only permit our armed forces to pursue and destroy these terrorists but would also allow the nation to prosecute all forms of hate speech. We have failed in implementing those laws. In the end, laws are useless without implementation and without the popular will behind them.

While our children were being killed, the followers of a religious political party were busy destroying our capital to protest the legal execution of a murderer. It seems our mullahs and their acolytes are far too busy defending the murderers and have no time for the innocents killed in the name of their religion.

Yes, the Taliban need to be defeated! But more importantly, we need to defeat and wipe out all traces of fascist thought, hate speech, and acts pf epistemic and material violence. For far too long we have allowed these merchants of death and hatred to define our public discourse! It is time we took the public sphere back and mounted our collective acts of rhetorical and semiotic interdiction. We all have to speak up and condemn all such acts, all statements that scapegoat people, that pit one group against other. We need to hold our so-called religious scholars accountable when they maintain their troubling silence when our children are being killed. We need to make Pakistan a dangerously hostile place for all Taliban sympathizers.

Yes, today we cry for our children and for the innocent killed in Lahore, but let our tomorrow be full of hope and resolve. This fight is for our future, for the sustenance of a nation that can tolerate difference and where all citizens feel safe and protected. We need to work together for a Pakistan where no one lives in fear, and where the purpose of the law is to protect and nourish life and where religion serves as a solace and not as weapon to destroy life!

How would we do that? Hard question to answer. Against such forces of hate we all feel powerless, weak, and ineffective. We feel weak because we have internalized thinking individually, in isolation. If we all stand together and mount our semiotic and material resistance, the one would become many and many is the thing that these monsters cannot face!

So, let us put aside our political, cultural and religious differences. Let us make it our mission to voice our opinions whenever anyone tries to frame one group as unwanted to posit any novel ideas of religion that exclude some people from the promise of our nation. Yes, we need to work in our own spheres, in solidarity, but persistently and sincerely. We need to hold our journalists, our leaders, our military commanders accountable: we need to remind them that they serve us, that we are the people and that without us there would be no country for them to govern!

Here are some of the things we can do:

  • If there is a civil society protest in your city, join it. Add your body and your voice to it.
  • Write: blogs, articles, tweets, Facebook posts! Words matter!
  • Report all acts of semiotic and material violence.
  • Question the mullahs and their ilk. Ask them what their plans are for the future.
  • Help the weak amongst you.
  • Do not think of anyone as less Pakistani than you because of their gender, religion, ethnicity, or region.
  • Absolutely always challenge any narratives sympathetic to the Taliban and their like. Yes, they are angry and probably disenchanted, but does that give them the right to kill our children?

Yes, we mourn today, for the loss is great and the wounds deep. But we are a resilient nation. We have been here before. We have been tested time and time again. And yet, despite these atrocities, average citizens of Pakistan wake up every day, go to work, love their children, take care of their parents, and love their neighbors. This love and respect for each other is the glue that binds us; this is the mortar that holds the edifice of our nation together. So, let us live through this and remember that from now on every inch of the public sphere is at stake and we cannot concede it to these merchants of death without a fight.

In the end, we only live once. Let us live with honor and let us live to create a better future for our children!


Mumtaz Qadri: A Case of False Hero Worship

MQThat we Pakistanis are always seeking larger-than-life figures to, somehow, lead us out of our mediocrity is almost a cultural truism. We have Maulvis, cricketers, businessmen, ex-generals, and now–thanks to our inner micro fascist tendencies–a murderer to give us hope of a better future.

As you might be aware, Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered Governor Salman Taseer in cold blood, the person he had taken an oath to protect, has finally been executed. Since I am generally against all kinds of corporal punishments, I am therefore  not going to exult in his execution. I am, however, interested in offering a sort of sober analysis of Qadri the murderer, self-confessed, and Qadri the icon that the religious parties in Pakistan are celebrating.

The conservative and fundamentalist valorization of Qadri relies on a certain specific logic:

  • Salman Taseer, according to them, had blasphemed against the Prophet.
  • Taseer was thus killable.
  • Mumtaz Qadri killed him
  • Thus, he fulfilled his religious duty.

First and foremost, even if we were to agree with their interpretation of the Blasphemy law, which is completely against Imam Abu Hanifa’s explanation of it, Qadri himself could not have been the judge and the executioner for Taseer. If Taseer had blasphemed, he had to be dealt with the state under the blasphemy law that he had ‘dared’ to criticize. Furthermore, if we are being Islamic, he would have the right to due process and would have had the right to defend himself in the court. Now, if you disagree with his right to due process, then you are actually admitting something worse about your faith: you are suggesting that the justice system in Islam does not follow due process and is totally arbitrary. Of course, justice is not arbitrary in Islam.

Thus, Qadri’s decision to kill Taseer was not really Islamic in any sense of the Islamic justice system. It was, rather, an act of murder based on a subjective decision, a kind of subjective dispensing of justice that would never be permissible in true Islam.

Furthermore, if he did this to gain favor with the Almighty and was willing to die for his actions, then that is what he should have done. He should gone into the court and not defended himself with an army of lawyers. If he really wanted to be a”Shaeed” he should have “asked” to be executed! Isn’t that what all saints and martyrs have done historically!

But instead, his followers put the state of Pakistan and its judiciary in a precarious situation. Qadri’s lawyers appealed his death sentence at every level of the judicial system and then even sent a final request for clemency to the President! In other words, what they were asking the government to accept was that under certain circumstances private citizens can, and should be, allowed to kill other citizens! This would have been the long-term outcome if the government had acceded to the legal and moral requests to “forgive” Qadri.

So, let us assume that according to our zealous countrymen, Qadri did perform his duty and became a hero. Then why are they in the streets protesting his execution? For him to become this hero, this martyr, the execution is a necessary precondition! Without being put to death, he cannot become the kind of hero that they have made him into. In a way, then, the Pakistani government has done him a favor and facilitated his rise to sainthood!

But more important than Qadri and his followers and acolytes is the question of permissibility in our society. Do we want the public sphere governed by the rule of law, or do we want a system in which anyone can suddenly become a judge and start executing other citizens? I am pretty sure that at least Mawdudi would have absolutely disagreed with such kind of anarchic readings of the Muslim code of conduct. So, in all due humility, my hope is that our religious leaders who have made Qadri into an icon would seriously pause and ponder at what kind of a future they are imagining and perpetrating in our streets by ennobling and valorizing a murderer.


On Hate Speech and Hate Crimes in Pakistan

(We will act against literature, newspapers and magazines that are spreading hate, [ideas of] beheading people, sectarianism, extremism and intolerance. (National Action Plan, Pakistan)


In the wake of the Peshawar massacre, the most important trend that has emerged in the Pakistani public sphere is the focus, both by the government and the civil society, on the hitherto unimpeded hate speech.

Even though compared to the destructive power of terrorists, creating some laws that claim to monitor hate speech and prosecute hate crimes seems like a staid and rather tame response, having such laws on record is extremely crucial to the future of Pakistan as a progressive and tolerant nation.

Laws, at least, give us a statutory reference against which we can measure the words of our leaders as well as other public figures. The laws, thus, allow us to learn the habits of thinking not only in moral terms but also in legal and juridical terms. In the past, even though most of us often heard our neighborhood mullahs speak against women, Shias, Christians, Ahmadis and other Pakistanis, we never really paused to think abut the legal ramifications of their words, even when some of us might have found their words morally troubling. But now with increased focus on the legality of these statements at least we will know that what is being said against another community in the name of religion is illegal. Furthermore, this legal sanction is absolutely necessary to control the power of militant propaganda that relies on fomenting inter-ethnic and inert-sect and inter-religious strife.

According to section 20 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”[1] Note that this is the approved version of international law relating to nation-states, but a modified form of this is absolutely necessary in Pakistan. A law that monitors hate speech and then enables us to prosecute hate crimes is absolutely essential to Pakistan’s survival.

I am, however, not just advocating that only a strict law should be legislated and implemented. I think it is necessary to make hate speech an issue in the public sphere and the print and digital media can help shape this debate. The media should take it on as a public service to highlight and point out individual and collective acts of hate speech and hate crimes. Sadly, in the wake of Peshawar massacre, at least one media personality, found it apt to blame, of all people, the Ahmadiyya community as the ultimate threat to Pakistan. However, this blatant act of scapegoating did not go unnoticed and other media outlets challenged this scapegoating and one of the public petitions against this coverage has so far garnered signatures from over nine thousand people.[2] I know these are not significant numbers, but this tradition to hold hate-mongers accountable is certainly a positive trend for the future of Pakistan.

Yes, it is obvious that hate speech laws can also sometimes be used to curtail freedom of expression and thus a strict implementation of the law could end up impinging on the rights of the press and public intellectuals. That is why it is so hard to convince people about hate speech laws in the United States, as all speech is protected under the US constitution. But even in the US, speech that aims to incite violence toward others or that simply targets a group for no reason at all, is considered hate speech and there is, at least, a public response against such speech. In the Pakistani context, the purpose of the law could be to restrict and monitor a certain specific kind of hate speech, the kind of speech that our mullahs use pretty much in every Friday sermon as well as in most of their public pronouncements.

So, it is important to approach the issue with a certain degree of legal and cultural subtlety. There are certain obvious kinds of speech that can be very easily labeled hate speech:

  • All announcements or incitements to violence against a group or an individual based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion.
  • All speech and acts that encourage armed resistance against the Pakistani state and its institutions.
  • All speech that aims at public humiliation or policing of women, minorities, or other such constituencies.
  • All acts of public speech that encourage people to damage public or private property for a political cause.
  • All acts of speech that incite people to perform acts of popular violent justice without due process of the law.

Having hate speech laws on record, even when not strictly implemented, is important for the people, especially the writers and activists who fight discrimination in Pakistan. They all can, at least, point to the illegality of speech by the Mullahs and force the government or the courts to take notice. This became evident in the recent campaign by Jibran Nasir

and others who gathered outside the Lal Masjid in Islamabad to protest the Taliban-sympathetic stance of Maulvi Abdul Aziz. Quite a few things enabled the people from the civil society: the media covered the rhetoric of the maulvi, the people were enraged at the Peshawar massacre, and the government was immediately enacting and honing new laws against terrorism, including some measures against the terrorist sympathizers. This nexus of events and possibilities created that one chance where the civil society protestors were heard and eventually the police and the courts were forced to take up the issue. The government has not done much about it yet, but at least something has been started because of a citizen initiative. Now if hate speech laws are on record, any member of the civil society can ask for a case to be registered whenever some mullah or others incite hate and violence against an individual or a community. So, what we have is good enough for now, but a more nuanced system of accountability for hate crimes and hate speech is needed.


We need to go beyond the current laws, but this is a great start. For years we as a nation have conceded the public sphere, inch by inch, to the religious leaders or their followers. As a result, these groups have drastically curtailed our own movement within the public sphere. Their power has also impacted the ideological realm, the realm of public discourse where progressive and civic-minded people can be condemned and put under threat. Monitoring hate speech and holding those who incite violence against others is a crucial first step in ensuring that no supra-state organizations can police the lives of Pakistani people, especially if they attempt it through fear and intimidation.

Yes, I understand I am not suggesting a revolutionary step to change Pakistan’s future, but such small changes have huge ramifications for the future. Pakistan no longer needs to be the country where minorities can so easily be a target of group violence on the incitement of village maulvis: remember the murders of Shama Bibi and Sajjad Maseeh, the Christian couple killed and burned by their neighbors on the incitement of a mullah![3] Also, the recent trial of Mr. Qadri, a murderer, is yet another example of how normative this mode of thinking has become: on the surface, the argument of his lawyer is that any citizen can declare a person a blasphemer and can then carry out a death sentence just as Mr. Qadri did for Salman Taseer. And, furthermore, this year even the small gathering to remember Salman Taseer’s murder was attacked by the followers of a religious group. Thus, it seems, not only do we have a society where murder can be publically praised, but we have also reached a state of affairs where simple acts of remembering our dead can be made into a motive for violence.

Having strong hate speech laws, laws that absolutely forbid all incitements to violence against weaker groups, against women, against minorities and others are absolutely necessary and it is therefore salutary to see that the current government is working in the same direction.

As citizens of a state where the public sphere has increasingly become more conservative, it is imperative on us as citizens as well as the media to continue fighting—within the material, legal and semiotic domains—for inclusion of silenced voices and for the monitoring of hateful and destructive voices.

Sometimes, it would take for us to admit the wrongs first, to acknowledge the darkest aspects of our private as well as public culture: a kind of collective self-examination of our own actions.

Whatever we do, we should know without a doubt that silence is no longer an option!


Raja tweets @masoodraja

[1] For details, please see





Peshawar Attack: The Way Forward

After we have buried our dead children and taken care of the wounded, we as a nation must come together to decide our future. The massacre of our children by the terrorists who call themselves mujahideen is a great tragedy and we should remember this day as a day of great loss but also as the day when Pakistanis came together with a resolve to eliminate these murderers of our children.

Yes, no more proxy wars. No more good or bad Taliban! No secret agendas! No more creation of monsters within our nation, for the monsters have a strange tendency of turning on their handlers. No, we must fight these savages on all fronts symbolic and material. We all, in our own humble ways, stand in solidarity and declare that we want peace and a nation of equals and NO ONE has the right to intimidate us in the name of any creed, religion, or ideology.

Many of my friends and I, feeling helpless, have wondered since yesterday “What can we do?” Against a monstrosity such as the Taliban, it is natural to feel powerless and helpless. But the question itself is our salvation, for it means that deep down, even in this moment of despair and helplessness, we are all thinking of doing something. And if we are thinking of doing something at the moment when our wills should have been broken–as the Taliban might have hoped–then we are already on the right track, for the will to do something is the beginning of all things great and beautiful!

So, what can we do? Let us strengthen a symbolics of solidarity. Let us get together in our streets, markets, places of work and hold prayer meetings for the victims. Let us light some candles, bring some flowers, and join each other in acts of collective mourning. This does not sound like much, but sharing our grief together as a symbolic act will go a long way in healing this deep wound and in forging a national resolve to face these murderers.

Watch your mullahs. Yes, if anyone of them offers a bizarre justification for these murders challenge them publicly. There is no justification for such murders and anyone who attempts to put a religious spin on it is not a friend of Pakistan. Yes, watch the mullahs and hold them accountable for their statements especially if they try to pour the venom of sectarian hatred in your ears. Tell them we have had enough of their hateful poison! We will no longer tolerate religious justifications for murders and other atrocities!

Do  not externalize! Yes, we have a tendency to blame the others. This was not RAW, MOSSAD, or the CIA. The Pakistan Army has undeniable proof that the terrorists in school were in contact with  Fazlullah’s people while they were murdering our children. Hold him and his followers accountable.

Support the troops: The Pakistan army is in a fight for the future of Pakistan. Let us lend them our material and symbolic support.

We have suffered a great loss; we are weary of grief over the murder of our children. Our enemies, the Taliban, did this to break our will, to terrify us, to humble us. We have already proven them wrong by coming together. Let us rise from this blow to our hearts. Let us rise together and take a stand! Let us send a message to these murderers:

We are a resilient and proud nation. We shall not bow down. We shall defeat you and the likes of you and when we are done, Taliban will be remembered as an extinct species of savages that the Pakistani nation wiped out from the face of the earth!


Imran Khan and the Politics of Hubris

Delusional Disorder:

Themes of delusions may fall into the following types: erotomanic type (patient believes that a person, usually of higher social standing, is in love with the individual); grandiose type (patient believes that he has some great but unrecognized talent or insight, a special identity, knowledge, power, self-worth, or special relationship with someone famous or with God); jealous type (patient believes his partner has been unfaithful); persecutory type (patient believes he is being cheated, spied on, drugged, followed, slandered, or somehow mistreated); somatic type (patient believes he is experiencing physical sensations or bodily dysfunctions—such as foul odors or insects crawling on or under the skin—or is suffering from a general medical condition or defect); mixed type (characteristics of more than one of the above types, but no one theme dominates); or unspecified type (patient’s delusions do not fall in described categories).{{1}}[[1]][[1]]


Increasingly, as we watch Imran Khan make his daily pronouncements, we get an impression that his fight with Nawaz Sharif is not really about the issues but is deeply personal.

Imran Khan is now showing the perfect symptoms of a delusional disorder. In this state, he is the only one with the character and strength to save Pakistan and everyone else is either corrupt or insincere. Further signs of this conditions can be seen his increasing return to a moment in personal history–the cricket world cup–which he can define and mobilize as the ultimate moment of personal glory.

So, if the purpose of the march was to force the government to look into the alleged election irregularities, then the mission has been accomplished. But that would have been the goal if Imran Khan were to have focused on the demands of his party. But his personal demand that the Prime Minister should resign as a precondition to negotiations has nothing to do with democracy or the general plans of his party but all to do with his personal hubris.

Naturally, if you are deluded enough to think that only YOU can be the ultimate saviour of a whole nation, then eliminating the one obstacle in your way becomes the ultimate objective.

Needless to say, this personal vendetta coupled with a fanatical belief in his own purity and incorrigibility strongly underwrites Imran Khan’s current politics.

Note that not many have been spared in his daily rants: By now former Chief Justice, the Chief Minister of Balochistan, and quite a few others have either been declared corrupt or have been labelled as an outcome of corrupt elections.

I have deep respect for his followers, for they have shown us that the young and the upward mobile segments of Pakistani society can come together for their nation. Sadly though their leader, instead of harnessing their energies for public good has decided to instrumentalise them for a personal fight.

At this point, it does not seem likely that anyone or any concessions from the government will be able to change Imran Khan’s mind. The reason for this is not that the government is not willing to concede, but that they are dealing with someone whose world-view is no longer rational. How does one negotiate with someone whose delusions of grandeur have completely taken over his rational self?

Furthermore, by constantly insisting on resignation of the elected prime minister, Imran Khan has trapped himself in an impossible situation in which his “victory” is connected to an almost impossible demand. But the demand itself, the pronouncement of it, has now become the Raison d’ˆtre of Imran Khan ‘s fight: he is no longer fighting for democracy or for Pakistan. He is, rather, now trying to prove, at the cost of democracy itself, that he does not compromise!

Sadly, while Imran Khan might be able to prove his resolve and fortitude through this process, he would have ultimately weakened the democratic process in Pakistan and empowered, yet again, the very forces that have always governed our destinies in Pakistan.

(Also published by Pakistani Bloggers)



This is not the Time for Cricket Metaphors

Pakistani politician Imran Khan stands on a vehicle in Mianwali, northern Pakistan

In the wake of the recent popular protests in Islamabad, quite a few cultural and political writers have opined upon the nature and potential of these protests. Some have even compared these events to the Tahrir Square.

In this excitement to valorize popular protest, we should be careful with our labels and with our assertions. By and large most commentaries assert that Imran Khan, the erstwhile cricket captain of Pakistan, has somehow tapped into the hopes and aspirations of Pakistani middle class and has singlehandidly inaugurated popular politics in Pakistan.

There is no doubt that Imran Khan, along with Maulana Tahirul Qadri, has been able to mobilize the people against the current government. But the question one needs to ask is simply this: Is the timing right for such a movement and is this what is in Pakistan’s best interest?

Imran Khan, in his public speeches, increasingly mobilizes the cricket metaphor: in this metaphoric engagement with the political realities of the Pakistan, he is the captain, the government the competing team, and, he somehow, hopes that his political bowling will “clean bowl” Nawaz Sharif. Occasionally he has also referred to the third umpire. The third umpire, it must be noted, is the on camera umpire who is refereed to if the players disagree with the decisions made by the ground umpires. One has to ask, what does he mean by it? If he is already against the government and cannot trust the judiciary—the two ground umpires—then the third umpire could be no other than the Pakistan army, and if that is what happens to be the force behind these protests then nothing good would come out of this whole experience.

Pakistan can do without these agitational politics, especially since what Pakistan needs is a continuous and uninterrupted political system. Imran Khan, sadly, has disrupted the progress of democracy and even if he declares that this fight is not against democracy, by weakening the current government and thus the political system, Imran has damaged the very thing—democracy—which he hopes to bolster.

Furthermore, even though he claims to clean the government and enhance Pakistan’s political potential, his stamens are increasingly isolationist and rely on a politics of personal and political assassination of all those who oppose his views. Such unbending attitude to issues of leadership and such crafting of a public self as unbending and uncompromising might work well with his followers but cannot be considered an asset for parliamentary politics. By its very structuring, the parliamentary democracy relies on tactical and strategic compromises and if one were to enter the arena with a fanatical certitude, then chances are one would not be able to accomplish much. Thus, while Imran Khan’s daily pronouncements might keep his followers spellbound, his brand of politics can have no long-term impact in a fractured and divided political landscape of Pakistan.

Furthermore, while Imran Khan sits in Islamabad and harangues his followers and exhorts the prime minister to resign, his own government in the KPK province has not much to show for their one year in office.

As a politician Imran Khan won the government of one of the most important provinces of Pakistan, and that is where he should have tried to deliver. What better way to prove the effectiveness of your political party than to do great works in the most riven and strategically important provinces of Pakistan.

Sadly, though, while Imran Khan continues to relive his glory days and constantly talks of this current political impasse as a game of cricket, the reality of Pakistani politics gets reduced to a game, a game in which Imran Khan sees himself as a captain and we all are reduced to the level of engaged, but voiceless, spectators. And while all of this is happening, the economy is at a standstill, most of the functions of the federal government are disrupted, and the lives of every day Pakistanis—the very people Imran Khan claims to represent—are becoming increasingly harder.

In the current circumstances, considering the security and economic interests of Pakistan, we could use more of silent diligent work and less of these cricket metaphors.



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.


Article 245 and the Situation in Islamabad

245. Functions of Armed Forces.- 1[(1)] The Armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.

(2) The validity of any direction issued by the Federal Government under clause (1), shall not be called in question in any Court.

(3) A High Court shall not exercise any jurisdiction under Article 199 in relation to any area in which the Armed Forced of Pakistan are, for the time being, acting in aid of civil power in pursuance of Article 245:

Provided that this clause shall not be deemed to affect the jurisdiction of the High Court in respect of any proceeding pending immediately before the day on which the Armed Forces start acting in aid of civil power.

(4) Any proceeding in relation to an area referred to in clause (3) instituted on or after the day the Armed Forces start acting in aid of civil power and pending in any High Court shall remain suspended for the period during which the Armed Forces are so acting.]

PakconstitutionIn the recent take over of the PTV building and its eventual peaceful clearance by the Rangers and Pakistan army, the Pakistani media have been opining about the absence of police and the warm welcome received by the troops when they arrived at the airport.

I think in this frenzy to constantly create visual and news content, most Pakistani news channels have failed to ask the most important questions about the nature of Article 245 of the Constitution.

I have cited the article above in full text so that none of my views are considered just mere speculation. It is a fact that the federal government of Pakistan invoked the article 245 as far back in June of 2014 but only to safeguard any terrorist threats.

In the current crisis, the argument from the army has been that it cannot be deployed to solve political crisis, which literally means that army does not feel duty-bound to aid the government against the two marches. This, in fact, is a very liberal reading of the article 245.

The article, cited above, states categorically:

The Armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.

Note, there are no exceptions here, no room for a subjective interpretation. Furthermore, the army has done this countless times before. Most of my service in Sindh in the mid nineteen eighties was “in aid of the civil power” fighting the dacoits in interior Sindh; I was also deployed in the same role in Karachi when the ethnic clashes broke out in Karachi in 1986. Of course, the country was then being run by a dictator, but when we filled our forms, our duty was listed as IS duty (Internal Service) and that is how it was defined and understood.

We were also taught, and we practiced it, that after the local magistrate hands over the situation to the local military commander (we had to fill a form A for that) the area came under total control of the army and police had no jurisdiction over it.

So, while I laud the heroic acts of the army in saving the PTV building, it was, under the constitution, already there job, especially if the building was included in the sensitive areas under their protection. According to the constitution, the police should have not been there at all.

furthermore, if section 245 is still in effect, then asking the police to handle something they are ill-equipped to do does not sound like a sound strategy. So, our politicians and generals should read our constitution and then go on suggesting the best measures to each other.

Pakistan is in serious and dangerous situation right now, and at this juncture we should use the constitution to guide our actions–that is the reason the constitution exists– rather than relying on the subjective interpretations of politicians and generals.

And our dear journalists should be asking these hard questions and they should be educating us about the constitution and its importance!


New York Times Editors Mobilize an Army of Cliches to Exhort Pakistani Government

In an editorial entitled “Pakistan, Its Own Worst Enemy,” the entire editorial board of New York Times has brought together its ninja brain powers to state the obvious. It is fascinating to read this cliche-ridden article and to marvel at this mastery of teaching the Pakistanis the very basics about the politics of their own country.

But then, maybe, it does take the total mental acumen of the New york Times editorial board to tell Pakistanis “Mr. Sharif should resolve to govern better while the military focuses on its primary concern, defeating the Taliban threat.”

On behalf of millions of Pakistanis, who were not aware of this complex truth, how could they if they don’t have the New York Times, I would like to thank the Times for this great service.

“We were so lost, said one political activist from Rawalpindi, “but after reading the insightful editorial by the geniuses of the New York Times, I now understand Pakistan better and hope to do better.”

When asked about the impact of this brilliant piece of international journalism, the Leader of a major political party acknowledged that until his staff sent him the copy of the article, he was absolutely in the dark and now, thanks to new York Times, his views on the current policies of Pakistan will be more nuanced and better informed.

The editorial was also very well received by the senior officers of the Pakistan Army. “We had almost lost our way” said a senior military commander, “but now that the New York Times has reminded us, we will go back to fighting the Taliban.” It is reported by a ranking military official who did not want to be named , that “the army chief has made it mandatory for all senior officers to read all new York Times Editorials.”

When reached, the Pakistani leader of the Taliban refused to comment on the specific editorial but called the New York Times “the official newspaper of the great Satan!”

Sadly, the editors of the New York Times were too busy putting together their Sunday issue and could, therefore, not be reached for a comment!

Commentaries Editorials

Taliban, the Politics of Death, and our Obligation to Speak

That the Taliban claim certain mastery over the methods and instruments of death is no secret. They taliban_pickuphave proven their skills at killing their civilian brothers and sisters quite consistently over the last decade or so. The question that we need to pose to them and to many other like-minded groups is simply this: Do you have a politics of life?

Dispensing death is the easiest things in the world, given the fragility of human body and the power of tools of destruction that we humans have created. But to create conditions that sustain life requires a lot of doing! So, at the end of the day, how would Taliban, if they were to establish their so-called just system, make people’s lives better and would transform Pakistan into a place where living with dignity becomes a right and not just a privilege?

No ideology–religious or secular–can succeed if it does not contain a plausible narrative of life. A social system succeeds only if people see it as a life-giving system and want to become a part of it. Forcing people into a way of life through violence is like putting people in ideological concentration camps and using the religious rhetoric as a path to dignified gas chambers.

And we all know what happens when a powerful group of citizens decides that a certain part of population is undesirable and a danger to the body of the nation: This line of thinking leads only to death camps and gas chambers.

The whole purpose of any civilizational project is to privilege physics (politics) over nature. Much that I disagree with this nature versus politics dichotomy, as it relies on an instrumental logic, it has always worked under certain rational assumptions:

  • That humans are no longer able to sustain life in the state of nature.
  • A Government is necessary to protect them and to create conditions that enable life.

Law is meant to enable life and the role of justice and punishment is to maintain the established order. But to establish an order  through punishment and threat of violence and death is not the right method. To be a part of any system, people must voluntarily become a part of it knowing that after they accept to be a part of a community they will have to live by its rules. To force people into a “community” through violence and then to keep them enclosed is exactly opposite of voluntary participation in the communitas. And this is what the Taliban hope to accomplish: to force people into an ideological straightjacket and then keep them there through coercion and force. Thus, a politics of death is the only mode of action available to them. Taliban, it seems, are trapped in the logic of their own ideology: since their vision of the world is based in force and not in love, they must, automatically, become more violent and death-driven, for signs of love, within this masculinist narrative, are markers of weakness.

I keep writing about these subjects, knowing that the Taliban certainly do not read this, and if they did, they are not likely to be persuaded by my argument. So, what is the purpose of these words that I craft painstakingly and then throw them into the wind? I have no clear answer. maybe, it is my way of saying that I disagree with what Taliban stand for and since I cannot change much, I will, at least, say something about it, for silence is the ultimate form of surrender and, for me, surrender has never been an option.

Cultural silence and general apathy are dangerous signs: they lead a nation to put other humans in death camps. Not speaking against epistemic and physical violence will only lead us to our material and spiritual annihilation. We always assert that ours is a religion of peace, for that is the Arabic root of the word Islam, but do we seriously work to make this statement a real-life project. If we are about peace, then where do these brothers of ours come from? These brothers of ours who in the name of our God have decided that it is perfectly desirable and even virtuous to kill, maim, and destroy ordinary citizens of our country. What logic drives this insanity? Why should we accept it as our fate?

Yes, there are always material reasons for our actions. Yes, we are partially a construct enabled or encumbered by our surroundings. But we do not need to be rich to understand love, nor do we need to be scholars to understand compassion and kindness. I have travelled extensively to the farthest regions of Pakistan, regions considered “backward”–yes that is the term they use in Pakistan–and found the most natural kindness and compassion from amongst the very poor and destitute. Compassion and care of the others have been a part of our culture for thousands of years: we do not need a college degree to learn these values, and we certainly do not need English medium schools to learn these values!

So, what is it that  baffles me the most about Taliban: Their extreme lack of compassion and love. If they are adherents of Islam that I understand and if they read the Qur’an and Hadith and want to follow the sunnah, then how come they completely miss the most alluring part of all these texts. Every time I see images of Taliban–brandishing foreign-made guns and riding the pickups also invented and produced in the West–their faces offer no trace of the kind of compassion and love that is supposed to define a general Muslim demeanour. I see no difference between these stern faces and the faces of other gangsters from other parts of the world, gangsters who, in this realm of privatized violences, terrorize the common people to gain their material or spiritual ends.

As a nation we are in dire need of inventing new narratives of selfhood and nationhood: the ideal narratives would retain the best of our tradition and the best of what the world has to offer. A reliance on a purist past will not do; it will only produce more monstrosities like the Taliban. There is no natural path to the past: past is only textual and when we read the textual signs of our past, what we bring to the act of reading decides what we seek and see in the text. There is no unmotivated, unmediated engagement with history, nor is there an accidental transition to a bright future. To forge a future with a total reliance on history is a complete denial of the present and without the present–our only tangible signpost–one can neither retrieve a useable past, nor create a better future.

So, what the Taliban do in our streets, cities, villages and public spaces is nothing less than the destruction of the present to overwrite it with a simplistic and purist narrative of the past. If we lose, we would have lost the past, the present, and the future and such a loss of all temporalities is unsustainable.

It is time for us to wake up as a nation of living breathing beings and say it in our different voices that those who can so randomly and callously kill, maim, and destroy our brothers and sisters do not have our silent acquiescence. Yes, it is time to speak, for silence is now only a slow march to the death of our culture!