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Divide or perish: creating new provinces in Pakistan

My piece published in TFT
Since 1947, two characteristics of the Pakistani state have continued to haunt its legitimacy and survival. The first relates to the lopsidedness of its federal framework; and the second pertains to the dysfunctional citizen-state compact. Prior to 1971, the efforts to achieve parity between the eastern and western wings remained a constant struggle eventually culminating in the break-up of the country. Nationalist narratives insist on the Indian intervention in 1971 rather than acknowledging that the governance arrangements for the two wings through a powerful Centre in Karachi and later Islamabad were inherently biased and unworkable. In the post-1971 context, the lopsidedness did not end as the Punjab continued to dominate the way country works and how power is distributed between the various federating units. How can a federation work when one province will always be the most populous, resourceful and hold keys to state power through the civil-military bureaucracy?
The second unfortunate legacy of the colonial governance arrangements i.e., an over-developed state operating through central rule and diktat , is now facing the greatest crisis of legitimacy. It is now commonly recognized that state legitimacy is a function of how effective a state is in delivering services, ensuring entitlements (such as security) and negotiating plural identities and competing demands for resources and power. Pakistan’s dominant classes have always been averse to address this endemic issue until the recent political consensus that has been achieved through the passage of the 18th Amendment. While the political elites are clear on the future roadmap it remains to be seen whether the unelected institutions of the state are on board with the new provincial autonomy arrangements. Perhaps the recent violence in response to the renaming of the erstwhile North West Frontier Province to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was allegedly orchestrated by the Kings’ party known for its servility to the establishment.
The debate on creating new provinces from different corners of the countries is a healthy sign and a direct result of a democratic phase, howsoever uncertain it might be. […]

Anchorless rambling

We did it again. A hallmark of Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan was her meeting with the stars of the Pakistani media – the all-knowing anchors who have taken it upon themselves to be the “representatives” of Pakistan. Forget the President elected by all the legislatures, the Prime Minister who enjoys the confidence of the National Assembly, and even the Foreign Minister, who at the end of the day was elected from a constituency with a huge majority and nominated by the ruling party.

Such constitutional niceties are of little value. What we witnessed with a motley group of top anchors was a repeat of their daily performance on the idiot box, and the discourse with America’s second most powerful politician was familiar and disappointing. A senior journalist based in Lahore remarked that even the young students at the Government College University came up with better questions than the exchanges aired on television.

Who are we? Muslim, South Asian, Arab? No clear answer, because we are ten different things at the same time, and while the rest of the world is comfortable with multiple identities, Punjab’s urban middle classes crave a singular Islamic identity but want it with all the world’s frills. This is why we cheer the blowing up of the World Trade Centre and at the same want to live in New York. This is why the Islamo-fascist hate-America crowd is at ease with their progeny studying in the United States […]

November 11th, 2009|media, Politics, Published in The Friday Times|3 Comments

Humanitarian Crisis of NWFP – Urgent Appeal

Let us all us join hands to alleviate the sufferings of the people who need our help

Situation Background

North West Frontier of Pakistan faces an unprecedented humanitarian crisis as more than 1,200,000 displaced people flee the mountain districts of Swat, Buner, Shangla and Lower Dir as the war between insurgents and the government of Pakistan intensifies. As the army has moved into these to initiate military action to evict the area from the insurgents, the people of these areas are leaving their homes behind in hundreds to safer sanctuaries in other parts of the province. The displaced people are leaving in a hurry carrying barely anything from their homes to help them through this tribulation. About 10% of these are being accommodated in camps established by the government at fourteen locations. Another 90% are finding refuge with social networks of families, tribes, clans, schools etc in districts far removed from their homes. The main districts where the pressure is falling are those of Mardan, Swabi, Malakand, Nowshera, Upper and Lower Dir, Peshawar, Charsadda. […]

May 13th, 2009|Personal|1 Comment

Ah, the deal

Much has been made of this NYT article on the class inequalities in NWFP that are fuelling the Taliban movement. However, I would like to ask where in Pakistan class inequalities do NOT exist. They are everywhere. By using this argument then the Taliban takeover becomes a natural conclusion as a social revolution is required everywhere to correct the exploitative structures and provide ‘speedy justice’. Therefore, our political class has to rise to the occasion and provide the kind of leadership, delivery against their manifestos and restore the fading writ of the state. […]

April 18th, 2009|Personal|4 Comments

Whatever shrine I go to

Another readable piece by Dr Sher Zaman Taizi

This poem in ghazal form is very simple and direct. It starts with a direct address to God and gradually moves on to ethical values, human needs and human nature. I will try to transliterate the original Pushto verses into English with the hope that readers will be able to appreciate its meaning.

Not for a single moment, am I indifferent to You! Not indifferent to Your invocation and reflection! Whatever shrine I go to, I have You in mind!

I am not interested in any pilgrimage to mosque or temple! […]

April 7th, 2009|Personal|1 Comment

Nightingale of Peshawar falls silent

My piece published in The Friday Times

The bombing of Rehman Baba’s shrine is more proof that we are slipping, inch by inch, into an abyss. It is as if the soul of Peshawar, and by extension that of the whole of Pakistan has been scarred by those barbaric bombs and grenades. Among other ironies of the situation, this one stands out: the late Baba was instrumental in disseminating the message of Islam in the Khyber valley and beyond. And today the zealots destroy his shrine for being un-Islamic! A poet of love and tolerance, of amity and forgiveness to be treated in this manner displays how brutal we have become as a society and how fissured our state is. Otherwise a successor of a mighty steel frame, the indigenised state has surely given up to the hordes that are now hell bent on destroying Pakistan.

   
 

Rahman Baba was born in 1632 A.D. at Bahadur Kala, a village close to Peshawar. The Pashtuns hold his work in high esteem and his rank in Pashto poetry matches that of Hafiz Shirazi in Persian literature. The simple, down to earth and universal messages of his poetry have been revered by the Pashtuns as well as many adherents of the Sufi creed in South Asia and elsewhere.

In Afghanistan too, Rehman Baba was an icon and his muse was referred to as the ‘heart-beat’ of every Afghan. A friend told me how Saidu Baba, the famed saint of the now destroyed Swat valley, remarked that if the Pashtuns were to pray from a book other than the Holy Quran it would definitely be Rahman Baba’s work. But nothing describes Baba better than what Janes Enveldson had named him: the “Nightingale of Peshawar.” Alas, nightingales do not sing in gardens that have been ruined by long, harsh winters or other cataclysms such as hatred and violence. […]

“Desecration of Rahman Baba’s tomb is desecration of humanity”

The SCN press release echoes my sentiments at the disgusting act of vandalism in Peshawar. It is a befitting metaphor for the barbaric bigotry and the ineffectual state – a dangerous mix.

It is a matter of national shame for Pakistan to have sunk this low. Rahman Baba (1653 -1711 AD) commands a universal following for his mystic syncretism, has now fallen prey to the cannibalistic doctrine of bigotry and intolerance. […]

March 7th, 2009|Sufi poetry, Sufism|10 Comments