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Nawaz Sharif’s shift to the centre

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’.


Escaping death in the Land of the Pure

Finally, I countenanced what I had been dreading for quite some time. Journalists and media houses being under threat is a well-known story in conflict-ridden Pakistan. I had also heard about my name being on a few hit-lists but I thought these were tactics to scare dissenters and independent voices. But this was obviously an incorrect assessment of the situation.

On Friday night, when I had planned to visit Data Darbar after my television show, my car was attacked by “unknown” (a euphemism for lethal terror outfits) assailants. The minute I heard the first bullet, the Darwinian instinct made me duck under and I chose to lie on the back of the car.

This near death experience with bullets flying over me and shattered window glass falling over me reminded me of the way my own country was turning into a laboratory of violence. Worse, that when I saved myself, it was not without a price. A young man, who had been working as my driver for sometime, was almost dead. I stood on a busy road asking for help and not a single car stopped. […]

Jinnah’s Pakistan cannot be abandoned


jinnah3This August has been cruel. Haunting images of Sindhi Hindus, essential to the cultural reality and demography of the province, leaving the country [i] shook those who believe that Pakistan belongs to all Pakistanis. This year’s minorities’ day – August 11 – inspired by the famous speech [ii] of […]

August 23rd, 2012|governance, Pakistan, Published by Jinnah Institute, SouthAsia|3 Comments

Can we afford to bypass Jinnah’s Pakistan?

By Raza Rumi

Published today by Jinnah Institute, Islamabad:

Notwithstanding the contradictions inherent to pre-1947 Muslim politics, Jinnah was clear about certain fundamentals. Pakistan was to be a secular, democratic state. It was not destined to be a national-security obsessed and a paranoid military-intelligence complex.
Pakistan was to be a federation and Jinnah’s advocacy in the 1930s and 1940s was majorly focused on achieving a de-centralized governance paradigm. Finally, the new state was envisioned as a peaceful country, which would interact and establish relations with its neighbour India following the US-Canada model. Jinnah indicated that he would not mind settling down in his native city Bombay after his retirement. All of these facts are on public record and not fantastic or imagined tenets of his vision. What was so alarming about Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan that had to be virtually undone by the custodians of a Praetorian state? Not unlike Pakistan’s history, Jinnah’s legacy is a contested and fractured narrative.

After successive victories, the right wing of Pakistan won a significant battle under General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988) when it officially established the “ideology of Pakistan”. However this victory was not limited to official pronouncements but significant institutional changes were also effected to achieve a colonial archetype from South Asian history i.e. a “permanent settlement” of ideological contours. Lord Cornwallis may have undertaken such a settlement for Bengal’s fertile land but Pakistan’s education system, the media and the public discourse finally declared such a settlement as the sacred “truth”.

This sacred “truth” nullified Jinnah’s vision and historic struggles to achieve a fair deal for the Muslims of India, which had culminated in the creation of a truncated and “moth-eaten” Pakistan.

In terms of domestic governance of the new polity, Jinnah’s speeches to civil servants, firm advice to military officers and even to some of his errant politician colleagues were clear. The bureaucracy and the Army had to operate within the legal boundaries and a new direction for the post-colonial state had to be negotiated without undermining the rule of law and the imperative of creating a citizen-responsive state. To the military men Jinnah said the following in June 1948:“…I should like you to study the constitution which is in force in Pakistan at present and understand its true constitutional and legal implications.” And, to the civil service, […]

August 14th, 2011|History, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, SouthAsia|20 Comments

On secularism, Jinnah and Pakistan

jinnah delivering a political speechMy contribution for Jinnah Institute’s secular space

What are we fighting for? What are we aiming at? It is not theocracy, not for a theocratic state – Mohammad Ali Jinnah

Sixty-three years after the country was created, the term secular remains the most contested and misunderstood political concept in Pakistan. Mention the word secular and there is a litany of protests. The right wing thinks that secularism is an outright blasphemy of sorts, while the liberals hold that the genesis of Pakistan was through an anti-secular process. It is amazing that this happens in a country which was founded by a genuinely secular leader of the subcontinent. Until the 1930s, Jinnah was an undisputed ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity and even in 1946 he was willing to make political bargains within the context of a secular and decentralized India.

If anything, the Indian National Congress despite its rhetoric of secularism failed the ultimate test of being accommodative of the Muslim demands. Here ‘Muslim’ was not a religious identity but a broad banner for a community’s cultural, economic and political interests. It would be naïve to suggest that there was no religious motivation in Pakistan’s creation. In fact there were many who interpreted Pakistan as an Islamic country. However, Jinnah was categorical in his stance. There is enough evidence to suggest that he shunned the notion of a theocracy. Yet the contradiction of creating a country for Indian Muslims posed a challenge to the new state-project. For instance Jinnah is said to have told Raja Saheb of Mahmoodabad as to whose Shariah would Pakistan follow. Iskandar Mirza’s version is even starker when he quoted Jinnah: “Shariah? Whose shariah? No. I shall have a modern state.”
Whatever doubts on Jinnah’s intentions or political rhetoric employed by the Muslim League, Pakistan was meant to be a polity where state was separate from religion. Jinnah was unequivocal about the vision of the state when he spoke on the floor of Pakistan’s first constituent assembly on August 11, 1947: […]

October 22nd, 2010|History, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan|13 Comments

A red card for the Secular Indian Muslim

I am posting a brilliant piece (published by Indian Express) by my dear friend Rakhshanda Jalil – she is a bold yet sensitive writer based in Delhi. All power to her pen.

The controversy regarding the conferment of Qatari nationality upon M.F. Husain — and his acceptance of it — has given us the opportunity to revisit an old but neglected debate. The debate on being an Indian Muslim or a Muslim Indian is old hat; but the one concerning the “secular Indian Muslim” — the SIM? — needs our urgent attention. Those who doubt the existence of such a breed and view it as a contradiction in terms would do well to remember the legacy of a long line of distinguished people, from Mirza Ghalib, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Dr M.A. Ansari, Maulana Azad, Dr Zakir Husain to M.F. Husain, to name just a few. Then there are the nameless millions — doctors, lawyers, writers, journalists, teachers, wage earners who are living proof of Indian secularism. Husain is simply another link in this ganga-jamuni chain. He needs to neither establish his credentials nor protest his innocence; his work speaks for him.
Having established the credentials of this breed, let us set out the contours of its present dilemma: one, it exists in sufficiently large numbers to have escaped our notice yet, oddly enough, has never managed to establish a public profile for itself; nor has it, given its numbers, translated into a sufficiently large, and therefore woo-able, vote bank. Two, despite its largish presence (I imagine roughly half the population of Muslims in India), the breed is under severe threat.
One is not interested in establishing the presence of the SIM, for that one takes as a given. It has always existed in the weft of the Indian tapestry as the warp that runs alongside. In fact, what ought to concern us is the threat to its existence. That this threat is […]
March 14th, 2010|Arts & Culture, India, South Asian Art, SouthAsia|6 Comments