Monday, November 28, 2016


Ahlan wa sahlan Marhaba – at any cost

According to a BBC report, during the hunting season in Pakistan this time of year, up to thirty five licenses are issued to a handful of wealthy Arab royal persons to hunt the Houbara Bustard. The Houbara Bustard is a shy, innocuous bird; beige with brown spots – sort of like a chicken with longer legs and neck. One Arab prince is said to have killed over two thousand birds in a single season.
The Houbara Bustard has been placed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), on a list of ‘vulnerable’ species (which is a list consisting of animals at high risk of extinction). Having the life of such an animal in your hands is like being given a more than usual responsible stake in the past and future of creation itself – but who cares about that (although, last year the Supreme Court did the right thing by completely banning hunting of this bird in Pakistan). Yet, even after that directive, Arab dignitaries were issued licenses to hunt the Houbara Bustard, as they always have. The licenses were supposedly for ‘partridge hunting’, but that is reportedly not ‘what was killed on the ground.’
To place anyone above the law is to break it, and laws are meant to be equally applied to all persons, but in Pakistan some people are obviously more equal than others. The violation of the ban was commonly reported in the Press, yet the practice continued. It seems the Arabs consider the meat of the Houbara Bustard to be an aphrodisiac. I suppose there is no arguing with that mother of all arguments.
In January this year the Supreme Court lifted the hunting ban placing the Houbara bustard officially in danger once again. The reason given was that the ban was detrimental to Pakistan’s relations with Arab States which depend on the denizens of Pakistan, both animal and human…and even its children being open to danger and abuse by the Arabs, under the noses and generally with the full consent of the powers that be in Pakistan. It’s the only way to ensure that relations between us remain cordial. The only way to ensure that our labour force is able to go to Arab countries and be abused there, a situation that carries remarkable kickbacks for segments of the population on both sides.
Three years ago a Pakistani newspaper reported the case of a nineteen year old boy from Rahim Yar Khan who was struggling to cope with the school work of a much younger boy. His mental issues began when as a little child he faced abuse as a child camel jockey in the Gulf States.  He was not alone. Thousands of little boys are taken from Pakistan to the Gulf States as child camel jockeys, many of whom suffer ongoing mental issues as a result of that particularly barbaric ‘activity’, since camel racing involving child jockeys cannot be called a ‘sport’. It isn’t hard to figure out what persuades families of these children to send them to the Middle East. According to the father of this particular young man, he was promised education and employment for his son.
What kind of country considers anyone, let alone its barbaric neighbours, above its laws? What kind of country considers itself bound to cater to the over-indulged libido of those same neighbours making it lay the humans and animals who live within its boundaries open to abuse?
Well, it seems Pakistan does, due to a phenomenon known as ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ – aka, an overlap between public and personal interest. It is a phenomenon familiar to persons within this country (and also for example to the new President-elect of the United States, who is known for scratching backs wherever his business interests exist, and getting his ample back scratched in return).
And Mr. Trump has business interests all over the world, including in Argentina, where he has also been in a long standing business relationship with Mr. Macri – now the President of that country. In a phone call made to Mr. Trump by Mr. Macri, supposedly to congratulate the new American President-elect upon his victory, the Argentinian President reportedly asked Mr. Trump for help with building permits that have not being granted for a proposed 35 story ‘Trump Tower’ in Beunos Aires, the capital of Argentina. The news has been contradicted by a spokesman for the American President-elect.
Mr. Trump has similar interests in Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, India and China, and the Philippines, and interestingly enough the Philippine’s new Trade Envoy to the US is also the man building ‘Trump Tower’ in Manila.
Those last few lines may appear to be a sudden deviation from the subject at hand but they’re not, because such incidents come to mind when one of those persons with the over indulged libido hunting the Houbara Bustard in Pakistan turns out to be Prince Hamad of Qatar, a man who is not new to hunting in Pakistan, only this time he was granted a permit to hunt the near extinct bustard in Bhakkar and Jhang in the Punjab, which just happens to be home territory to the Sharif family, and this, remember is the very same Prince who wrote that interesting letter in an attempt to remove the specter of Panama from the Sharif horizon once and for all.
The removal of the Supreme Court’s hunting ban came with a statement which, according to the BBC, says that ‘the sustainable hunting of the bird, will come as a big relief to many officials and business owners.’ The report goes on to remind us that ‘Middle Eastern countries are a major source of sovereign investment in Pakistan and they employ the bulk of Pakistan’s overseas manpower’.
That is one way of putting it: of saying how vulnerable the people of Pakistan are, of saying how bribe-able, and bribed to the teeth, and willing to dance to the tune of whichever piper is able to pay the shots its officials and business owners are. It’s a noisome state of affairs, and a noisy state of affairs, or perhaps that’s the sound of Jinnah, poor man, turning in his grave.

Monday, November 21, 2016


The first duty of a government is to maintain law and order so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State. – Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Most of our countrymen seem to feel that Islam, the religion followed by the majority of the people of Pakistan, ought to play an official role in the public arena although what Islam consists of appears to be somewhat disputed. Every sect possesses so many sub-sects, and every one of these sects is so at variance with the other upon issues of importance such as for example the question of inheritance. There is also the very important question of co-existence with other faiths, and the liberal, radical version of Islam differs a great deal on this point from other less liberal versions. In these latter versions an increasing number of people seem to consider it their religious duty to enforce not just religion but a particular version of it, making persons who subscribes to anything else persona non gratae.
A person who tries to remove religion from the official arena in Pakistan stands to be accused of trying to produce a ‘Godless society’, and for some reason since there has to be a scapegoat, a Godless ‘Western’ society. That argument could be countered by the question: is it expected that the policies of the new very right wing government in the US headed by Donald Trump will produce a ‘Godly’ society, or for that matter the policies of Narendra Modi’s government in India, since Modi like Trump belongs to a party with an extreme right wing ideology? Very few people will agree with that. So does it mean that Islam alone is fit to be an official State religion? Looking at Pakistan as we looked at Trump’s US and Modi’s India, can anyone say that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is an exemplary State, religiously speaking?
Meantime, of the list of political parties that consider themselves ‘religious’, yet another two were recently added to the list of banned ‘outfits’, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) an offshoot of Sipah e Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) for their involvement in violent terrorism, which takes the list of these banned ‘outfits’ to sixty three. Most of the violence committed by these groups was committed on sectarian grounds. Not only does the ideology upon which these groups base themselves confirm that these crimes were perpetrated by them (the LeJ is a Sunni supremacist group, and the Jamaal-ul-Ahrar a Sunni Deobandi group, an offshoot of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan TTP), but they have themselves taken ‘credit’ for these acts.
The common factor between the persons and groups mentioned above is that they use religion and conservative values to appeal to the public. The graver the social confronting a society, the greater the chance that those who use religion to appeal to such people will obtain power. Donald Trump, although a Christian with a loose affiliation with Church himself, chose Pence as his vice president. Pence is a ‘onetime Catholic altar boy turned evangelical Protestant’ who, according to the Huffington Post ‘connects very well with Christian conservatives, especially the most pro-life of them. Donald Trump now has an effective surrogate he can dispatch to speak to those kinds of voters,’ and we have seen that this strategy has worked.
In just this way the poor uneducated persons of Pakistan are deluded into thinking that religion contains some magical mantras to alleviate their poverty, and clerics use this delusion, this opiate of the masses. Some of them increase their mystique by locating the moon twice a year, the rest by means of deliberations upon how long engagements should last before nikah takes place, how hard you may hit your wife, and also by proposing bills that provide protection for men after doing their utmost to prevent the passage of bills that provide protection to women, in a society where men are the predators. No, there is little doubt that religion is a shortcut to power. We have seen this with Mard-e-Momin Mard-e-Haq Zia ul Haq, and more recently with Mian Nawaz Sharif’s abortive attempts to obtain the title of Ameer-ul-Momineen so that he could take important decisions without consultation. Luckily for us this last attempt was vanquished, at least this time, although anything couched in Arabic is viewed as religious and becomes inviolate which argues the point for me.
To prevent such misuse, and not because of any hostility towards it religion should be permitted in the public arena of a State only to the extent that it allows that quote by Jinnah (above) to become fact. At least until by some unknown means individuals and groups in this country learn to appreciate a more rational form of religion, and to live with each other.
For now that goal appears to be distant. According to an AFP report quoting the State Bank of Pakistan, the ‘War on Terror’ has cost Pakistan $118 billion dollars and there are many persons in custody charged with blasphemy and the prospect of losing their lives. This is not the Pakistan envisioned by Jinnah, by our forefathers or by any person who holds life sacred.

Monday, November 14, 2016


Pakistan and Post Trump America
Let’s get one thing clear. The adverse reaction of the Pakistani people to Donald Trump is not in every case based on aversion to racism. Let’s remember the way Pakistan looked down upon its fellow Bengali citizens, calling them ‘kaalay bhookay Bangali’. This is also where Muslims, as I mentioned in a recent column, prefer not to share dishes with their non-Muslim countrymen, and where the religious freedom of minorities are curbed in terrible ways.
No, the reaction to Trump stems mostly from concern for ourselves here, and for those of us living in the US. Having got that straight, let’s get off the sanctimonious high horse and look at the situation as it is.
The American people just elected a President who changes his stance as expedient, but let’s face it he’s hardly alone in that respect. Look at certain of Pakistan’s friendships based primarily on individual perks and petro-dollars with some of the Middle Eastern regimes, regimes which subscribe to few human rights. Other than that, the new President is unreasonable, unpredictable, volatile, racist, a religious bigot, sexist, and a misogynist…even though he’s been married frequently enough. He possesses few scruples and rates big money higher than good values, which is why he has an abundance of the first and none of the second. Oh, and he has a miserable vocabulary.
The average American (including the new President), appears even more misinformed regarding world affairs and history than the average Pakistani, and as xenophobic, definitely with exceptions on either side. No, Americans are not devoid of family values, no, American families do not dump their elderly, and no, Americans are not mostly, anti-religion. On the other hand, the Third World is not composed of rapists and terrorists.
In their fear of the unknown, present and future, and their desire for change people play into the wrong hands. Both these factors played a huge role in this American election. Fear of the unknown is reflected in slogans such as ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘You have people coming in, people from all over that are killers and rapists and they’re coming into this country.” The desire for change is simply reflected in the people’s choice of Trump whose personality falls so far short of the usual Presidential candidate, even G.W Bush.
The last Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, fell apart when Mustafa Kamal Pasha deposed the Ottoman ruler to establish a secular democracy in Turkey. The fact is that the Empire had been neither great nor functional for a very long time. Yet, the Khilafat Movement that started after the First World War in 1920 called upon the British government to maintain the authority of the Caliph.
There are still repeated calls raised in the Islamic world and here in Pakistan for the revival of a Caliphate, like a child yearning for its dummy, calls to ‘make the Islamic world great again’, in response to the threat posed by the developed countries. One of the several groups calling for such a revival claims that the majority of Muslims worldwide wish the Caliphate to be revived, and to be governed by the laws of Sharia. You wonder whose version of Sharia they would like to be governed by, considering that there is no consensus among Muslims upon the matter.
Trump’s unrealistic plans for a wall and kicking out Muslims from the US so that American can ‘become great again,’ are no different. Americans, to their credit, are themselves divided on the issue despite the results of the election which were based more on Electoral College tally than popular vote. And besides, the modern world is now too inclusive a place. America’s nuclear and rocket technologies were both pioneered by immigrants, Albert Einstein and Wernher von Braun respectively, just as much of Pakistan’s infrastructure, its railways, and its governing systems are British legacies. It is how we maintain these systems that we can take pride in, or not.
Pakistan requires Chinese input to build its economic corridor. Even more do the Americans need the millions of immigrants who, along with other Americans have made their country great in ways that really count. Trump Towers…well we have seen what happens to the towers of this world. It is the American ethos of hard work and enterprise that is really great, and that one should admire and emulate.
As for the new President’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, the best example I can think of for a response is when Harry Potter counters the Minister for Magic’s request for support by asking him if he had ‘released Stan Shunpike yet?’ a man unfairly convicted of a crime and still languishing in prison. So, Mr. Trump, is your country still best buddies with some of the most repressive regimes in the world? Still providing arms and support to militants everywhere? We heard your demand that Pakistan apologise for harbouring Bin Laden for so many years, but we didn’t hear America apologise for having created him.
So long as such alliances continue, Americans, or anyone who maintains them will have enemies, but the new government should search elsewhere for them than where they have been. The more than 3 million Muslims in the US hold the people of that country (as distinct from its government and its policies) in deep affection. They genuinely consider it home, as do people who visit that great country. Almost all Muslim citizens of the USA have contributed to their adoptive country in some positive way. Very, very few of any of those will work against a country in which they have invested so much. America can ill afford such racist, bigoted rhetoric just as Muslims cannot afford to fall prey to anti-American sentiment.
For the US, both the fear and the desire for change need to be examined from a fresh standpoint, as to why the American people are so fearful, and why they desire change so desperately. Perhaps, in addition to reasons relating to the rest of the world, American policies themselves could to with re-examination? And perhaps the values shared by its leaders up till now should also be examined to see where they fell so far short of American expectations as to push voters to opt for a candidate like Mr. Trump, a man so far right as to be in danger of falling off the edge, taking the American people with him.
For us, it is best to accept that it is now the age of secular democracy.  Considering the myriad schisms within the Islamic world and its general condition, a secular democracy is the most pragmatic option. The best solution would be to strengthen our societies within that framework.
For today’s entire world, we all need each other’s support, expertise and cooperation. Harking towards the past, real or imaginary, is an exercise in idiocy. It is hoped that in coming times Pakistan will take a pragmatic approach to the new Presidency, in fact it must, seeing how much we have to lose otherwise. It is hoped that the Americans will do so too, and hopefully the process will not exact too much of a toll upon either side, or upon the rest of the world.