Archive for ::Politics

Let the people speak today…

[Updated note to this post: Amid the jubilence, it seems suicide attackers have struck again in Rawalpindi, killing at least 10 and injuring over 20.  Let Pakistanis not loose the momentum to demand en masse, their right to be safeguarded against this grave threat which looms, to demand that the powers that be, stop pandering to the religious extremists and begin to take strong action with urgency to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty and its people.  I hope we are not left waiting in vain (or worse) for the people, the masses, the ruling educated elite to speak up and march (now!) against the terror and atrocities being committed by Muslims upon Muslims as the country celebrates the dawn of this new day… ]

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A historic, emotional and proud day in the history of Pakistan- March 16, 2009.

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Hundreds of thousands marched the “Long March” towards the capital to demand the restoration of Paksitan’s legitimate Judiciary – for two years the lawyers movement forged tirelessly, beaten down on, but they have prevailed.  Never in the history of Pakistan, have PCO Judges been reinstated.  Never did the masses feel their voice and presence would matter.   Technology, media and the will to fight for a country mired in political dysfunction have given birth to a new hope and a voice to the people.

Skeptics who felt powerless in the face of the corrupt and ruling elite, feel they may have a chance after this historic day.  The task now is for more long marches to come – to demand the rulers to stop pandering to the Islamic extremists and protect them from this abhorrent homegrown violence; to demand justice for equal access to education, health, civil services, employment and the bare necessities of life needed to sustain the poorest of the poor, as well as the vast,  middle class – many of whom comprised the lawyers movement from the start.  The long march has only just begun.

I think it is best for those voices to speak for themselves.  The following are quotes from today’s (March 16, 2009) NYT’s article on this historic event:

Javed Ali Khan: “We’re watching history,” said Javed Ali Khan, a 45-year-old who had traveled for days with his wife and six children to participate in a national march of lawyers and opposition political parties.

…….

Hassan Akhtar, a lawyer who grew up in England, gushed: “It’s really wonderful. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. I couldn’t even dream of this.”

…….

“Justice,” said Mr. Khan’s wife, Rubina Javed, smiling broadly. “We came for justice.” “Justice is the solution to the common man’s problems,” Ms. Javed said, seated on a blue scarf on the grass with two daughters and four sons, ages 6 to 18, around her. “I want justice in schools, on roads, in transportation. Now the common man is speaking.”

Ms. Javed’s daughters both wore stickers of Mr. Chaudhry stuck to the fronts of their brightly colored dresses, with the words, “My Hero,” in English, in bold script. The family earns about $250 a month, too little to send the children to private school. Most Pakistanis consider their country’s public school system to be broken.

…….

“The ruling elite can get away with anything,” said Muhammad Ali, a software engineer. “They are like kings here.”

…….

“This movement has given an awareness to the common people in Pakistan of their rights,” said Shamoon Azhar, 26, a doctoral student at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, sitting on the lawn with a large group of his friends. “This is about awareness. It’s given people confidence. It’s shown people it can happen.”

…….

“The feudal system, it was in the past,” said Mazhar Iqbal, a private school manager. “There was no media then. No education. The poor were poor forever. Now is the time to wake up. It’s been 60 years and we’ve been wasting our time.”

…….

Saif Abbas, a consultant who used to work for the Asian Development Bank in Islamabad, was more clear-eyed about the meaning of the march. Pakistan is still a poor country with a vast illiterate population, and a corrupt, unresponsive ruling class, he said.

“This country has to take control of its own future, and that’s education,” he said, holding a flag. “Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet.”  He continued:  “The next government is going to fear the people who pushed this one against the wall,” […] A revolution it is not, he said. “But it’s a good beginning.”

…….

Indeed it finally is.

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Starting from behind zero. Is there a reset button?

We may need a quick fix to rid Pakistan of the rise of the new brand of Talibanization, but perhaps we will have to step back much further and start from scratch, in the hopes of attempting to rebuild a breaking  nation.  Many say it is too late, but we cannot know if we do not try.

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EDUCATION.           As obvious as it may seem, but seemingly never hailed as a priority in many underdeveloped countries – including Pakistan.  Countries at war, in economic turmoil and on the cusp of religious implosion do not see investment in any human capital as necessary or a priority.  Perhaps the fear is that too much knowledge and awareness can backfire?

Everyone knows about the multiplier effect of educating a child, a girl and how in turn that child goes on to bring pride, knowledge, vocation and income to the family and its greater community.  It being International Women’s Day today and having just viewed the live broadcast of the documentary (“A Powerful Noise”) shown across 450 US movie theatres this week in its honor, I was reminded about how important the investment in people was.  but this was certainly not the first time I realized this…Having grown up with a father whose main mission was to promote education and health of women and children (he devoted his entire adult career at UNICEF in many parts of Asia for over 35years), and having seen the immediate benefits of those efforts, this led me in my studies to pursue the root causes of underdevelopment in emerging countries.  My senior thesis in college simply argued that NGOs and grassroots educational programs which were either initiated by local non-governmental organizations or local populations themselves, would be the most effective way out of poverty and access to income generation, national economic growth and eventually a decline in social strife and civil unrest alike.   Change from within, is when true change can occur.  People have to want to help themselves – and many populations do.  But that is only half the battle.  Lack of adequate fiscal investment in infrastructure and education programs by the government in Pakistan, have essentially destroyed the chances of attaining access to education for children, and has resulted in one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world.

I am constantly reminded of how important it is for countries, especially emerging countries, to enable access to schooling at the most basic level: Universal Primary Education.  Many wonderful NGOs – not the government – in Pakistan champion this cause, including DIL (Developments in Literacy), TCF (The Citizens Foundation), AKRSP (Agha Khan Rural Support Programs), Behbud Association, among several others.  But naturally, these organizations cannot meet the immense need to fill the deep canyons.  The void left by the failure of lack of government spending on human capital investment, has been rapidly filled by the extremist elements and their brand of ‘madrassas’ or schools which teach in this case, Islamic studies and the Qur’an.  As Mr. Dalrymple aptly states in his March 8, 2009 piece in the UK Guardian, “Wahhabi fundamentalism has advanced so quickly in Pakistan partly because the Saudis have financed the building of so many madrasas, which have filled the vacuum left by the collapse of state education.”  He continues in his article to get at the essence of why this nation has gone so far astray: “The Pakistani government could finance schools that taught Pakistanis to respect their own religious traditions, rather than buying fleets of American F-16 fighters and handing over education to the Saudis.”

It is clear to us, that State education has no sense of urgency to improve or allow the greater population of Pakistanis access to at minimum, universal primary education.  The small droplets provided by international and local NGOs cannot meet the vast and ever growing demand and needs of the people –  We are keenly aware at the same time, that their needs go beyond educational access, but are basic human needs like food, shelter and medicine. According to UNESCO, the current literacy rate in Pakistan is about 49%. Statistics from over 10 years ago show the following trends in literacy according to UNESCO : “In 1951, there were nearly 22 million who couldn’t read in Pakistan, while the 1998 census results showed that the illiterate population has risen to 48 million.”  Today’s population is estimated to be about 172 million – about 50% of them are illiterate.  Do the math and therein lies the problem.

Without the commitment and investment in universal primary education, girls education, adult literacy, and income generating adult vocational training, there is little hope for Pakistan.  While this is the very long and tedious path, it could end up being the most long lasting solution.  We need a reset button and this could be it.

Then again, I confess that I am uncertain if Pakistan has any time left to even begin to contemplate, let alone implement this philosophy, given how fast the time bomb is ticking…but try, we must, as the will of the people will be required to overcome so many of these hurdles facing Pakistan.

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Will Cricket be the last straw to wake up Pakistanis?

With the recent attack on the Sri Lankan Cricket team in my birth city of Lahore, it begs the question: When will Pakistan wake up and realize that we have a problem – and actually act on it?

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In response to a friend’s blog post, (Sportz Insight), I penned my thoughts here:

To the blogger:  …written from the heart – a lovely piece. Sadly, it may be too late perhaps, that we are all finally waking up to what has been building up for years and years. The madrassas sprouting everywhere in Islamabad’s backyards, and the general re-Islamization of moderate Pakistanis has been percolating for the past several years…the more violent and blatant infiltration is evident in the more recent past with hundreds of suicide bombings, kidnappings (of many ‘wealthy’ folks kids – whose ransoms fund the militants, no doubt), blowing up of hotels and the like. But it has not seemed to put any sense of trepidation or impending doom in the minds of the average (well, let me correct myself, the wealthy, educated, governing elite) until now, when it has hit home: CRICKET. Is this the wake up call, or will it be shoved behind us in our short term memories again like all the other incidents of late? Apathy is the norm. 200 schools demolished in Swat didn’t wake any of us up – none of us were up in arms about it (just a ‘sigh, this is horrible’ at most). No one protested when 500 music shops were closed and burnt down in Mingora. No mass street protests or condemnation of our politicians was made when those 5 unfortunate women were buried alive (with the Baluchi minister, Zehri, approving of it!) or when the dancer, Shabana was dragged and killed in the city square in Swat recently. Are we human? It seems like we as Pakistanis are immune to anything violent or that which does not directly inflict harm on us. There are not cries of mass protest or indignation -anywhere. (“hum kiya kar laengay?” is the mantra).  Why is this? Why do our people feel that their voice en masse cannot make a difference? Is it in our DNA? There are countless examples throughout the history of man where people’s movement, even beginning with the voice of one person have led to change, reform and restitution. I know in my heart, that ultimately Pakistanis have the will – I for the first time saw this in my lifetime when the whole nation seemed to come together in October 2005 after the massive earthquake. Where are those hearts and minds now?? We need to put forth a movement and voices – March to the President’s House/Parliament/ISI with 100,000 people like you and me, shopkeepers, teachers, CEOs, industrialists, university professors, jamadars, doctors, company presidents, drivers, and children and demand to be protected and tell them to take action and no longer feed the beast with appeasement. We may snicker and be cynical – but ultimately, that is exactly what we’re best at doing as Pakistanis. So, I agree with you – it is up to “us”. If we let the media report on how bad the situation has become (tsk, tsk), how India may be to blame and just sit sit sit, then my friend, we need to be ready to right off Pakistan as we know it.

05 March 2009 18:32

[with some minor edits]

A parting thought from our recent history:

If a skinny, black kid from the South Side of Chicago was able to organize his communities and ultimately an entire nation, why can’t we?  The whole world, including all the cynics and naysayers out there were all grandstanding and patting each other on their backs as they watched in amazement on Election night, what one person and his organized followers managed to do for the United States.  People who had never voted, never volunteered, never phone-banked, never stood up for anything in their lives – the old, young children, blind, once racists – all pitched in.  This is the message we should be sending to our children – not one which says, ‘me, what can I do??!’.

Post Script:

On Bravery: Actually, I do want to say that there are times when we CAN acutally take a lesson from a child.  Fear is another factor which most likely what keeps people from banning together to demand and protest.  But then we can gain strength from this fearless young 11 year old girl in Pakistan who has taken on the Taliban with her poetry.

On Activism (the counterproductive kind) : While there have been ‘protests’ in Pakistan, mainly ‘activists’ coming out and burning Indian flags in Lahore there have been no mass protests against the rise of the growing local terrorism – other than peaceful candlelight vigils.  The psyche of Paksitanis and an unresponsive, disfunctional government, unfortunately continue to stand in the way.

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Mumbai Bombings – Some perspective

What happened in Mumbai at the tail end of November was a horrifying tale of terror for the people of Mumbai and the Indian nation. Sadly, these kinds of attacks have plagued India and Pakistan in recent history, and continues to even as recently as this September, when the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan was bombed, then burnt down to ashes within hours. Rather than pointing fingers, we need to come to understand the underpinnings of why this violence is claiming the lives of the innocent – and where this venomous and deep seeded anger culminates from. We must look back to the historical context, to even begin to understand the ‘why’ in all this madness.

Ms. Arundhati Roy (author and Booker Prize winner of “God of Small Things”) provides some of this in context.

From UK’s Guardian (December 13, 2008) : THE MONSTER IN THE MIRROR

The monster in the mirror

The Mumbai attacks have been dubbed ‘India’s 9/11’, and there are calls for a 9/11-style response, including an attack on Pakistan. Instead, the country must fight terrorism with justice, or face civil war

Azam Amir Kasab filmed on CCTV inside the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station in Mumbai

Azam Amir Kasab, the face of the Mumbai attacks. Photograph: Reuters

We’ve forfeited the rights to our own tragedies. As the carnage in Mumbai raged on, day after horrible day, our 24-hour news channels informed us that we were watching “India’s 9/11”. Like actors in a Bollywood rip-off of an old Hollywood film, we’re expected to play our parts and say our lines, even though we know it’s all been said and done before.

As tension in the region builds, US Senator John McCain has warned Pakistan that if it didn’t act fast to arrest the “Bad Guys” he had personal information that India would launch air strikes on “terrorist camps” in Pakistan and that Washington could do nothing because Mumbai was India’s 9/11.

But November isn’t September, 2008 isn’t 2001, Pakistan isn’t Afghanistan and India isn’t America. So perhaps we should reclaim our tragedy and pick through the debris with our own brains and our own broken hearts so that we can arrive at our own conclusions.

It’s odd how in the last week of November thousands of people in Kashmir supervised by thousands of Indian troops lined up to cast their vote, while the richest quarters of India’s richest city ended up looking like war-torn Kupwara – one of Kashmir’s most ravaged districts.

The Mumbai attacks are only the most recent of a spate of terrorist attacks on Indian towns and cities this year. Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Guwahati, Jaipur and Malegaon have all seen serial bomb blasts in which hundreds of ordinary people have been killed and wounded. If the police are right about the people they have arrested as suspects, both Hindu and Muslim, all Indian nationals, it obviously indicates that something’s going very badly wrong in this country.

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America’s 44th President!

Barack Obama: November 4th, 2008 – Grant Park, CHICAGO, IL:

“….And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down – we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security – we support you. And to all those who have wondered if Americas beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/us_elections/article5086178.ece

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Defining moments of the campaigns?

Could the fact that the Obamas shop at the Gap and H&M for Michelle’s under $40 sundresses

[http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/22/the-obamas-discuss-dressi_n_137009.html]

 

VS.

 

Palin’s $150,000 wardrobe shopping spree at Neiman Marcus, Saks, etc….

[http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/22/palin-clothes-spending-ha_n_136740.html]

…Ultimately define the presidential election? 

 

 

Piper carrying a Louis Vuitton bag.

 

How would Joe Sixpack or Joe the Plumber’s wife view this?  Here’s how the numbers have been put:

it was revealed that Palin’s fashion budget for several weeks was more than four times the median salary of an American plumber ($37,514). To put it another way: Palin received more valuable clothes in one month than the average American household spends on clothes in 80 years.

Huffington Post,  October 22, 2008.

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Women and the 2008 Vote

Now this is the kind of news analysis we here in the US could use from our press.  A well traced and comprehensive analysis of what impact women are and will have in this year’s presidential election – It’s not just about the electorate-at-large, but the intelligent, courageous and esteemed surrogates in the news media, entertainment and political circles who are making the strides…

From The Independent (UK):

The high heel vote: How women are winning the US election

 

Rachel Maddow, Samantha Bee and Tina Fey aren’t household names in Britain, but they’re at the vanguard of the feminisation of American politics. Sarah Hughes celebrates an election year in which women have finally moved centre stage – and asks: what next?

Monday, 22 September 2008

Every US election has a series of defining images, a collection of moments where, after the chads have stopped hanging, the votes have been counted, and the President-elect has been named, you can look back and say: “Yes, that was it, this was what that election was really about.”

 

In 1960, it came down to television versus reality. Richard Nixon’s fate was sealed under the unforgiving studio lights as John F Kennedy ushered in a new media age. In 1988, one snapshot of Michael Dukakis looking uncomfortable in a tank was enough to seal his fate as a peace-loving refusenik who would have no idea what to do in a Cold War crisis. And, in 2004, Fox News repeatedly told Americans that John Kerry “looked French”, sealing the Massachusetts senator’s image as an out-of-touch elitist with fancy ways and a foreign wife.

Yet, so far, this election has had no such clear moment. Yes, the John McCain camp have tried to brand Barack Obama as Kerry redux, just another country-club elitist making promises he can’t keep – and yes, the Obama camp have hit back hard at McCain, tying his name to that of President George W Bush in an increasingly tighter series of knots. But neither claim has really struck a resonant chord with the electorate.

Instead, it increasingly looks as though the 2008 presidential campaign is not about the candidates, the gaffes they might or might not make, or even about the issues. This election is really all about women.

And not only in the sense that the Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin, is the Republican Party’s vice-presidential candidate, or that New York senator Hillary Clinton narrowly lost the Democrat presidential nomination to Obama. Rather, it is in the growing realisation that the most interesting punditry on both the left and the right is female; that the best political commentary and comedy is female; and so too are those much-fought-over “defining images”, from Palin herself, surrounded by her family on the convention stage, to the Alaskan women who lined the streets to protest at her nomination.

Nowhere are these changes more apparent than on the US cable news channels. Traditionally the home of a type of chest-beating masculinity in which anchors compete to see who can be the most indignantly self-righteous, cable news might seem an unlikely place for a feminist revolution. Yet that’s exactly what’s taking place. The good ol’ boys – Fox’s Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer – are still there, hollering their views, but the most interesting reporting is coming from women.

Leading from the front is MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who was recently handed the coveted 9pm slot. Maddow, who also has a radio show on the progressive station Air America, is an avowed liberal with a background in prison reform and HIV/Aids activism. But it is her style of reporting, rather than her viewpoint, which makes her stand out from the pack.

Maddow doesn’t hide her political opinion – “I’m a liberal, I’m not a partisan, not a Democratic Party hack,” she has said more than once – but nor does she feel the need to berate her audience or her contributors, as Matthews does, or to dress them down in the manner of her mentor Olbermann. Instead, her show, which is climbing up the ratings (recently beating even CNN’s Larry King Live), prefers to gently mock its targets, sending them up with a sarcastic turn of phrase and relying on its host’s congeniality to ensure that there are no hard feelings when she agrees to disagree.

“Everyone always says that Americans vote for the candidate they’d like to have a drink with, and I think the same thing remains true of news anchors,” says Megan Carpentier, who writes for Glamocracy, a political blog aimed at women, in addition to covering politics for the influential feminist website jezebel.com. “It’s not that I wouldn’t like to have a drink with Keith Olbermann or Jon Stewart; I would. But I’d really like to have a drink with Rachel Maddow.”

There’s something about Maddow that inspires otherwise level-headed women to, as Carpentier puts it, “extreme fangirldom”. It’s partly that she comes across as being very down-to-earth – her website proclaims both her hatred of Coldplay and her love of her red pick-up truck, while admitting that she “loves arguing with conservatives and shakes a mean cocktail” – and partly that she is obviously smart, yet so very unshowy with it.

For many female fans, there’s a sense that she could be your sister, if your sister was a former Rhodes scholar with a mean line in wit and a doctorate in political science.

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