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Elections 2013: A Peaceful Transfer of Power

My piece for South Asia magazine (published in Jan 2013 issue)

General elections in Pakistan are scheduled to take place later this year; however, the ongoing political instability signals otherwise.

The forthcoming general elections in Pakistan are significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is a unique moment in Pakistan when a democratic government under a civilian President is completing its term and preparing for a transition through elections. Secondly, due to the constitutional changes made by the current parliament under the 18th and 20th Amendments, the process remains firmly in civilian hands. This has caused an unprecedented moment in our history where the elections are not being supervised or managed by the military establishment, which has called the shots over a larger course of the country’s history.

The last time a civilian regime managed the election was in 1977 but the results were controversial and were annulled, leading to Gen. Zia ul Haq’s led coup d’ etat.

Throughout the 1990s, most political parties were used as puppets by the security establishment against each other. Four elections were held between 1988 and 1999. Each time, a President, who acted at the behest of the military and intelligence agencies, ‘engineered’ the electoral results by appointing a handpicked and compliant caretaker government.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-N (PMLN) were the two major parties playing this game with the Army. The Musharraf coup and subsequent political developments reversed this trend as these two parties entered into a compact in 2007 and agreed not to approach the military to resolve or fix political disputes. Whilst Musharraf and Gen. Kayani oversaw the elections of 2008, the results surprised everyone, illustrating a clear victory for anti-Musharraf forces. Both parties have liaised with the military between 2008-2013 but have jealously guarded their parliamentary space as well as the continuation of the democratic system. Governance challenges and failures notwithstanding, the record of political parties has been encouraging on this front.

In the spirit of constitutionally mandated agreements, the government and opposition have appointed a respectable former judge as the Chief Election Commissioner. Similarly, other formalities have been taken care of and the rest will be handled in the days to come. The appointment of a caretaker administration is another major step that needs to be taken to ensure that an impartial regime takes over the task of administering elections. In Pakistan, given its bitter history, the legitimacy of an election and the confidence in the caretakers is of major importance.  […]

Social media: Good, bad and the ugly

By Raza Rumi:

Despite the threats and risks, the Internet has provided a useful platform for people-to-people contacts. It has also facilitated issue-based engagement among South Asians and is likely to generate a more realistic understanding of the bitter rivals that are India and Pakistan

The creeping foray of social media into the Pakistani society is a tale, which cannot be ignored. In a country marked by political repression and constraints on free speech, the arrival of social media is a fundamental shift that will gradually unfold in the years to come. At present, it is too early to make any definitive judgment; however, this may be a part of the transformational moment in Pakistan.

Deregulation of electronic media took place nearly a decade ago in Pakistan and is altering the power-sharing arrangements among the elites. The media barons are now influential power-brokers, with unprecedented leverage available […]

October 2nd, 2011|media|2 Comments

An existential crisis

On 4 January, Punjab province Governor Salman Taseer was killed by a member of his security detail, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri. But as disturbing as the assassination itself were the circumstances surrounding and following the governor’s death… In the aftermath, the hold of Pakistan’s religious lobbies has proven to be so powerful that no mullah, not even one appointed and paid by the state, was willing to conduct his funeral rites. While progressive civil-society voices have condemned both the incident and the direction in which Pakistan is heading – an act of great courage in these times – they remain a desperately small minority.

The entire incident epitomises the very real existential crisis in which the Pakistani nation now finds itself – one that relates to its very identity. Successive governments in the country have been quiescent before the forces of religious fundamentalism, and over the years brought in legislation to appease the religio-political forces – including the blasphemy laws that have been under such scrutiny of late. Today, this has reached a situation in which the country’s religious minorities (constituting less than five percent of the national population) are beleaguered amidst a legal system that denies them basic human rights. In turn, this has enabled fundamentalist ideologies to take firm hold in the minds of government functionaries. The support of the state and its security agencies, including sections of the armed forces, to such sections has now reached a point where they are becoming a threat to the very existence of the Pakistani state itself – at least, in the form we know it. […]

February 2nd, 2011|Personal, Published in Himal Magazine|6 Comments

Salmaan Taseer: A life less ordinary

139E80B6-061D-496B-936B-6E0BC6DF1912_w640_r1_sRaza Rumi remembers the man that was Salmaan Taseer

o these liars and swindlers, these contractors of faith

I am a rebel, I am a rebel

The last time I met Salmaan Taseer Shaheed (STS) was in the Punjab Governor’s House. This was a typical Lahori winter evening: misty and quiet, the palatial colonial mansion making it slightly surreal. A foreign dignitary was visiting; and I was part of the Lahori chatterati assembled in the stately living room that reeked of the Raj. Amid the chatter I took the opportunity to point out the rising tide of extremism in the country, and advised STS to be extra careful about what he said. STS’s response came with his characteristic bravado: “I am not afraid of these Mullahs. Should I stop speaking and stay at home?” He also said: “Being afraid is the worst state of mind.” Within seconds STS had cracked a joke and as always used his irrepressible humour to illustrate just how unafraid he was.

Two weeks later, I was in the same grand room, but in another state of mind: I was shocked and bewildered because STS had been gunned down in broad daylight. My grief since the day of his death has not abated and in fact has turned into a strange despondency: permanent and ominous. In his own words, STS was the “last man standing” against bigotry in a country that is slipping into the hands of extremists who have banned critical thinking and espouse the ideological project designed by the Pakistani state.

Twenty-two years ago I was introduced to STS as a friend of his children, Sara and Shaan, and his razor-sharp wit and unabashed irreverence have stayed with me ever since. Unlike most Lahori parents I had met, this man was refreshing and ultra-engaging. He would joke incessantly about us young lot, our idiosyncrasies and foolish squabbles. Over the years he even chided me when I took sides in a sibling rivalry or failed to tell him what his son or daughter were up to.


January 20th, 2011|Personal, Politics, Published in The Friday Times|23 Comments

Mian Mir’s 384th Urs

Mian Mir’s death anniversary celebrations are commencing today.

Mian Mir is regarded as one of the greatest Sufi saints of the Subcontinent. He belonged to the Qadiria order of the Sufis. He was famous for being a spiritual instructor to Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who also held Mian Mir in great esteem.

Dara Shikoh was a devoted disciple of the saint. His father, Shah Jahan, often requested the saint to pray for his empire.

Mian Mir was the earliest Sufi saint who promoted the Qadiria order in Lahore.

He shunned worldly selfish men and proud high-ups of his time. He used to post his mureeds (disciples) at the gate of his house to stop rich people from entering.

Once Emperor Shah Jahan, with his attendants, came to pay homage to the great dervish. Mian Mir’s disciples stopped the emperor at the gate and requested him to wait, until permission was given. Shah Jahan felt insulted, but controlled his temper and composed himself. […]

March 17th, 2008|India-Pakistan History, Lahore, Sufism|3 Comments