Showing posts from 2013

Of contempt and Justice (retd) Chaudhry

Pakistan’s most popular Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry retired last week. When the clock struck midnight, a friend tweeted: “For the record I state that I hold Justice (retired) Iftikhar Chaudhry in contempt, with retrospective effect.”

CJ Chaudhry lorded it over Courtroom 1 like no other. While he reigned supreme, most people eulogised him — many of them still do — but as his tenure came to an end, even some of his supporters became his detractors. I am no fan of opportunistic detraction but somehow felt vindicated at this turn of events.

The Lawyers’ Movement began as a populist movement but it ended up politicising the judiciary, especially Justice (retd) Chaudhry. The power that came with the Lawyers’ Movement led the restored judiciary to act in a manner that was beyond its ambit of power.

Justice (retd) Chaudhry exposed himself to criticism due to some of his judgements, including the way the apex court handled (read mishandled) his son’s alleged corruption case.

In the line of duty

When the news of an attack on the Express Media Group’s Karachi office was reported on social media and TV earlier this week, I was panic-stricken. I called up my friends working there to make sure everybody was alright. Three people were injured.

This was the second attack on the Express office in four months. It reminded us all of the fact that Pakistan is indeed one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world.

Attacks on journalists and media houses are not an unknown phenomenon in this country. Many Pakistani journalists have been killed over the years just for doing their job responsibly.

Several others have faced death threats, been kidnapped, tortured, harassed, etc. Despite threats from various quarters, the great courage and steadfastness being shown by some journalists in the conflict-ridden regions is commendable.

The role of those mainstream journalists/media houses who have taken great risks in exposing the wrongs in powerful institutions must also be lau…

A shameful reaction

Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike earlier this month. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan wants to block NATO supplies from crossing through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in response to this particular drone strike. Jamaat-e-Islami chief Syed Munawar Hassan called Mehsud a ‘martyr’. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman said that anyone killed by the United States — even if it is a dog — is a martyr. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan described Mehsud’s death as “the death of all peace efforts”. This is how most political leaders of mainstream, albeit rightwing, parties reacted at the death of Pakistan’s worst enemy.

All terrorists are horrible creatures, but Hakimullah Mehsud was one of the most callous terrorists this world has ever seen. However, the way our ‘leaders’ and the media (some honourable exceptions aside) reacted to Mehsud’s death was unbelievably shameful. In any other country, the p…

Of cowards and criminals

Cowardice is certainly not a crime but there are occasions when one simply cannot forgive political cowards. Unfortunately for Pakistan, after the 2013 general elections, there is no dearth of such cowards in our parliament and provincial assemblies. Every time a terrorist attack takes place, some such coward will come forth and say something to justify the attack and the attackers, i.e. the Taliban. Most of these men are the members of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) or Mian Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Mr Khan himself is guilty of making most callous and insensitive of statements after several terrorist attacks. When the government is unable to stop deadly attacks against its citizens, the least one expects is for our leaders to condemn the terrorists in no uncertain terms and show compassion towards those martyred. Instead, what we see is PTI and PML-N leadership calling the attackers our ‘misled brothers’ who will see the light as soon as drone …

A dangerous narrative

“I stood firmly with those who opposed Musharraf’s Balochistan operation and earlier the sending of the military into Waziristan,” wrote Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Imran Khan. These lines were penned by Mr Khan to explain his position on why he is in favour of initiating a dialogue with the Taliban. It was astounding to see Mr Khan drawing parallels between the genuine Baloch struggle and terrorism by the Taliban. Mr Khan is not alone in coming up with such ridiculous arguments. In recent months, many in Pakistan – especially in Punjab – have started equating the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and other Baloch nationalists with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Those who do this are either unaware of the history of the Baloch struggle or want to undermine it – or both. The narrative surrounding the TTP and the Baloch nationalists is quite dangerous, to say the least.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur, who has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s, …

Malala Yousafzai and the Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Committee awarded the 2013 Peace Prize to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the UN chemical weapons unit. Other nominees for the peace prize included 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize nominee in history. While a lot of Pakistanis and others around the world were disappointed that Malala did not win the Nobel, she is no less a heroine for us. As an editorial ("The Malala story," October 9, 2013) in Pakistani English daily, The News, noted: "The question to be asked is not whether Malala deserves to win the Nobel Peace Prize; it's whether the Nobel Peace Prize deserves a winner as worthy as her."

Malala is being celebrated around the world as an icon. She is not just an inspiration for millions of youngsters around the globe but even for those who are much older than her. Whenever one hears her speak — from her speech at the UN to her recent interviews — it melts your heart and makes you cry. Her becoming a g…

An endless nightmare

In the aftermath of a double suicide attack after a service on Sunday at Peshawar’s All Saints Church, more than 80 Christians, half of them women and children, were martyred and more than 100 others injured. It was the deadliest-ever attack on Pakistan’s Christian community. Words cannot describe the pain everyone must have felt while watching the tragic visuals on our television screens: parents looking helplessly for their children, family members holding dead bodies of their loved ones, children in shock at the tragedy they had just witnessed, men and women shouting and screaming at the authorities to help them. It was a nightmare…a nightmare that will not end when we open our eyes, a nightmare that will keep unfolding until our state decides to stop capitulating before the terrorists responsible for murder and mayhem. Unfortunately, it seems that those at the helm of the affairs have no such intentions. As a result, our religious minorities will continue to be threatened, persecu…

Goodbye, Mr President!

The most common thing in Pakistan, apart from conspiracy theories, is Zardari-bashing. To blame Mr Zardari for all the ills that befell our country is easy but at the same time it is wrong and unfair. The reason he tops the list of the most unpopular leaders in Pakistan’s history is because a concerted campaign was started against him by the military establishment and its lackeys from the moment he got married to Benazir Bhutto. It was not just to malign him as an individual but also to tarnish his wife’s name in the process. He spent more than eleven years in jail as a political prisoner. Imagine being away from your wife and young children for eleven and a half years, spending time in solitary confinement, being tortured only because you were married to the country’s most popular leader - a woman the military establishment feared like no other. Mr Zardari might not be a saint but then again, none of us are; yet he has suffered like no other.

President Asif Ali Zardari’s presidential…

Our masters' impunity

General (retd) Pervez Musharraf was indicted this month for the murder of Benazir Bhutto. He was charged with “murder, criminal conspiracy for murder and facilitation of murder.” It is a matter of public record that the security agencies that were answerable to Musharraf, who was a powerful dictator at the time when Ms Bhutto was assassinated, engaged in behaviour that amounts to a cover-up and resulted in the destruction of vital evidence. An article adapted from Heraldo Muñoz’s forthcoming book, Getting Away with Murder, was recently published in the magazine Foreign Affairs, highlighting such a cover-up. Muñoz headed the special UN Commission that investigated the assassination of Ms Bhutto.

While General Musharraf’s indictment is quite symbolic in a country where the military has directly ruled for more than three decades, most analysts believe he will be set free sooner or later. Being a general in the Pakistan Army means you are immensely powerful. Being the army chief means you…

Decline and fall of the general

Decline and fall of General Pervez Musharraf

High on his popularity on social media (Facebook 'likes' and Twitter followers) and misled by party workers that Pakistanis wanted him to come back, General (retired) Pervez Musharraf returned to a country he once ruled.

That act of hubris has landed him in the dock for murder. On August 20, Musharraf was indicted by an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi for the December 27, 2007 assassination of two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto. "He was charged with murder, criminal conspiracy for murder and facilitation of murder," Public Prosecutor Chaudhry Azhar told AFP.

Musharraf's farmhouse in Chak Shahzad on Islamabad's outskirts was declared a sub-jail by the courts. Gossip is, he lives a comfortable life there. He watches TV, reads newspapers, smokes cigars, drinks Scotch every evening and is in touch with the world. Pakistani political prisoners have never seen such luxury.

Time is another luxury the general has. H…

A rollercoaster ride

Freedom from colonialism is something worth celebrating but as Pakistan fights for its survival, it was hard to be in a celebratory mood this August 14. Being an optimist (some may call me an ‘idealist’), I have always been hopeful that my country will one day defeat all its inner demons and be at peace with itself. I am still an optimist but the mindless violence around me has all but sapped my spirit and energy. I am sure there are other Pakistanis who feel the same way. Despite our weariness, we trudge along in search of something meaningful … in search of fulfilment … in search of a new dawn.

To many it may seem as if Pakistan is in a self-destructive mode but that is not entirely true. There is still hope. Despite terror threats, we saw an increase in voter turnout in the recent general elections. It showed us that the people of Pakistan want to have a better future and won’t give up. Living in Pakistan is like a rollercoaster ride: it is rough, has its ups and downs but in the …

Scandalising the courts

The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan has come under criticism in recent days. On Tuesday, the Lahore High Court Bar Association adopted a resolution demanding presidential references against CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry and two other SC judges for allegedly violating the constitution by rescheduling the presidential elections. Then came another blow. Pakistan’s Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim resigned on Wednesday.

According to a report published in Dawn, the CEC saw the SC’s decision to reschedule the presidential elections as an “encroachment into the domain of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)” and an “attack on the independence of the ECP”. On top of that, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan has been asked to appear before the SC today (August 2) to explain his remarks against the apex court. Khan had alleged in a press conference that the ECP and the judiciary played a role in rigging the general elections. The contempt notice sa…

The importance of light

Malala – a name that puts fear in the hearts of the Taliban who have terrorised millions and killed thousands of innocent human beings; a name that gives hope to millions of young girls and women that they can achieve their dreams regardless of the hurdles put in their way by patriarchal systems and societies; a name that inspires confidence in people affected by terrorism that they can survive this dark period and still move forward successfully; a name that has shown Pakistanis that one of their own can take centre stage on a global platform and make them proud; a name that is many things to many people around the world.

While many in Pakistan celebrated Malala and her courage, there were thousands of others in the same country who launched a vicious anti-Malala campaign, denouncing her courage and commitment to education. Conspiracy theories could be found in abundance after her brilliant and deeply moving speech at the UN.

It was disturbing to see Malala being called all sorts of …

General Musharraf's trial

When General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s plane landed in Karachi on March 24, there were less than a thousand people, including the media, to receive him at the airport. It amply demonstrated how irrelevant Musharraf had become to Pakistani politics. He may have been a darling of the media, opportunist politicians and some members of the civil society when he first came to power after ousting Mian Nawaz Sharif’s government on October 12, 1999, but his popularity took a nosedive following the sacking of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the consequent Lawyers’ Movement. The Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) operation alienated the conservatives while extremists and terrorists vowed revenge. Musharraf resigned as president of Pakistan in August 2008, months after a democratically elected government took charge. He left the country soon after his resignation.

Now that he is back in Pakistan after spending more than four years in self-exile, everyone is wondering why he returned in the first place.…

Journalists sans borders

Keeping journalists out of each other’s countries does not serve any purpose for either Pakistan or India

The hostility between India and Pakistan, two neighbours still battling demons from their past, is hurting the people of both nations. Many Pakistanis now feel that there could be enormous opportunities and countless incentives for both neighbours to establish friendly relations for mutual benefit. When Mian Nawaz Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), came to power once again after the general elections in May 2013, many analysts observed that it would lead to improved ties between India and Pakistan. Mian sahib’s willingness for bilateral talks, de-escalating tensions, and establishing trust to find ways and means to resolve all political and geopolitical issues between the two countries is no secret. Both countries can save a major part of their budget currently being spent on defence, which can be used for providing basic facilities to their people in health…

Progressive Pakistan

“A great democracy has got to be progressive or it will soon cease to be great or a democracy” —Theodore Roosevelt

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) may not have done well in these elections but it is the only national party that is considered ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’. So when it let go of some of its liberal values and ideals in order to appease the Right while it was in power during the last five years, many of its supporters felt betrayed. From abandoning the cause of Shaheed Salmaan Taseer to celebrating ‘Youm-e-Ishq-e-Rasool’ — a day on which more than 20 people lost their lives due to the violent hooliganism of right-wingers who were protesting against a blasphemous film — the PPP disappointed its liberal supporters on many an occasion. This is why some PPP critics mocked progressive PPP voters: they were voting for a party that abandoned its liberal ideology when that could have been its only saving grace in the face of a crushing defeat due to bad governance. President Asif…

The beauty of democracy

On June 5, Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif made history by being elected as the third-time prime minister of Pakistan after securing 244 votes in the National Assembly. He was sworn in by President Asif Ali Zardari — with General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, who ousted Mr Sharif’s government in 1999, incarcerated just a few miles away in Islamabad. Who would have thought Mr Sharif would be back in parliament once again with a heavy mandate after he was shown the door by the khakis. How times change! This should serve as a reminder to the military establishment that no matter how much you try to keep the civilians away from the political spectrum, the will of the people rules supreme and can make anything happen.

It was a proud moment for all Pakistanis to see a smooth democratic transition take place in a country where this process has come full circle for the first time in six decades. Mr Sharif alluded to this in his 30-minute maiden speech in the National Assembly, praised former National A…

Democratic transition

For the first time in six decades, we are witnessing a proper democratic transition take place in Pakistan. With a 60 percent voter turnout, Pakistan has elected a new government. The previous dispensation, despite being a weak coalition government, completed its tenure. General elections were held under a neutral caretaker setup and an independent Election Commission. By and large, these elections were free and fair except in a few constituencies where re-polling took place, votes were recounted and/or cases of rigging are being investigated. Most analysts had predicted a hung parliament but the electorate has given a clear mandate to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which is all set to form governments in both Punjab and Islamabad.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is now mostly confined to Sindh and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Imran Khan’s promised ‘tsunami’ failed to deliver much, which surprised many analysts but not Iftikhar Ahmad, a journalist…

Return of the Lion King

Nawaz Sharif wins Pakistan but can he win the many wars within, ranging from economic to Islamic?

It's 11.30 p.m. on election day, May 11, at PML-N's imposing headquarters in Model Town, Lahore. As hundreds of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supporters gather around to greet their leadership, "Burrhon, kamzoron ka sahara, puri qaum ka ek hee nara... Sher hamara, sher hamara (Champion of the old and weak, the entire nation's slogan: Our lion, our lion)" starts echoing in the background. A beaming Nawaz Sharif comes out on the balcony, as if to greet his loyal subjects. As daughter Maryam and brother Shahbaz nod approvingly, the prime minister-designate of Pakistan sounds suitably humble. "If anyone has abused me, abused Shahbaz Sharif, abused our party... we forgive them." With its victory, PML-N has silenced the moaners, groaners and doomsayers by sweeping Punjab and even emerging among the top three successful parties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Bal…

Wounded Warrior Fights To The Finish

A hurt Imran Khan hopes the outpouring of public sympathy will propel him to victory in Pakistan polls

In an ironic twist of fate, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-a party that ridicules the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) for capitalising on tragedies-is now cashing in on its chief Imran Khan's fall at a jalsa in Lahore on May 7. Hours after his accident, Khan sent a message to his supporters from his hospital bed. "My dear Pakistanis, I have done whatever I could for Pakistan. Now I want you to take charge. If you want to change your destiny, you will have to take responsibility. 11th May...11th May, vote for PTI candidates so that we can build a naya (new) Pakistan together." The enthusiasm and commitment of PTI supporters after Khan's emotional appeal was quite visible the next day. Young boys and girls were out in full force on the streets of Lahore chanting, "Dekho dekho kaun aayaa€, Sher ka shikaari aaya (The tiger's hunter is here)!"

A new survey con…

It’s a make-or-break Saturday for Islamabad

Pakistan stands at the cliff-edge of Saturday’s general elections with a fear of the unknown. With terrorist attacks almost every day and the possibility of more on poll day, the make-or-break moment for Pakistan’s democratic future is shrouded in morbidity. Conspiracy theories abound as usual. To dispel the notion that the military establishment wants to derail democracy, army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani recently reassured the nation that elections would be held on May 11.
“We mustn’t harbour suspicion or misgivings about it. This is a golden opportunity to usher in an era of true democratic values. It is not merely retribution but awareness and participation of the masses that can end this game of hide-and-seek between democracy and dictatorship,” he said.

Speaking at an event marking Youm-e-Shuhada (Martyrs' Day) on April 30, the General said: "If we succeed in rising above all ethnic, linguistic and sectarian biases to vote solely on the basis of honesty, sincerity, me…

Time for Pak to embrace democracy

Tomorrow is a big day for Pakistan. We are finally going to have a transition albeit not a smooth one to democracy by holding elections after a civilian government completed its tenure. Had the circumstances been different, we would have celebrated this moment. Instead, we are quivering in fear.

These elections have been dubbed as the bloodiest in the history of Pakistan. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is targeting the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Awami National Party (ANP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) left, right and centre. These three parties have not been able to campaign due to security threats. Punjab is the only province where we have seen proper electioneering.

No wonder then that people are asking whether it is an election or selection process. Rightist parties like the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have not even condemned the Taliban for attacks against the three liberal parties.

They are making a huge mistake by thinkin…

Who will win Pakistan?

Will lion of Punjab Nawaz Sharif become prime minister for the third time or will captain Imran Khan ride a tsunami of youth power?

Sixty-six years after its creation, a democratic transition is taking place for the first time in Pakistan's history. An elected government has completed its tenure, put in place an independent Election Commission, and handed power to a neutral caretaker set-up to allow free and fair elections. But the fear of violence is palpable. Under normal circumstances, passions run high during election season-political leaders campaign in full force, election meetings and rallies are held at every nook and corner, and the atmosphere is that of a mela. In Pakistan, it seems, however, as if the election campaign is being staged solely for television screens, not the streets.

There is not much election activity outside Punjab, where campaigning is so hectic that candidates sometimes forget their own loyalties. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan, who h…