The real issue is about fighting non-state actors, the ongoing street protests and Nawaz Sharif’s impending decision to appoint a new army chief.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s chequered political career may have entered a new phase. His third term is beset by the same old challenges usually presented by Pakistan’s political landscape. A resurgent military ostensibly calling the shots, enduring turbulence in the neighbourhood and decreased negotiating space for policymaking to improve the economy. Unlike his past two terms, Nawaz Sharif has not taken on the military power. Instead, adopting a sobered version of his past self, he has chosen to ‘work’ with the permanent establishment to ensure that a systemic breakdown is avoided. That moment came last year during the street protests, but he survived, in part due to the military’s resolve not to intervene directly.
Despite these protests and lack of tangible results on many fronts, the political base of the PML-N seems to be intact. The recent two phases of local government election and barring the Lahore by-election where the opposition PTI almost won, the PML-N seems to be firmly saddled in Punjab. This is one of the flashpoints as the military’s support base is also located largely in Punjab. Nawaz Sharif’s brand of politics — of asserting civilian power, trading with India, etc. — therefore comes into conflict with the ideological framework of a security state.
Earlier this month, the prime minister said that the nation’s future lies in a “democratic and liberal” Pakistan. He also emphasised the importance of a thriving private sector. Perhaps, the use of ‘liberal’ was a reference to economic liberalism. However, for the country’s chief executive to make such a statement is noteworthy. Nawaz Sharif also spoke about making Pakistan an “educated, progressive, forward looking and an enterprising nation”. He was immediately berated by religious leaders for negating the ‘ideology of Pakistan’.
The great Pakistani writer Abdullah Hussein is no more. Perhaps, he has been relieved of the agony that he underwent as a cancer patient, suffering in his last years all by himself. To say that he was a towering literary figure would be an understatement. Hussein was a trendsetter and a chronicler of our weary generations. Written in 1963, his tour de force, Udaas Naslain, remains the most memorable, grand novel, second only in its expanse to Qurratulain Hyder’s Aag Ka Darya. Both Hyder and Hussein were torchbearers of the modern, non-conformist sensibilities in contemporary Urdu literature. Hyder weaved the 5,000-year story of the Indian subcontinent and for her depiction of 1947 as just another moment in the grand continuum of history, was rebuked in Pakistan and soon left the country.
Hussein’s characters in Udaas Naslain recount the upheavals that Indians had to engage with since 1857. The novel’s formidable brush depicts the early 20th century milieu of Punjab as its protagonist experiences the rapidly changing political events. Hussein presents a panoramic, existentialist view of the First World War and how that impacted the ‘natives’ in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. The most moving parts of the novel concern the Partition of 1947. Towards the end, the book’s main character, Naim Baig, grapples with a new reality along with immense emotional and historical baggage.
Not unlike Hussein, his almost anti-hero, Naim Beg, is an idealist, but is swept away by larger historical forces. It is Naim’s persona that struck a chord with the post-independence generation, for it was as unfulfilled as him. As Pakistan’s chequered history evolved, the incoming generations have also found a voice for themselves. The novel has an innate absurdist streak, which fits in well with the society that we have created in the preceding decades. Fifty years later, Udaas Naslain remains in print with dozens of editions keeping it accessible. Its everyday language enriched the scope of Urdu fiction. Some found its language obscene and before the morality brigade could strike, the state awarded it the Adamjee Award.
Chinese influence in South and Central Asia is set to expand through the much-hyped China-Pakistan Economic Corridor just as the United States draws down its presence in the region. The proposed corridor, which plans to connect Kashgar in Western China to Gwadar Port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province through a network of rail, road and energy infrastructure, has become the subject of intense domestic wrangling in Pakistan. Leaders from Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan, two under-developed provinces, are accusing the federal government, which draws support primarily from Pakistan’s most populated province, Punjab, of modifying the original route away from the two less developed provinces. The government, which recently approved the route, maintains that it only intends to use existing rail and road networks in Sindh and Punjab until new rail and road infrastructure is built in the less-developed regions. Although it appears that the ongoing dispute is a result of technical considerations raised by China, and for Pakistani authorities these are informed by an underlying need to secure Chinese investment for the planned economic corridor, which would also stabilize Pakistan’s fragile economy. Underdevelopment and ongoing insurgencies in KP and Balochistan increase the cost of constructing new infrastructure, while Chinese and Pakistani governments want to operationalize the corridor as soon as possible. Economic and geopolitical concerns in both countries inform their collective haste. This project will consolidate the growing Chinese power in the region, thereby posing a formidable challenge to Western influence. […]
As if the ongoing political crisis was not enough, we are in the middle of a natural disaster, once again. As before, the state appears to be woefully unprepared. More than 23 districts in Punjab, 10 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and five in Gilgit-Baltistan have been affected by the September rains killing more than 270 and affecting 2.4 million people. The federal government says that nearly 45,000 houses have been damaged and 1,544,653 acres of irrigated lands have been inundated thereby impacting livelihoods.
Taken by surprise, the federal and provincial governments are running around undertaking rescue work with plenty of photo-op sessions. The Pakistan Army remains the most resourceful arm of the government and has rescued thousands of stranded people. Once again, the detractors of democratic governance — many of whom are assembled on the streets of Islamabad — view this calamity as another sign of failed ‘fake democracy’.
If media reports are true then the current government, despite briefings, did not accord disaster risk reduction the priority it needed. If anything, the disturbing scenes of a submerged Lahore made a mockery of the Metro Bus glory that was achieved only a year ago. Without a local government, proper drainage and early warning systems, Lahore’s development meant nothing for all those who suffered in the rains. […]
My outrage – sadly limited to social media on the brutal stone age murder of a pregnant woman in Pakistan’s ostensibly ‘developed’ city
Listen to the story:
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A man came by our studios this week who cannot go home. He is known by the name Raza Rumi. He’s a writer and television host in Pakistan – or at least he was until gunmen opened fire on his car. And now he’s staying outside …
RAZA RUMI: I’m taking a break from the very toxic and very violent environment that I was reporting on, writing about, speaking about. I finally became a victim of that. And not just me but my driver, who was with us, was shot dead. You know, and he died in front of me. So, it has been extremely traumatic.
INSKEEP: Raza Rumi ducked when the bullet struck his car. His driver did not. Dozens of journalists have been killed in Pakistan in recent years. Just last weekend, another TV anchor was shot and wounded. Raza Rumi told us what it’s like to speak out in an insecure country. In newspaper columns and on television, he criticized extremists such as Pakistan’s Taliban. On his final TV program, he raised questions about Pakistan’s blasphemy law. That law is used to target Christians and others accused of insulting Islam. In the days before the attack, Raza Rumi says, callers to his show gave him a label that can be a death sentence. They called him a secularist. Were they right?
RUMI: Yes. There were many callers like that who would say that, you know, you are secular, which unfortunately I do not blame them. Because what has happened is that in the decades of Pakistan’s existence, the Islamic scholars and the villages’ parties particularly have integrated the word secular as an atheist or as irreligious or somebody who’s anti-religion. And so that’s the popular perception. Secularism is an abused word. I mean, I’ve actually stopped using it on my TV shows. You know, I would use things like moderation, pluralism, you know, only to appease these bullies. And, you know, now thank God I can say that, you know, I’m a committed secularist. I think that is the only way states ought to be, societies can only function normally if they are secular. Because if they started to become partisan or particularistic, then obviously you have violence and divisions and discord and hatred. And I think that’s just not on because, I mean, here I am a victim of all of that.
INSKEEP: Twenty bullets struck the car, was that correct?
RUMI: Well, yes. The police found 11 shells from the car. But, you know, there were more bullets. And, you know, I don’t have access to the exact investigation report, but, you know, it was over 20 bullets because some were sprayed in the air to first make sure that all passersby ran away, nobody gathered around the car because there was an operation going on.
INSKEEP: Very courteous of them to warn away civilians before they attempted to kill you.
RUMI: Yes, small mercies.
INSKEEP: How dangerous is it to be a journalist in Pakistan right now?
RUMI: It is extremely dangerous if you cross certain lines in Pakistani journalism. And those lines are when you get into direct confrontation with the state authorities or you get into a confrontation with the non-state actors. And non-state actors include both the extremist armed groups but also some sections of gangs affiliated with political parties. But it is extremely dangerous. If you don’t cross those lines, for example, if you ever talk about Christians and (unintelligible) and Shias and bigotry, etc., you’re safe. If you say the Taliban are great. If you feel the fight of al-Qaida against the West is kosher game, you’re safe. But if you cross these lines, you are unsafe.
INSKEEP: As you’re talking, I’m remembering a woman I knew in Pakistan named Perween Rahman. She was not precisely a journalist – she was an activist and a writer – but she revealed facts, she uncovered facts. And once she said to me, roughly speaking, please write what I’m writing so that I’m not the only one writing it. And I think about the fact that not long after that conversation, a few years after that conversation, she was killed. It must be a very lonely moment when you’re a writer and you’ve written something that you know could get you killed and you’re about to hit send – send it out to the world.
RUMI: Yeah. Yes, it’s a lonely moment but it is also cathartic. It is also cathartic because how could you be a conscientious, patriotic citizen of your country and not speak against injustice, not speak against, you know, the daily violation of rights of your fellow citizens. And I love my country, you know. I really think Pakistan has immense potential, you know. Wherever Pakistanis go, they make a mark. But what happens within Pakistan that you know such incidents occur. And I think those are the things I was trying to unpack.
INSKEEP: Can you ever go back?
RUMI: Steve, I would love to go back. That is what I want to do but I don’t think I can immediately go back. But I can perhaps go back and have a hermit’s life in my home, but I would have to go out somewhere and somebody would go with me. And I don’t want another person to be killed because he or she was with me. A 25-year-old guy, head of a household, young, promising, who had his whole life ahead of him died in this confrontation between the extremists and the looney liberal voice. And I can’t kind of forget that, at least for now.
INSKEEP: Raza Rumi is a Pakistani journalist who for the moment is staying in Washington.
Original Post NPR