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FOR THOSE TIMES WHEN "DURKA DURKA MOHAMMAD JIHAD" JUST WON'T CUT IT

 

Entries in politics (19)

Tuesday
Jan242012

Pakistan's democracy burden

Zafar Hilaly is a former Pakistani ambassador whose articles Londonstani has long enjoyed reading. From his writings Amb. Hilaly seems to embody some of the best traits of Pakistan's proud diplomatic corps. He's a staunch supporter of the rule of law, and a vocal critic of the destruction of Pakistan's institutions. In Londonstani's mental map of Pakistan's comment-sphere, Amb. Hilaly is definitely not in the pro-military camp. 

So, it was a surprise to see Amb. Hilaly call for the removal of the present government. Londonstani might not agree with Amb. Hilaly's final analysis, but it is a measure of how badly this government has done its job that people like the ambassador would rather have the military and/or judiciary remove it than to have it complete its last few months in power.

"Watching the prime minister pass by in a seventy-car cavalcade even as local investors flee; foreign investments dry up; hunger drives families to suicide and despair takes hold is a cathartic experience. Hence, even if dispatching the government before it has completed its term harms democracy and means that we can’t get to spew criticism at the regime, so be it. The risk is worth taking. As for the public, it is more than ready to trade democracy for bread, a modicum of jobs and a sliver of hope. They’ve had it up to their gills with democracy. All that democracy does is ‘to substitute election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few."

How much misgovernance will Pakistanis tolerate for the promise of eventual democratic progress? Amb. Hilaly for one has found his limit.

Read the whole article here.

Monday
Jan232012

Egypt's new parliament

If you're interested in the Middle East, you need to read Marc Lynch's comment over at Foreign Policy on the new Egyptian parliament:

"There are many problems with the new Parliament and the political process which created it.  But the common dismissal of the Parliament by many activists is mistaken.  For one, the near complete wipeout of former regime, ex-NDP candidates -- the fullul -- doesn't get nearly enough attention.  Before the elections, most people expected the Parliament to be split between the Muslim Brotherhood and rebranded former regime elements.  Instead, the fullul lost badly despite lavish spending and well-organized campaigns.  Their failure should be seen as a major accomplishment of the revolution, and a vindication of the rejection of the old regime by the vast majority of the Egyptian population.  The fact is that there is now a popularly elected Parliament, recognized as legitimate by the SCAF, which is almost completely devoid of figures from the old NDP elite.  That's an amazing achievement."

What happens in Egypt will impact how the Middle East develops once the revolutionary dust settles. Riots, violence, resistance against state violence are always going to get news coverage, but if there's one place where the details of the political back and forth really do have an impact, it's Egypt.

Monday
Jan232012

Ministry of You-Can't-Make-This-Up

After boring and horrifying Pakistanis in equal measure, the "memogate scandal", took a turn for the absurd and downright embarrassing a couple of days ago. 

It turns out Mansoor Ijaz, the guy at the centre of the scandal, who might be coming to Pakistan to testify, played the part of a  comentator in a 2004 music video that featured naked female wrestlers.

(Sorry mum) But the video is here. Yes, you just couldn't make this stuff up.

And the best Pakistani comment on the whole sad debacle (remember, the memo was totally pointless):

"A businessman from Lahore, who wishes to stay anonymous, thinks Mansoor Ijaz’s wife is the coolest woman on the planet. “OMG! There is a woman out there who wants her husband to partake in such activities and was there by his side all the way through. She is definitely a keeper.”

(Actually, there's a whole bunch of hilarious comments in Tazeen's article for the Express. Read it here)

Monday
Jan232012

Not the front page

.. more like page 4 or 5. Maybe even the back page.

Front-page news in Pakistan is often boring. Seriously, there comes a point when you just want to be told if a coup has actually happened. Everything else will be wrapping tomorrow's nans.

Like many other places in the world, news coverage in Pakistan often has more to do with the political leanings of the people who own the outlets than it has to do with actual, legitimate interest or news worthiness.

However..

Whereas in those other parts of the world, the really interesting stuff gets ignored or repressed, in Pakistan it just appears buried in local news or the comment section. So, it was with great interest that Londonstani read Umar Cheema's article about the tussle between the old and new faces in Imran Khan's PTI party.

"Imran Khan-led PTI has accepted political heavyweights in bulk, majority of them constituting the lot of people who found space shrinking for them elsewhere. Although their decision of joining has given a boost to the PTI, the political baggage they carry along is something hard to defend within and outside the party."

Read the article in English-language daily, The News, here:

The reason this is interesting rests on Imran Khan's promises of a new politics. Many observers have previously said that Imran is setting himself up for a fall if he presents himself as some sort of magic bullet cure for all of Pakistan's problems. As Pakistan scholar and former foreign correspondent Anatol Levin pointed out recently;

"The truth is that Pakistani politics revolves in large part around politicians' extraction of resources from the state by means of corruption, and their distribution to those politicians' followers through patronage. Radically changing this would mean gutting the existing Pakistani political system like a fish. Nor is it at all certain how popular the process would really be with most Pakistanis."

Imran has become something of a saviour-in-waiting for many Pakistanis, particularly the young, which is understandable but also a little scary. Pakistan's problems are going to need concerted action by many, many people over a number of years. There are no quick-fix solutions of the sort favoured by taxi drivers all over the globe. The answer for Pakistan lies in developing a new political culture.

However, it seems as though Imran's political party is in many ways business as usual.

Cheema describes Imran Khan's reaction to a resolution pushed by long-time party members wary of the new big wigs coming on board; "As the reading was done, nobody stood up to oppose but Imran Khan. 'The resolution stands rejected,' he said, explaining that he did not want to cause any embarrassment to the new comers."

No consensus, debate or compromise, just the clunking fist.

If you're new to the Imran Khan phenomenon, a good place to start is this post on the Cafe Pyala blog:

Pakistan is indeed, as he hammers home again and again, saddled with a parasitic elite that has insisted on usurping, keeping and abusing power to the detriment of the many hovering around the poverty line; but his reductionist identification of them as people who have strayed from the one faith and become 'westernized' is sadly flawed. The powerful elite of which he speaks include the shallu-wearing landlords and industrialists that are now part of his movement for justice. They can also wear beards, uniforms and burqas as well as jeans and ape Saudi Arabia as well as Western pop culture, but apparently that isn't quite as bad."

Read the whole thing here.

Buried in the corner of another English daily, The Express Tribune, was a story illustrating that there are politicians who do "get it".

One is Marvi Memon, an activist and member of Pakistan's People's Assembly, who has launched a new political party in the southern Sindh province.

“Sindh has unfortunately been blessed with a lot of political parties,” she [Marvi] said. “But the mindset – the ‘bothaar’ (feudal) – exists in a sector in-charge or in an SHO [local officials] or feudal. These are old politics.” The ‘new politics’ is good governance, rule of law and institution building."

Another politician, Mehtab Rashidi, sounded a pretty circumspect tone about what the head of the party would need to accomplish.

“Let’s say a few hundred thousand show up – and I’m being optimistic (at estimating that),” she says. “But what next? That’s a big question mark.” She points out what many people demand of anyone eyeing an election: “He has to work on the roadmap. What type of change? How can you change the mindset overnight or in weeks? What happens if early elections are called – is he prepared for that? He has to do a lot.”

This all reminds Londonstani of Stephen Cohen's comments last week in the Express Tribune (weekend magazine, this time) that it's not clear how, but Pakistan is bound to change. 

Friday
Jan202012

Bangladesh foils coup attempt

Londonstani knows little about Bangladesh, but read reports about the failed Islamist military coup with some interest. 

"Military spokesman Masud Razzaq said in a statement that the attempt had been thwarted by the "whole-hearted efforts of army soldiers ... He said the officers planning the coup were in active military service and had "extreme religious views".

Recently murdered Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad talked in his last book Inside al Qaeda and the Taliban about armed Islamist groups recruiting inside Bangladesh in the 1990s. While the reports on this latest coup point out that military revolts are not uncommon in Bangladesh.

"Bangladesh, a parliamentary democracy since 1990, has witnessed two presidents slain in military coups and 19 other failed coup attempts."

There's little further information about the "extreme religious views" angle, and Londonstani is not qualified to hypothosise, but it's not hard to find information on the kind of groups operating in Bangladesh and how they fit in to the wider regional context.