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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. (http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/30/the-myth-of-an-arab-spring-in-pakistan/?hpt=hp_bn2)

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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Freedom to Kill, Taliban Style

Shia in Arabic
Shia in Arabic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To say that the murder of 82 of our fellow citizens is an atrocity is stating the obvious: But to make the Laskar-e-Jhangvi and members of other such monstrosities to see it as a monstrous act is another questions. How did we get here? What has brought us to a place in our history where one group from amongst us declares another “killable” and then goes on to perform a cowardly act of murder? And all in the name of religion?

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is a monstrosity that arose from Sipa-e-Sahjaba in 1996, the organization that was launched by  Maulana Jhangvi during the time of Zia-ul-Haq.  Lshkar is a  group of brainwashed sunni youth fed upon the myths of shia practices that, somehow, insult the three of the four caliphs. There is no truth to these claims, but when it comes to indiscriminate killing of minorities, it seems, truth happens to be the first casuality. That most of our Sunni Ulama are openly hostile to their Shia brothers and sisters is beyond doubt. Even some as learned as Dr, Israr Ahmed displayed a pathological hatred of the shia. What distinguishes the Lashkar is that the entire edifice of their bloody politics is built around an open hatred of the shia.

While it is absolutely fine to have differences of opinion and have an open discussion about issues of right and wrong, sacred and profane, the current practices in Pakistani public sphere about all minority groups–Muslim-or non-Muslim–have left the so-called “state of exception” and become the norm. This should not come to us as a surprise, especially since we have allowed our mullahs to use their mosques to spew hate about other groups  without any legal or governmental restraint to their rhetorical acts of terror against other citizens of Pakistan.

The tragedy in Quetta, is, therefore,  not just an event; it is a symptom of our larger problems. It is also a reminder that no religion, no matter how pure and unsullied can bring us peace and love if its practitioners do not want to practice peace and love. It is sadly ironic that when we are asked about Islam, we always tell people that Islam means “the religion of peace” but in our every day lives, those who have hijacked the so-called Islamic identity understand only the politics of death and destruction. Obviously, we are to blame for this. In the last sixty years as a nation we have neither altered the socioeconomic hierarchy of our inherited colonial national identity, nor have we been able to construct a public sphere of civilized discourse. And now, surprisingly, the most vengeful and hateful elements of our religion have somehow taken it upon themselves to force upon us a nightmarish interpretation of the very sacred core of our religion.

I know this atrocity has brought a large number of Pakistanis to the streets to condemn these attacks and to stand in solidarity with their shia brothers and sisters. We need more of this solidarity. And we need a perpetual critique of every action that the murderers perform and we need to challenge them at every step, for what they do, have done, and propose to do is not Islam, and if this is the only interpretation of Islam then we are all doomed. A religion without love has no hope to create a transformative way of life. I do not think Islam is a religion without love: one glance at the life of the Prophet is enough to teach us that “muhabbh” is the ultimate essence of Islam.

So, let us force these lashkaris and their sympathizers to show us if they are truly Muslim. We need to ask them to show us something more than death and destruction and we need to ask them about love.

 

 

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Muslim-Baiting to Muslim Hating

At least five people are dead, including a dedicated US diplomat who had risked his life during the Libyan revolution to stand with the people of Libya against the tyranny of Qaddafi. These people certainly did not deserve to die especially since they had nothing to do with the film produced by a producer whose real identity is still not fully clear.

Let us examine our own actions first. A clip of this movie (Innocence of Muslims) is posted on YouTube. The Egyptian media start talking about it. A group of Muslims then attacks the US embassy in Cairo and another group attacks the US consulate in Benghazi. The second group ends up killing four people, including the very ambassador who had fought alongside them during the revolution. Does this meet any criteria of Islamic sense of justice or Islamic mores on political alliances? Of course it does not?

The shariah is clear: one cannot punish randomly for wrongs committed by specific people. Thus, if an American makes a film about Islam and insults the prophet, it does not make every American a suspect and a criminal. The diplomatic missions of all countries within Islamic nations are places of Aman, places that need to be protected at all costs. Attacking them, therefore, is not only wrong under international law but also immoral in terms of Islamic rules of Aman and protection provided under national and international treaties.

So, absolutely, without a doubt, all attacks on US embassies in wake of this new scandalous attack on Islam are haram, forbidden, and immoral.

The movie, of course, is the cause of this series of tragic events. The movie falls into a specific genre that happens to be the main concept in my forthcoming book: poetics of incitement. This kind of poetics, which has its attendant politics, involves picking up topics most sensitive to practicing Muslims and then rendering them in one or the other art form.In all cases the producers of these texts always claim that their purpose was to challenge Islam and Muslims to rethink their practices and that they have the artistic license to do so.

Now, of course, there is another brand of racist opportunists who abuse this freedom of expression and end up producing works with no artistic merit but with a huge potential to enrage common Muslims. The cause of this rage, thus, offers itself as a proof of what is to come. Or in other words, such stupid movies and books claim that by attacking Muslims where it hurts the most they will, somehow, be able to smoke out the most intolerant practitioners of Islam. And when these intolerant Muslims perform the unspeakable acts of burning building and killing innocent foreigners, the actions are then offered as a proof of Muslim atavistic nature and inherent intolerance. The same logic is being applied by at least one person involved in the production of this tasteless piece of ordure.

Mr. Steve Klein was deeply involved in the production of this film. That his involvement in this production is not free of malice and bigotry is painfully obvious. This self-proclaimed warrior goes around US mosques looking for the lurking Islamic terrorists and finds it his patriotic duty to do so. That this kind of private crusade has been allowed to continue in today’s America is what we should be protesting about. Would he been able to do this kind of surveillance and offer his silly proclamations against any other ethnic or regional group in the United States. Somehow, it is believed, the tragedy of September 11 has given him the right to go on a perpetual witch hunt against Muslims in America. And, let us not forget, he is not the only one: many a GOP lawmakers have made it central to their campaigns to scapegoat American Muslims just to “secure” their base and get a few votes.

Another sad pathetic participant in this sad attempt at self-promotion is Pastor Jones, famous for public burnings of the Qur’an. He was proud to show the video clip of this so-called movie to his parishioners. So, what do these people get out of these actions: to prove that Muslims are irrational and dangerous? But you are likely to enrage even some regular Muslims if you threaten to burn their book, especially since you cannot force them to see your act from the perspective of your own cultural and religious sensitivities.

So, in the end then, Muslims are inherently evil and prone to violence because they, somehow, refuse to see the world with the eyes of the very people who are attempting to goad them into violence. And when this violence erupts, as it has over a vast global landscape, these minions of hate can then tell us that they were right all along and the proof is on the TV screens. So, basically Muslims must become passive, inert, and docile and must show no rage or anger when the most sacred in their religion is mocked and derided: That seems to be the only  way to prove that Muslims are decent people.

Let us not forget that those who caused this rage are no model Americans either: Pastor Jones in no way represents the American tradition of tolerance and compassion and is rather a great example of sanctimonious bigotry; Mr. Klein is unapologetic vigilante anti-Islam bigot and in no way represents America, and we are not even sure what the elusive Mr. Bacile (or whatever his name is) stands for. These three represent the worst of America and should not be allowed to become symbols of America to the Muslim world.

On the other hand, our mullahs should not incite the kind of rage that makes their followers lose their common sense of decency and justice, especially if they seek revenge on those not even remotely responsible for this sad episode in tasteless ” reformation” of Islam by yet another group of bigots.

So, let us stand firm against all forms of cultural imperialism and bigotry, but let us also condemn the senseless killing of the innocent and especially the attacks on Western embassies. They are in our lands under Aman, under international treaties and to protect them is not only our international responsibility but also our moral obligation.

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Pakistaniaat No Longer Affiliated with HEC

Yesterday I received an email from Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, an organization that we supported on this forum last year when it was about to be axed, informing me that according to their “new criteria” Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies could not be considered an approved journal of HEC. I was also instructed to delete our assertion that our journal was approved in their “Y” category.

Needless to say I found this decision acutely autocratic: if their polices have changed , why were we not informed to comply with the policies? professional courtesy requires that things like this should not be sent to us sounding like an arbitrary decision.

I have looked for the new criteria on the HEC website, and all that I have been able to gather is that since our journal does not have an Impact Factor and as it is not listed with Thompson’s Index, we, somehow, are not worthy of inclusion into their database. That Pakistaniaat is now a leading peer-reviewed journal on Pakistan and that it is also a sponsored journal of American Institute of Pakistan Studies, and indexed by the MLA does not mean much to the people at HEC.

The reason we are not listed with Thompsons is because it costs a lot of money to register a journal with them and we neither have the resources nor the need to waste our money on corporations that specialize in deciding whether we are a worthy journal or not. I am really disappointed at the outlook of HEC, which seems too corporatized to me, and at the callous method of informing us about this unjust decision.

The reason I wanted Pakistaniaat to be listed with HEC was to encourage quality submissions from Pakistani scholars and to offer our editorial expertise to them in the process. It seems our this mission has been stymied. But we will continue on with or without HEC recognition.

Those of you still interested in publishing with us, please be assured that we are now an established and internationally recognized academic journal. It is, however, sad that a beaurocratic institution of the very country that our journal hopes to represent has failed to find value in our work. In any case, the loss is theirs.

With this decision, HEC has lost my support and in the future I will not waste any more of my time defending their causes. I am pretty sure that Pakistaniaat will keep growing with the help of our contributors and with the great work of our volunteer editorial team.

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Pakistani Feudal Economy and the Asiatic Mode of Production

The Asiatic Mode of Production (AMP) figures prominently in early Marx as an explanation of a despotic mode of production that relied on centralized power and extraction of surplus labor in rural communities. Marx abandon this term in his later works and an explanation of his altered views on various modes of production can be seen in the following explanation of it:

Before 1857, Marx and Engels occasionally used this term to refer to a distinct social formation lying between Tribal Society and Antiquity. Marx and Engels had believed that the great Asian nations were the first we could speak of as civilization (an understanding partly based on Hegel, see: The Oriental Realm). The last time they used this word was in the Grundisse, having dropped the idea of a distinct Asiatic mode of production, and kept four basic forms of societal evolution: tribal, ancient, feudal, and capitalist. (Source: http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/a/s.htm).

It must be noted that rise of capital, for Marx, was a necessary step for the rise of the proletariat, for the future revolution depended upon the prolitariatization of the masses. Sadly, though, this has not happened in Pakistan. In fact, in Pakistan capital has arrogated the feudal mode of production to itself in a way that it has formed a new monstrosity: a capitalistic system with core feudal values still intact. This monstrous system has enabled the old hierarchies to be renegotiated in modern terms in a process that enables the landholders to retain their economic and symbolic capital without transforming the lives of the peasants, sharecroppers, or the captive labor employed in Pakistani agriculture.

Pakistan is probably the only modern nation-state in which sanctimonious modern politicians can rise to power and speak eloquently about democracy while still holding on to large tracts of land tilled and ploughed by bound, captive labor with no recourse to upward mobility. Neither Mr. Z. A Bhutto, nor the subsequent military and civilian governments have been able to dismantle this monstrous AMP.

Compared to pakistan, India abolished the large land ownership system in the 1950s and even though the conditions there are not perfect, one still does not see the kind of slave labor practiced in the rural heart of Pakistan. In a way, the democratic process itself enables the feudal elite to normalize old hierarchies within a new political system: almost all our major politicians have a feudal background in one way or the other and when the come to power, they can further strengthen their position by branching out into lucrative agribusinesses that still rely on the captive labor of peasant farmers. It is no surprise that pretty much all major agribusinesses in Pakistan are owned by large landholders. Thus, while the economy becomes increasingly industrialized and global, its worker base is still trapped in a prehistoric mode of labor.

There are quite a few consequences of this revised AMP in practice in Pakistan, not the least of which is the rise of fundamentalism. If people cannot be liberated through reformative modes, where are they likely to go? They will certainly seek the leadership of those who promise to undo the current system and make into one on which the least shall not remain the weak and impoverished: only the Islamists in Pakistan can offer this promise and that is why their ranks are growing.

Pakistan needs a serious revisiting of its feudal system and needs to bring about a massive change in the way people live in the rural heart of Pakistan. But as the ones in our parliament are mostly those who literally own their constituencies, the chances of a smooth parliamentary change are not very good. Even Bhutto, who had a lot of political capital to spend, could not get the land reform bill passed and our generals have not had much interest in the project as they mostly rely on these so-called ‘notables’ to run their regimes.

Sadly though, unless Pakistan breaks out of this Feudal, Asiatic, monstrous mode of production, it is not likely to have a viable future as a modern nation. The situation is even getting worse because due to the neoliberal state policies, the wealth is concentrating at the top and the poor are being left to perish without any viable safety nets or any hope for upward mobility. A comprehensive land reform could be a good start to change the course of Pakistani history. Will it happen in my lifetime? I am not so sure!

I am, however, planning to make this an important issue in my occasional Writings and would be grateful if the readers could contribute regional or national news and events that highlight the ills of Pakistani feudal system.

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Metropolitan Scholars and the Role of Cultural Informants

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak at Goldsmiths Colle...
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak at Goldsmiths College, University of London, 2007. Photo by Shih-Lun CHANG. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having read enough of Gayatri Spivak to understand the power dynamics involved in the center-periphery exchanges, I have always been wary of the role of the cultural informant. As a scholar of postcolonial studies, therefore, I always keep a critical eye on my own conduct in order to avoid falling for this deeply troubling role.

Recently, in my exchanges with a graduate student from a neighboring university, I have also learned the deeply exploitative and troubling structure of power between the US scholars and the students that they bring from the global periphery as the recruited cultural informants for their projects.

One such student who was enrolled by a US scholar to help him finish a nationally funded project on a mountain language of Pakistan, has provided me an experiential view of what, until now, has been simply a theoretical project. This brief article is therefore an exercise in giving voice to this student and so many others like her who are being legally exploited by the so-called scholars. Naturally, to protect the student I am not providing any names. I will probably openly do that in another venue if the mistreatment of this student continues.

This un-named student is not one of your average struggling Pakistanis brought in by a benevolent scholar to provide her the opportunities that only a metropolitan university can dispense. This student was involved with the US scholar from the very inception of his project and provided not only the basic knowledge of the language but also put all her local contacts at the disposal of the US scholar. Her reason for this, simply stated, was to aid a US scholar in recording and saving the linguistic heritage of her people. Now this US scholar does not speak a lick of the language that he is trying to preserve. Coming from literary studies, this alone is almost unthinkable to me: I cannot imagine applying for a job in my own field without a native level understanding of English language. Furthermore, the US scholar has not shown any interest or love for the language or culture of his study.

So how does he accomplish his research without even knowing the language? Our un-named graduate student does all the grunt work, and the professor just collates and piles up the data collected and prepared by this un-named Pakistani graduate student. I find this practice deeply exploitative and unethical and I will write about this to the granting agency of this professor soon.

But right now my point goes beyond just this systemic exploitation of the subject of periphery by the enunciating subject of the West. In the process of her education here, the Pakistani student has also learned the modes of research and methods of scholarship in her field of study. She has now started developing her own ideas and projects about research on her own culture and language. In my field, this is the natural outcome of a mentor-mentee relationship; we always expect our graduate students to learn and then go beyond what we have done ourselves. That is how a field of study constantly renews itself.

But in case of this student, when she went with her project proposal to her mentor, she was told categorically that she could not do that. The reason: the project could ruin the professor’s own project. The student was also told that she was being ungrateful for trying to do things at her own despite the great favor done to her by her mentor of bringing her to the US.

In a nutshell, then, this graduate student can only have one assigned role: that of the willing silent subaltern on the periphery of her master’s imperial project. I find this extremely distasteful and unjust. I have advised this student to report all the verbal and other abuses to her department. I have also encouraged her to dump this professor and ask the department for another graduate mentor.

In the long run, I hope this graduate student learns the methods of her field and then, I hope, I want her to publish her research and demolish the house of cards built by her mentor, a house of cards built with the labor of this graduate student.

It is strange that we always critique the exploitative nature of the market and the corporations, but it seems that when it comes to us academics, we can also be deeply exploitative. Only in our case the stakes are so low that our actions are petty and childish.

So, here is to this un-named student: Go on, learn from these oppressors, and then write your own story–You at least know the language!

 

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Conspiracy Theories in Pakistan

All cultures usually have different groups of people who believe in grand conspiracy theories. One cursory internet search on the topic would lead you to numerous websites dedicated to one or the other form of conspiracy theory about secret orders and powerful underground organizations. Pakistan is no exception. At any time in Pakistan there are always some conspiracy theories in circulation. What concerns me is how Pakistani media sometimes perpetuate these theories and how even the most educated sometimes fall victim to their lure. I will briefly touch upon two different examples.

A few years ago during my visit to Pakistan quite a few highly educated people kept asking me about my opinion about the “Blood Borders.” Obviously, in the beginning I was clueless as what this term meant. Eventually, I was told that America believes that the borders in the South Asia regions should be redrawn so that they truly represent the natural ethnic and blood ties amongst the people of this region. According to this theory, offered as truth, the US policy in the region was geared toward achieving this end and pretty soon, it seemed, the US was likely attempt to restructure Pakistan according to this vision of the region.

Finally, when more than three of my learned friends in Pakistan invoked the term “blood borders” I got curious and asked them about the source of the term itself. They informed me that blood borders was accepted US policy and as a proof they offered me a copy of an article published in the US Armed Forces Journal. This brief article by Ralph Peters is basically a speculative piece offering realigning of borders in the Middle East to solve the ethnic or regional conflicts (Article available here: http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2006/06/1833899).

It seems this article had been circulating in Pakistan, but not as a speculative article by a scholar but as document that, somehow, represented US policy. Obviously, the problem was not with the article—one can find thousands of speculative policy articles on any topic published in hundreds of journals—but with the modes of reading applied to it. The readers obviously could not differentiate between the opinion of one scholar and his nation and thus his ideas were assigned the same degree of legitimacy and acceptance as would have been assigned to a policy paper written by someone in the US administration. And since the story made sense within the logic of US war in Afghanistan, it became accepted as truth. No amount of discussion or explanation on my part, it seemed, could dissuade my friends from reading this article as absolutely true statement of US intent in the region. Part of the reason for easy acceptance of such bizarre theories is the extreme lack of critical education in Pakistan. Most of our schools are content oriented and rely heavily on learning the content and then reproducing it. Thinking critically about the issues or about the texts is encouraged neither in the public school system nor in the private sector. As a result we are producing millions of uncritical citizens who either learn the very basic narratives of nations—of which a dangerous other is always a presence—or just learn the surface values of material aspects of capitalism. In both cases the students are neither trained nor learn the methods of looking at the sources critically in order to decide whether or not the sources are reliable or not. Our media pundits—some of them who have bought their PhDs from for-profit universities in the US—also perpetuate varied conspiracies through their frequent appearances on TV shows.

Some conspiracy theories, however, have nothing to do with the grave threats to Pakistan but rather rely on popular desires and dreams to perpetuate themselves. I had one such experience a couple of years back when one of my old friends contacted me to talk about a famous Pakistani scientist.

My friend, a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Corps of Engineers, informed me that he had recently come into contact with a famous Pakistani scientist, Dr. Aurangzeb Hafi and wanted me to read the said scientist’s poetry. Naturally, as someone who edits a journal on Pakistan I was deeply interested and I informed him that we would also like to publish an interview with this person in the next issue of our journal. Things took a different turn after I did my simple research about this famous scientist.

According to my research, not only were all the claims about his two doctoral degrees false, but I also could not find a single refereed article in any database that the said scientist had published: his website claimed that he had published over three bundled scientific articles.

Furthermore, the scientist had already been interviewed by a local TV network, had been written about in the Urdu press, and the Pakistani blogs had also reported about the singular honor that this scientist had brought to Pakistan. Troubled by what my research revealed to me I contacted my friend and informed him that according to my research this scientist was fake. My friend informed me that the news of Hafi’s accomplishments had been published by Yahoo news and thus his claims could not be false.

Now, Yahoo News is an aggregating service, which means that their webcrawler harvests different sources and then simply reposts them without any editorial oversight. In case of Dr. Hafi, he himself or someone on his behalf had published a press release with PR web (a service that would publish any news if you pay the fees) stating that Mr. Hafi had been declared the man of the year. This press release later showed up in the yahoo feed.

Needless to say, all my efforts to convince my friend that the scientist was really not a scientist failed. My efforts failed because my friend and so many others had built an entire edifice of hope and pride around the accomplishments of this particular person and any attempt at undoing that was also a direct threat to their hopes and aspirations.

In both kinds of conspiracy theories, the one about dangerous beings and dangerous enemies and the other about great leaders, scientist, etc., the users find these theories to fit their own matrix of desire. In other words, the conspiracy theory becomes a sort of ideology through which the users can make sense of the world or ascribe specific meanings to their lives and the world around them. In most cases these people are harmless, but when conspiracy theories start underwriting our worldview to an extent where we decide whether or not someone is our enemy, then the consequences can be dangerous.

In any nation it is the long-term goal of the educational system to produce critically aware citizens so that they do not fall prey to such conspiracy theories. In the short term, the Pakistani press can also act as a useful didactic tool by challenging all conspiracy theories instead of perpetuating them.

(Also published in Viewpoint Online)

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Memogate or the Grand Delusions of Mansoor Ijaz

Delusions of grandeur – a delusion (common in paranoia) that you are much greater and more powerful and influential than you really are. (Source)

Source: http://tribune.com.pk/story/328458/memogate-mansoor-ijazs-statement-be-recorded-in-another-country/

Much has been said and written about this hackneyed non-issue in the Pakistani and international media but mostly in speculative and sensationalist way. My purpose here is to basically lay bare the arguments offered by Mr. Mansoor Ijaz about the fruitfulness of his actions in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

Usually I do not waste my time in responding to or writing about the shenanigans of neoconservative minions of high capital: I belive that if they just focus on accumulating wealth and living a prosperous life and at times spew the virtues of prosperity, then all power to them. But things become problematic when these minions of cut-throat capitalism also, by virtue of being prosperous,  tend to posit themselves as all-knwowing pundits of international politics. Things get even more quixotic when these moneymaking machines decide that they have the power and vision to make or break nations. Mr. Mansoor Ijaz, it seems, suffers from this type of grand delusion about his own importance to history and the fate of Pakistan and since he is known to have cast his lot with the interventionist and imperial policies of Bush administration, he has been the darling insider, the uncle Tom, of the conservative media in the US.

It was interesting to read his interview with Fareed Zakaria and since I am a reader of texts by profession, I find it apt to provide a sort of close reading of this interview. You can read the entire transcript of the interview here: Zakaria interviews Mansoor Ijaz on Memogate. [1. Note this interview was conducted in December 2011 after Mr. Mansoor Ijaz had published an op-ed piece in the Financial Times entitled “To Take on Pakistan’s Jihadist Spies.” Since Financial Times has controlled content, I cannot provide a link to the actual article.]

So, in the interview Zakaria pushes Mr. Ijaz on the very argument of his op-ed in the Financial Times:

Zakaria: The basic point of your article was a rather striking – in fact, even stunning call for the U.S. to label an element of the Pakistani military, the ‘S Branch’  of the intelligence wing, a terrorist organization. What brought you to feel so strongly that?

This is a very important question and it allows Mr. Mansoor Ijaz to elaborate his own “illustrious’ history as a power broker and as the central figure in the saga of his own delusions of grandeur and, of course, his answer is a testimony to this:

Ijaz: You know, I’ve been involved in different operations in Pakistan now for a very long time. I helped Benazir come back together with the Clinton administration as a part of the larger Pakistani-American community. I, as you know, was deeply involved in trying to broker a ceasefire in Kashmir. And during these various interventions that I tried to effect in Pakistan, what we found out in almost every single case was that there was a political motivation and a political interference by the ISI. [emphasis added]

This answer is deeply interesting: it makes Mr. Mansoor Ijaz, in his own words, central to so many Pakistan-related issues. So, we learn in this response that somehow Benazir needed an intermediary such as Mr. Mansoor Ijaz to get in touch with Clinton Administration and the reply also places Mr. Mansoor Ijaz at the center of the most enduring conflict in the region. Beyond the specifics Mr. Mansoor Ijaz also goes on to suggest that he had also attempted to “effect” other changes in the region. So, not only is Mr. Ijaz at the center of regional and international politics now, we learn, but he has also been this highly important intermediary in grand issues of the region and the world in the past. We learn all of this in Mr. Ijaz’s own words. These are, I must submit, classic symptoms of a delusional personality. After all, other than being rich and prosperous and being an insider in neoconservative politics, what other credentials does Mr. Mansoor Ijaz offer as an “intermediary” and as an “effecter” of change in the region. The fact that not many Pakistanis were even aware of his illustrious existence before the murky memo affair caught the national attention further weakens his personal claims of this grand history of working for the region. In my humble opinion, if Benazir Bhutto needed someone such as him to get in touch with Washington, then all that I have ever thought of her stature as a national leader becomes questionable. I am pretty sure that, given her prominence in the national and world politics, if Benazir ever wanted to contact Washington, she probably did not need a middleman like Mr. Mansoor Ijaz, especially an untrustworthy middleman, a fact proven by the momogate scandal.

After this initial exchange, Zakaria, to his credit, goes to the most important question of his interview, a question that we all should be asking of our illustrious Mr. Manssor Ijaz:

Zakaria: So what I’m wondering is, why would you make public the fact that the Pakistani civilian government was concerned about the ISI and was trying to curtail it? It seems to undercut the very purpose of your own article to reveal that the civilian government was trying to clip the wings of the Pakistani military.

Yes, an apt question indeed. If the purpose of the op-ed was to point out that there is a so-called “S” branch of ISI that functions as a body not accountable to any power in the nation, then why make the civilian government’s concerns about it so openly public. To this Mr. Ijaz offers an interesting and surprisingly contorted non-answer:

Ijaz: That’s a fair question. And all I will tell you is that you’ve written enough op-ed pieces to know that the way the op-ed process, the writing process works is that there has to be some authenticity in the way that a writer presents his particular argument.

Now I’m not a writer of a book like Ahmed Rashid, I’m not a decorated veteran of some war, I’m not a former secretary of state, I’m not you. You’ve got a great credibility to do these things just on your name alone.

In my case because I’m a businessman who theoretically has nothing to do with these kinds of issues, what I wrote and how I wrote needed to have a certain authenticity to it.

So, let me grasp this. Mr. Ijaz claims to be a novice at op-ed writing and also acknowledges that he does not have the proven credentials to write something such as this as he is, in his words, ” a businessman” and thus, in order to be credible and to make his argument “authentic” he had to, as I understand it, offer an aura of authenticity. This, in other words, means that even though he neither had the intimate knowledge nor the necessary expertise to write this op-ed, he had to offer his views as authentic and believable. This, in other words, means that he had to lie in a convincing manner. As regards to his sensational account actually strengthening the ISI, the very institution he had set out to criticize, and weakening the civilian government, he supplies us with this profound answer:

Ijaz: I don’t think that’s what’s happened. If you ask me, we have strengthened Pakistan. Maybe we haven’t strengthened the civilian side of Pakistan’s government, but there may have been a rot there that needs to be cleaned up. And if that rot is cleaned out, you might find a very strong Pakistan emanating out of this in which the judiciary does what it’s supposed to. The military does what it’s supposed to.

This, of course, is delusional at a monumental scale. If I was a conspiracy theorist like Mr. Mansoor Ijaz, I would suggest that the ISI permitted Mr. Mansoor Ijaz to write this op-ed (or wrote it for him) where he, on the surface, criticizes the ISI, but in spirit actually creates a space for the ISI to hold this government hostage. But Mr. Ijaz’s inability to see the destabilizing impact of his assertions for the future of democracy in Pakistan are not only seriously beguiling but also point to the fact that even he himself does not know what he was saying in an article that he, supposedly, wrote himself.

So, in my humble opinion Mr. Mansoor Ijaz should give up his role as a political pundit or as a great mediator and go on running his business and making money. At least if he sticks to his capitalistic ideals of perpetual growth and endless accumulation of profits, he will only  harm those whose labors he must exploit to be rich, whereas his role as a pseudo pundit and as a delusional mediator has the possibility of damaging a whole nation.

So, as I read this bizarre interview I am grateful to Zakaria for asking such important questions of this demagogue and have also reached a firm conclusion about Mr. Mansoor Ijaz: I will not let him help me even if I was drowning and he was the last human on earth left to pull me out. No, I would rather drown!

 

 

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US-Pakistan Need Better Stories

“Those who tell the stories rule society.” (Plato)

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.” (Kahlil Gibran)

Last week I traveled to Seattle, Washington to participate in the annual conference of Modern Language Association. As the conference reached its end, I decided to take the train to visit Portland, Oregon. In our household Portland is the city of dreams and great memories: my wife lived here for quite some time and still fondly remembers the city and its culture. This trip for me, therefore, was not just an ordinary journey but rather a pilgrimage to a city that has been an important part of my wife’s past. I took some time to visit the very places that she must have visited often during her stay here and I also took a trip to a street where she lived, long ago, in a basement apartment. We do these things to remind ourselves of the importance of those we love and somehow, it seems, visiting the places dear to them also brings us closer to them. That certainly has been the case for me.

My wife also arranged for me to stay at a local bead and breakfast, in a historical house, owned by one of her old friends. It was while at this particular place, last night, that I had a most interesting conversation with the manager. As I was out smoking, Steve, the manager, came out and joined me. We started talking about the weather and from then to our pasts and our cultures. Steve was obviously curious about Pakistan and wanted to have a conversation about my culture. We ended up having a two hour conversation about the past, present, and the future of our two cultures. This conversation epitomizes for me the need for a different kind of storytelling, a different kind of narrative about the US and Pakistan. I realized that as someone who lives in that ambivalent space between two cultures–with no entrenched loyalties to either culture–it is my job to construct and tell a more complex non-binaristic narrative: a narrative that goes beyond the usual stereotypes and brings these small encounters and exchanges of  kindness to the forefront.

We spend too much time demonizing each other: our mullahs always use the west and the US as the other, as the evil against which they must mobilize all powers of a fundamentalist and purist view of the world. As a result, so many of our children in Pakistan develop a sort of underlying hatred for the west and for the US without having ever met and having ever talked to a single American. On this side of the global divide, things are not much different either. The media and the fundamentalist forces of American life also foreground the Pakistani stereotypes in order to simplify and demonize Islam in general and Pakistan in particular. In these huge narratives of difference and distrust, the micronarratives of trust, respect, and love get totally lost.

So, here is my humble attempt at sharing the micronarrative. Last night Steve, who is now my friend, and I sat for over two hours and talked about our two cultures. In this conversation we both respected each other’s history and culture but, despite our different backgrounds and lived experiences, we were able to find a common thread to our existence. Steve is one of thousands of Americans that I have encountered in my life in the US: one of many decent, compassionate, and warm-hearted Americans who have enriched my life and made it possible for me to succeed and live a more meaningful life. These are the people I would like to acknowledge as truly American and truly human. These are the people who Pakistanis need to be told about: decent, compassionate, honest, and caring.

On the other hand, we also need to offer the best of our own culture, our hospitality, kindness, and generosity. If we share these micronarratives with each other chances are we will be able to see beyond the stereotypes, beyond hate and find a way of living in which Pakistanis and Americans can live in peace with mutual respect for each other.

So, as a commitment to this cause, I have decided to continue sharing these important micronarratives, for the stories that we tell our children are crucial in shaping their future. It is time we started telling the narratives of love and understanding instead of demonizing our others to stabilize our own identities.

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Pakistan Civilian-Military Relations

According to an apocryphal story, immediately after General Pervez Musharraf launched his infamous Kargil offensive, the Indian Prime Minister contacted Mr. Nawaz Sharif, then Prime Minister of Pakistan.

“Mian Sahib” asked the Indian PM, “What are you doing to us? Why has your army launched an offensive in Kargil?”

“Let me ask my generals and then I will get back to you,” replied Nawaz Sharif

“That is the difference between you and us, Mian sahib; we don’t ask our generals, they ask us before they do anything” is said to have been the Indian PM’s reply.

This story, often repeated in the streets of Pakistan, is also a sort of popular self-awareness of how things stand in Pakistan when it comes to civil-military relationships.

In the military circles, of which I was a part for fourteen years of my life, the civilian administration is always seen as corrupt and inefficient. This view is, of course, partially true especially if one compares the two systems without incorporating their attendant peculiarities. It is easy to be professional and efficient in the military: everyone is trained to do their job and there is an established hierarchy of rank structure buttressed by an uninterrupted history of functionality as an institution. Furthermore, the military leaders only have to deal with highly indoctrinated troops who, being soldiers, have no right to any kind of free will or civic rights. It is easy to command and manage a captive audience.

Our civilian systems, however, neither have a continuous history of functionality nor do they comprise a system in which the hierarchy is clearly established and articulated. Because of various martial laws and other military interventions neither the people nor the so-called leaders have truly learned the ethics and politics of public political life. Resultantly, most of our politicians see their offices as a path to self-agrrandization and have no qualms about using their influence to enrich themselves. Since the system is unstable, the politicians’ psyche is connected to short-term goals. So, instead of refining their message and streamlining a long-term, people-oriented politics, our politicians are more focused on the short-term goals. If the threat of military take-overs had been eliminated, just like the Indians did, then over the last sixty years we would have also developed a more responsive and transparent system of politics and governance.

Pakistan is also still burdened with a medieval system of production in which the large landholders still rely on captive labor to continue reproducing the inequalities that we inherited at the time of the partition. How is the army to blame for this? Quite simply, one look at who did the military mobilize during their regimes will be a good answer: Ayub Khan relied on some heavy weights of Pakistani feudality and Zia-ul-Haq, despite his pseudo-Islamic policies, also worked through the same ”notables” in all regions of Pakistan. Mr. Musharraf, notwithstanding his pronounced liberalism, also worked with cahudries of Gujraat and other such parasites to keep his regime functional. In the entire thirty or so years of the aggregated military rule, not even one of them even hinted at land reforms or tried to disrupt this unjust, unequal system of wealth distribution. In fact, by supporting the zamindars and the waderas, the military has provided them new inroads into the nation’s politics: pretty much all major parties now field feudal candidates from the rural heart of Pakistan, candidates who are basically there to safeguard their own interests and to maintain the status quo.

It is often declared that without the army, Pakistan will disintegrate as a nation. Maybe, that is partially true as a functional national government does need a strong and established armed force to maintain order within its borders, to provide emergency relief, and to also safeguard against foreign aggression. But a deeper look at our system suggests that military itself has become the main cause of Pakistan’s instability and bleak future. This isn’t something new; one look at human history is enough to prove that eventually it is always the high military expenditure that brings nations and empires down. At the height of its power, the Roman Empire relied heavily on the Roman legions for the expansion of empire. But in the end the legions themselves became too expansive to maintain and thus became the cause of the failure of empire. Same happed to the Soviet Union. We are headed the same way. We all know that we cannot afford to spend so much on the military but we must, as our politicians neither have the courage nor the popular support to reign in the military elite.

The civil military relationships in Pakistan, therefore, are a symptom of a nation gone wrong, a nation in which people are still living in squalor while their leaders and their generals live like kings.

It is quite obvious that our politicians are mostly corrupt and probably do not care about the people, but part of this apathy is systemic: if the politicians are in it for the short term and do not have to worry about their long term obligations to their constituents, then the system does not force them to become more receptive to popular demands. The generals, on the other hand, have no reason to pander to the people especially if they can continuously rely on popular distrust of the politicians and a constant invocation of outside threats. The result of this military civilian symbiotic relationship is that Pakistan has increasingly become a dysfunctional state in which might is right and the only way to make ourselves look better is to keep deriding other nations.

Rise of Islamic fundamentalism is a direct result of, among other things, the unequal and unjust society that the army and the politicians have constructed over the years. Think of it this way: if you feel powerless and silenced with no recourse to a functional justice system or a vibrant social system, then you will sign up with anyone who promises to literally restructure the entire socio-economic edifice. The left in Pakistan has never been able to promise such an upheaval: in fact, the Pakistani left, whatever is left of it, has itself become an elitist pursuit by some real and mostly pseudo intellectuals whose political alignment is mostly with the feudal or industrial bourgeoisie. In such a scenario, only the most fundamentalist mullahs can mobilize the people as they can, at the end of the day, at least promise revolutionary change.

In wake of the recent Memogate scandal and other national debacles, it has become evident that the interest of the army and those of our politically elected leaders are on a divergent course. Yes, we need the armed forces: at least, they provide employment for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis directly and indirectly. But we need an army that knows that it is one tool in the hands of popularly elected governments, an army that enables Pakistan to become a viable, pluralistic democracy.

Our politicians also need to learn that they are servants of their people and unless they internalize this core principle, they will continue the inane and self-serving politics that has now made them a joke in the region as well as in the world.

If the present government finishes its term, ineffective as it maybe as a government, it will be the first popularly elected government to do so in my entire lifetime. So, yes, their corruption and failure notwithstanding, let us aid and help this government so that we can have another and yet another popularly elected government. A functioning system of politics is the only way for Pakistan to become a viable nation and for that to happen, the Pakistan army will have to learn to think of itself as an instrument of Pakistani state and the generals will have to learn to be servants of their people: Yes, the very people whose poverty and suffering underwrites the privileges that our generals enjoy as their rights.

(Also published by Viewpoint Online)

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