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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Phateechar-gate




I have lost count of how many times in the last three years I have found myself banging my head against the wall, tearing my hair out, or just screaming into the heavens, Why?! after Imran Khan has gone and done something spectacularly stupid. Today was, of course, another such day. It came a day after the previous such instance!
Before I continue, let me make a disclosure. I voted for the PTI in last election, and I will vote for them again. Thats not what this post is about. If you must know, I would just rather take an honest, arrogant egomaniac who prioritises education, health, law and order, and the environment over any humble, soft spoken, crooks whose sole purpose in politics is self-enrichment (not naming any names!). But thats a personal preference.
And that is why Imran Khan is so infuriating!
Imran Khans outrageous statements about the foreign players that played the PSL final are just the most recent in a strategy that is consistently failing him. And yet, he persists with it. Please hold on as I try to fit in any many cricketing analogies as I can manage in what follows.  
Turn back the clock to the election 2013. The PTI was a considerably smaller party consisting of first-time voters and mummy-daddies taking on the behemoth that is the PMLN - a party that has been around power in some form or the other for over thirty years. As one might expect in such a mismatch, the PTIs strategy was to go all-out. Like any good underdog story, the Captain told his team to give it everything they had. They obliged. And like the better underdog stories (Rocky I, for example), they still lost, but after having given the PMLN a run for their money.
But the Imran Khan you saw during the election was not the Imran of old. Quite clearly, someone had told him that he was not street enough for politics; his Aitchison/Oxford ways were not going to get him votes. He needed to speak the language of the street. He needed to berate his opponents, humiliate them, call them out. This would establish him as a tough man who could take on the status quo and get things done that the gentleman Imran seemed incapable of. So Imran sledged and taunted, and put up a spectacular show only to be defeated on the fifth day (1).
While electoral victory eluded him, Imran had achieved something quite spectacular. He had managed to get the burger crowd onto the streets. He had gotten people flying in to take ownership of the country. A group that had previously been drawing-room critics, outsiders to the system, were on the streets taking on the muscle of the established parties.
And thats when things went completely wrong. People such as myself had hoped he would put this newfound force to developing a long-term plan for the next election. Essentially, canvass for him and keep the pressure on the PMLN to ensure his government got everything they needed in KPK.
Instead of appreciating the potency and fragility of his latest weapon, Imran decided to overuse it. He wasnt going to be using his pace attack in short bursts. No, his Shoaib Akhtar was going to open the bowling and keep bowling until the opposition was either bowled out of knocked out (2). As PMLN managed to hold out one barrage after another, they started getting quite good at handling his attack. The constant aggression, bearing no fruit, instead of threatening the government, started to expose his weaknesses. The strategy was clearly not working. In fact, due to the constant frontal attacks on the same issue, Imrans team seemed to be dropping chances all over the place, because they simply were not looking for them. Pretty soon he had all but depleted his reserves.
Unfortunately, there is a very predictable pattern to Imrans gameplay. He has two modes single-minded aggression and uber-single-minded aggression. When the first fails, it never occurs to him to back down and wait for the next opportunity to strike again. Instead, he doubles down. Sometimes it works, mostly it doesnt!  Weve seen it time and time again: faced with a crisis Imran Khan raises the stakes. This what we saw today. He said dont do the PSL in Lahore it wont be successful, it happened and was fairly successful, he buckled down and insisted it wasnt!
The perpetual war policy is at work where he feels he must harass the PMLN and its support structure at every juncture, no quarter must be given. The foreign cricketers were just collateral damage. Except this time, his judgement was completely off. Cricket is a touchy topic! 
To be fair, his constant attack approach is not completely insane. In fact, I came across quite a few people who believed it was essential for Imran to bring the Sharifs down a peg or two to puncture the halo of statesmanship that the PMLN was trying to create around them.
I also suspect Imran believes in one thing above all else (possibly rightly so) people support a winner! If he manages to knock out the government, all the naysayers will be silenced and all sins will be forgiven.
Unfortunately, there are two downsides to this approach. Firstly, with each attack, his chances of success are reduced, establishing the PMLN as the winner! Secondly, his is the smaller party. The only way his party can come back is by converting supporters from PMLN. His constant hostility makes this very difficult.
As a supporter of the PTI, I feel it is in desperate need of deep introspection. My qualms with Imran Khan are not based on morality. God knows, his many transgressions are nowhere near the sins of his opponents. The government in KPK seems to be making some progress as well and at the very least has its priorities in the right order. I even agree with Imran Khan that electoral reform and the Panama papers scandal are serious issues that should not be brushed under the carpet. But there are serious issues of election strategy that need to be addressed. I even agree that the institutions in the country are probably heavily stacked against the PTI simply because the PMLN has been around for so long. But the man who did this

was not very reliant on the generosity of umpires (3). He trusted his team to outperform the opposition under adverse circumstances. He needs performances like this (4)

To go a step further, I dont even mind the fact that he has compromised on so many principles and inducted a host of unsavoury characters into the party. Politics in Pakistan requires such moves.
But the big question is, are these moves going to pay off? Will they result in PTI gaining more popularity and votes than the other parties? Could there possibly not be more electorally beneficial actions that could be taken? Could the selling out actually be backfiring?
Imran Khan and PTI should use this fiasco as a wake-up call to check whether they consider themselves to be on the path to a thumping victory in 2018, or whether theyre just hoping the administration will disqualify the opposition on match-fixing allegations (5). It really will not be good enough if 5 years on, the PTI is still playing the role of boisterous rag-tag outsiders they were at the last election. In 2018, they will need to be a well-oiled machine; a serious party. The PMLN have had their strategy and systems in place for a long time now. The PTI needs to figure out how to counter them a task they have been largely struggling with so far.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Narrative Narrative (Part 1)

Narrative seems to be one of those words that’s really caught on in recent years. No opinion on politics or society seems complete without at least some comment on the “narrative” that we/them have built/are building/will build.
This thought actually struck me as I sat at the Lahore Literary Festival held in the city in February (yes, this is the average time it takes me to get a thought down on metaphorical paper).  So, as I sat through my third session where speakers spoke at length about the issue of the narrative in Pakistan, I found myself somewhat irritated by the fact that the conversations seemed stuck well within the confines of “the narrative”.
To be fair, this third talk was titled “National Narrative” so I don’t know what I was expecting. A small disclaimer, perhaps, that while we discuss these things, listeners should bear in mind other socio-economics factors that may have contributed to the events we are discussing. Besides, talks before and after that did not contain the word narrative in their title, and seemed equally fixated with the idea.
“But, you idiot,” I hear you exclaim, “it was a literary festival, of course they were going to focus on narratives”. And quite right you are, imaginary reader, and here exactly, is where one of the several problems lies. Bear with me.
Of course, since then, I kept a look out for the appearance of narratives and their explanations. Sure enough, from the mainlands of English newspapers to the coastal regions of Twitter, everybody and their uncle was going off about narrative this and narrative that.
I think there are several reasons for this trend, mostly driven by the explosive growth in the independent media in the country and a lack of trained specialists. Allow me to take you through them one by one.
Let’s take the Literary Festival example to begin with. Let me get into my bullet-proof tank, drive to a safe distance, pull out my megaphone, and humbly suggest that there is some level of personal ego-massaging and self-aggrandisement going on here. After all, who are these people who treat narratives like atomic energy; beneficial in the right hands, devastating in the wrong ones? These Op-Ed writers and “social commentators” are exactly the same people involved in the framing of said narratives. So, it comes as no surprise that they think and suggest that this is the most crucial job in the world. It’s sort of like, if the guy who cleaned the Apollo 11 rocket before launch, told you that had the windshield not been cleaned properly, there would have been no moon-landing! That may be true, but it’s far from the whole story. Furthermore, the importance of the narrative does lie somewhat with how much importance society gives it. So simply by saying it’s important, it becomes important!
The second reason narratives are in vogue is also fairly closely related to the one given above. The sheer convenience for lazy pseudo-intellectuals, such as me (specifically the ones who write about unquantifiable, vague topics such as narratives) is immense. Had I been writing about more earthy topics, such as, say, scientific developments or economics, I might have had to actually go through troves of literature and data to be able to back up my opinions with solid report-based facts. I would be open to attack by anyone who understood the subject, and would run the risk of being objectively proved wrong. For example, if I were to say that people were growing poorer in the 70s, I would either have to quote some figures, or run the risk of someone else doing so and proving me wrong.
On the other hand, if I were to say, people grew more intolerant in the 70s, I need not bother with any of that. Opinion, and even better, opinion dressed up as history, has the dual advantage of sounding profound, and being fairly unchallengeable. It serves, therefore, as a benign hobby-horse that will neither buck nor rear.
In fact, the simplistic arguments involved in discussing narratives means that everybody can have a good time throwing around terms like “leftist” or “right-wing ideology” or “democratic principles” or any other such term without the inconvenience of having to actually define or understand them. In the eyes of the narrative, we are all equal!
Moving on, another major reason discussions on narratives are doing the rounds is that they are easy to digest. Without offending the sensibilities of the reader, these writers are able to provide a nicely packaged, one-stop explanation for everything that has gone wrong with the country. The fault lies with everyone who propagated the narrative and everyone who follows it. It is unlikely that you are responsible for propagating the narrative. Furthermore, by reading said article/blog/tweet you have proved that you are a shrewd, intellectual, tolerant, humane, politically savvy Man-of-the-world. You, dear reader, are A-OK! You're on the inside track. It’s all these other morons around you who keep buying into this nonsense; they have let us all down. We must either fight them or rescue them from their own stupidity.
This feeds quite well off the fact that media outlets are also incentivised not to hire experts or worry about their aptitude in their specific fields. All they need are people who have the skill of holding an opinion (any opinion, really), and the ability to dress up said opinions and present them.
By the way, a glaring result of this was the whole Agha Waqar water-car story. For once, news channels were faced with a story where their masterly powers of storytelling were of no use. The science was either solid or it wasn't! Finding out which required some basic understanding of science coupled with a bit of reading up on the specific issues at hand. Not being equipped with the faculties required for either, news channels decided to treat the story in their traditional manner. They decided to call everyone on television and “talk it out” until they reached a conclusion. The result, of course, was that a story that should not have made it past a preliminary vetting phase became a national phenomenon. Week after week, scientists such as Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman spluttered in disbelief as they sat across Agha Waqar (science’s answer to the “social commentator”) who sat convincingly spouting nonsensical terms, while anchors cluelessly nodded at both with equal reverence. The one thing that kept Agha Waqar going was the fact that news media turned him into a narrative story as well – the poor untrained science genius who was going to solve everyone’s energy problems by sticking it to the oil companies!
Right about now, even I am growing tired of this topic. I can only imagine the amount of blood oozing out of your eyes. So let me leave the conclusions for my next post, while all one of you who made it thus far digest what I am trying to say.
I picked up this topic because of the harm I think this over-emphasis on the narrative does (notice that I don’t need to back up either this or the coming assessment).  Part deux will deal with exactly what harm I am referring to.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Post Election


The road to the elections were a truly phenomenal experience, and regardless of the outcome I must express my immense gratitude to Imran Khan for making me part of it. The days leading up to it were perhaps the greatest learning experience of my life.
In light of this, I feel I must share some observations.
To start off, all you urban middle-class, educated, mineral water drinking, Facebook warriors, well done! Pat yourselves on the back. You have managed to send a resounding ‘Fuck you!’ to the hordes of pragmatic ‘intellectuals’ on both sides of the class divide; all those who first taunted you for not having what it takes to participate in political rallies, those who accused you of not having the strength to back your convictions, those who essentially thought you would be busy tweeting pictures of your dinner while the polls went on outside. You showed up to the polls. You flew in from outside the country in droves, you drove to your villages and when the system tried to discourage you with cheap tricks and strong-arm tactics, you stood your ground. For the first time in my life, and I’m sure in most of your lifetimes, you invested in the system and you should be proud.
I still have a childhood memory of Imran Khan’s first election. Everybody we knew trusted him and wanted him in power. However, halfway through the polls, as it probably became apparent that he was on course for a crashing defeat, a hastily prepared ad started appearing on TV. It was the great man himself, standing alone, desperately pleading for people to get out and vote. I don’t think anyone moved. Our generation can, at least, be proud of learning from the mistakes of our parents.
Having said this, there is no denying that the results initially came as a disappointment. Though everyone knew practically that 20-30 seats would be a good showing for PTI, and though we could probably guess that Imran Khan was indulging in psychological warfare when he made tall claims, deep down somewhere, there was hope that the tsunami just might come. The no show definitely hurt, but it highlights just how much work remains to be done by the party. This brings me to my second and most important point. Unfortunately, there is a huge social class divide in our country. Canvassing for votes during this election reaffirmed my growing realisation that the middle/upper-middle class is heavily isolated from the rest of the country.
There has been a long held, and oft-stated belief among the educated middle classes that democracy is not a good model for an illiterate population. In recent times, intellectual proponents of the democratic system have been viciously attacking this perception, denouncing it as elitist and intolerant. They go even further to criticise the middle class’s understanding of the situation, firmly attesting to the inherent wisdom and maturity of the average voter. To this day, I had usually fallen silent at this argument. Far be it from me to be a bigot!
However, today, after weeks of speaking to voters, I would like to loudly and unequivocally call “Bullshit!” on these intellectual assessments. The fact of the matter is, most voters are uneducated and isolated, and they are totally exploited by the Pakistani democratic system. Politicians operate through a careful manipulation of disillusionment, fears and misperceptions. Most voters are brow-beaten to the point where cash is good alternative to ideology. Many are fed lies and conspiracy theories to keep them on board. Some are threatened, some are bribed. All these analysts who talk about illiteracy not hampering decision making are essentially pulling facts out of their backsides.
But here is where the crucial question arises. What next? Well, in Purana Pakistan, these urban educated middle class voters would have thrown up their hands in despair and cursed themselves for being associated with such a state. They are, after all, vastly outnumbered (and one suspects, not by accident!). When it comes to democracy they can easily be overwhelmed and disillusioned. A broken bureaucratic system used to, and benefitting from, this state of affairs will also not up and vanish overnight. To be honest, as I write this, it occurs to me for the first time that Khan’s political rhetoric was not just rhetoric – this really was an attempt at shaking up the status quo. So, the deck is stacked firmly against our educated middle class heroes.
On the other hand, I hope in the Naya Pakistan (or the repaired Pakistan, as many are calling it), things will be different. After all, Imran Khan is nothing if not inspirational. He is renowned for his dogged refusal to accept things as they are. That was what Naya Pakistan was all about, a resolve to change the country to better serve its citizens.
Fortunately, illiteracy and ignorance are neither genetic nor incurable. Even without a PTI government at the helm of affairs, we can still declare an education emergency. We may not all be able to get involved in formal education, but we can certainly start by engaging more with those around us; by leaving our cocooned lifestyles, by adopted greater civic and political sense and by imparting it at every given opportunity. It has now become essential that we take on this cause, not for the betterment of other peoples’ lives, but for the sake of your own. In other words, procreation isn’t the only way to swell your ranks!
Finally, as I write this, there are reports of a protest going on against Saad Rafique’s now famous hooliganism at NA125. This is another good sign. As more people get invested in the political system, there is increasing awareness about rights and responsibilities. Thus far, the educated middle class have been hamstrung by their inability to take the final step of actually stepping on to the street. Many will try to dissuade you, many will tell you that this is just about being a sore loser, many will tell you it wouldn’t have made much of a difference anyway. They are wrong! This is about sending a message to parliamentarians that such actions are intolerable. Ideally, the police would have arrested him and he would be facing charges. However, when the state machinery fails, it falls to citizens to enforce their rights.
Too long have we been dictated by people ‘who know better’. They don’t! If anything, they only know how the system works. They have no idea about how it should. It’s high time we took charge and started spending more time and energy into bettering our surroundings.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Crunch Time for PTI



In the build-up of the 23rd March jalsa by the PTI, the euphoria on the social media was palpable. The event itself heightened the frenzy. And then, the very next day, Imran Khan dropped the J-bomb!
The twitterati went into hyperdrive. All critics and a great many supporters roundly denounced Imran Khan’s announcement of a possible seat adjustment with the Jamaat-e-Islami. All of a sudden, a political party that had theretofore been just another dubious player in the dirty politics of Pakistan came to embody everything wrong with the country. A considerable laundry list of charges, starting pre-partition, going via East-Pakistani atrocities, up to and including Dr. Munawar Hasan’s dubious and frankly scary understanding of rape laws, was hammered out again and again. By association, not only was the JI answerable for these charges, so too was the PTI.
For several critics this was the moment Imran Khan exposed himself as the closet mullah that he was. His supporters were also at a loss to reconcile these charges with their own consciences and floundered about trying to make sense of it all. Some made valiant efforts to try and explain the move as a tactical one rather than an ideological one, but with negligible success. Suddenly, the PTI was JI and the JI was PTI! The charges against the JI were all accurate and the questions being put to the PTI were awkward. This is a very positive development.
In fact, herein lies the difference between the PTI and its following, and the rest of the political parties in the country. The vital question is this: would there have been such a furore if the Jamaat-e-Islami had allied itself with any other mainstream party in the country? Would anyone have batted an eyelid or raised an eyebrow at news of a possible seat adjustment between the JI and the PMLN (as is happening now) or even a JI-PPP alliance?
That fact of the matter is that the PTI is selling itself as the ethical party that will change politics in the country forever. In doing so, it has raised the bar for itself much higher than everyone else. This is only natural, as the smallest player on the block, it has had to make tall claims to be noticed and taken seriously. The fact that the electorate, too, is now responding by taking them to task over these claims even before the elections means that their movement has now reached the point where followers are also invested in their cause. The movement is now bigger than Imran Khan.
The next step is going to be ticket allotment. Already, rumours of some ‘electables’ possibly not being granted party tickets due to a less than stellar financial record are being met with jubilant approval. In such a situation the PTI parliamentary board will be under immense pressure to select and field candidates that cannot later embarrass them. Bad PR for a few candidates could very easily jeopardise their entire campaign.
Having said all this, the electorate and the various political analysts also need to keep ground realities in mind. They need to understand that the PTI may have the election locked down on Facebook but, as critics are keen to point out, the election is not going to be contested in cyberspace. The actual battleground are the villages, streets, and mohallas of Pakistan. In this non-virtual world, while having undergone rapid growth, the PTI is still a nascent player. The lumbering PMLN, uninhibited by qualms of ethicality is absorbing everything in its path. Similarly, the well-established PPP has been fairly unabashedly using its position as the incumbent to facilitate a return. Given these factors, the PTI leadership will have to play a delicate balancing game where is does not lose its core message, but does not also end up fighting with one hand tied behind its back.
Frankly, if corruption alone had been a vote getter, the PTI would not have received the thrashings it previously has. There is, after all, a reason that most “decent, clean people” have either enjoyed limited success or steered well clear of the political arena in Pakistan for a considerable amount of time – it requires one to get their hands dirty.
Furthermore, people also need to realise that while it’s a good thing to hold PTI to its tall claims, it is also worthwhile to bear in mind that the bar for the PTI is higher than the PMLN and the PPP. If they are unable to meet their own standards, they still need to be compared to these parties rather than being dismissed outright.
Critics seem to forget that at the end of the day, the PTI is still a political party, and like all political parties it relies heavily on rhetoric. It is surprising how often intellectuals seem unable to glean the overall message and get lost, instead, arguing with rhetorical statements. Most notably, PTI’s radical terminology (tsunami, change etc.) are repeatedly used against them. That the PTI has had at least minor positive effects on the political landscape of Pakistan is undeniable. The politicisation of the urban middle classes, the campaign, specifically the fund raising techniques and the rabid obsession with financial propriety among the political classes are strong achievements for the PTI. Unfortunately, for many critics, these are not radical enough. They should, however, be appreciated as steps in the right direction.
Too many people make the argument that if the PTI is going to compromise, then it need not exist. This approach makes the broad assumption that all compromises are the same, hence, since existing parties are quite adept at this task there is no need for the PTI. Most of the time, these people acknowledge that such an approach would most likely result in abject defeat, but insist that in some cosmic way this virgin sacrifice will serve a higher purpose.
Upon democracy’s much celebrated return to our land in 2008, article upon article was written about how the uninterrupted democratic process would result in the gradual cleansing of the political pool. Well, this is it. Round one of the sifting is here. Does the Pakistani public want to back the relatively cleaner of the parties and push the political spectrum towards more accountable governments, or does it want to wait around a few more years in hope of a better option to come along? This is crunch time!
Finally, for a long time the PMLN made the argument that a vote for PTI would divide the electorate, leaving people at the mercy of the PPP. Let me put a new spin on this very argument. Another disastrous election for the PTI may well result in its annihilation, leaving people at the mercy of the PMLN and the PPP. How well would these two perform if there was no PTI around? How long would it take before a population, their resolve emaciated by misgovernance and corruption, once again welcomed a military takeover?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tsunami weathers the storm


The day had been pretty much the same as the Jalsa in 2011 when Imran Khan came up to speak. There had been sporadic bursts of chanting, singing, the occasional dancing accompanied as well as wisecracks at the more lacklustre speeches. Then, the heavens opened up and everything changed! 
Before the storm arrived Khan told his audience not to leave when it did; he needn’t have bothered. The weather merely served to enhance the electric atmosphere. An already charged up crowd stood on their chairs to wholeheartedly embrace the elements. As the winds gained momentum, so did the enthusiasm of the PTI supporters, and when conditions eventually took their toll on Khans audibility the crowd knew exactly how to respond. For an immeasurable amount of time, they stood, arms raised, facing the heavy downpour, the wind, and in the backdrop of thunder and lightening wildly going through various chants. They shifted several times through “We Want Change” to the somewhat appropriate “Aik Tsunami aik Toofan, Imran Khan Imran Khan”. 
Eventually, as some of the lights gave out, it became apparent that continuing would be impossible and people from the stage could be seen signalling for the crowd to leave, some of the more enthusiastic had even moved on to “Doob Jaaenge Mar Jaaenge, Nahi Jaaenge Nahi Jaeenge!”. Finally, however, the tide slowly began to recede, bringing to end one of the most spectacular experiences ever. 
Somebody had pointed me to the weather report before the day began. I knew the thunderstorm was on the cards and was worried it might ruin everything. Rain had come and gone once during the day, not nearly as severe as what followed at night, and people had taken it in their stride. However, when the storm hit, it magnified the magnitude of the experience. It gave the crowd the opportunity to show they were serious. This was not some rent-a-crowd going through the motions, nor were these picnic-makers on a fun day out. These were people out to make a point, and they meant business.
Those minutes where nature and the crowd got together to put up their spectacular show perfectly symbolised everything the PTI has been trying to achieve. If the analysts and the media are able to properly capture the essence of that moment (which I think they have failed to do so thus far), it should be enough to cause the other parties some serious sleepless night. As it stands, they deny these scenes at their own peril. Keep watching, this Tsunami may well hit Pakistani shores against all odds – not bad for a party that started out as the butt of “garmi mein kharaab” jokes.



Friday, February 15, 2013

The New Religion


Anybody who remembers the scene from PTV’s Taleem-e-Balighaan about the three gharray (clay pots) titled Ittehad, Tanzeem and Yaqeen-e-Mohkam (Unity, Discipline and Faith) may remember that students had already destroyed Ittehad and Tanzeem, and only Yaqeen-e-Mohkam survived. Maulvi Sahab reported in his letter to the inspector “Le de ke aik Yaqeen-e-Mohkam reh gaya hai, jiss par kaam chaloo hai. Agar ab bhi ittehad aur tanzeem se sabaq na liya gaya, tou ye qaum yaqeen-e-mohqam ka bhi wohi hashar kar degi”. (In the end, only Faith is left, which allows us to function. If we still do not learn from Unity and Discipline, these people will ensure Faith meets the same fate).
*Reference video below will work if Youtube ever does.


These words, prophetic as they were, did not predict the next step we are about to embark upon.
Certain facts have now been firmly established. The constitution is sacred, and, like all sacred scripture, it is now to be selectively quoted and interpreted as the situation demands. We also now ‘believe’ in democracy, a belief dangerously edging towards faith.
Like all faiths, it has priests and shamans. These are the people who have a special understanding of Democracy. Some even claim they have a special relationship with it, being able to communicate directly with, and interpret the will of Democracy. These are the people who have, in all humility, accepted the burden of acting as Democracy’s representatives in Pakistan.
The overall aim and philosophy of Democracy seems not to make themselves apparent to its staunchest adherents. Most ardent followers restrict themselves to belief in the power of the cyclical ritual of elections. They believe them to have the dual effect of cleansing both their own souls and those of their sectarian leaders. Many conservative believers, having a strong fundamentalist belief in the omnipotence of Democracy see any attempts to regulate or check its will as both innovation and blasphemy. This belief is further strengthened by certain high-priests who not only espouse this view, but have also decreed their own infallibility. As a result, an affront to these priests is an affront to Democracy itself.
There have been more than one pioneer who brought the word of Democracy to the common people. Most of them died for our sins. Even today, Democracy demands sacrifices, though now they are mostly financial. These financial sacrifices are mostly borne by the state the year round, however there is increased fervor around the festival of the election. 
The measure of a good believer is, not surprisingly, his ability to believe. The most pious of these are the ones who accepted Democracy early on, and have never since allowed any sort of doubt to enter their hearts or minds. These are the ones who shall be held in highest esteem upon the establishment of the glorious kingdom of Democracy.
Less pious, and consequently less fortunate, are those who believe, but occasionally falter. Their failure to appreciate that Democracy works in mysterious ways is what often leads them to sin by despair. They sin by doubting the omnipotence of Democracy or by allowing themselves to be tempted into the new-fangled ways of false democracies.
The unbelievers are to be pitied. Their constricted hearts will never truly allow them to understand the magic of the invisible hand of Democracy. They will never see enlightenment or the golden hereafter. In fact, if it was up to them, no one would see it.
Sectarianism in the new faith is somewhat worrying. Since the establishment of Democracy, its adherents have, over time, been divided into several factions. Each accuses the others of straying from the true path and misleading followers in the process. Many hard line followers believe this to be the result of mischief by the unbelievers, meant to divide the true following.
Though conversion rates for Democracy have historically fluctuated in the country, true, hard-line adherents have only recently found a strong base in Pakistan. Whether this upswing continues or whether it will make its way back remains to be seen. One result of this somewhat limited strength is the absence of preaching and crusading. Pakistani believers, unlike some of their first-world counterparts, at the moment simply lack the strength and the resources to bring the good word of Democracy to the heathen parts of the world!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Political Performances


Five years of democracy and the free media have had their ups and downs. There was lots of drama, and occasionally some substance. Politicians had returned from the wilderness into a completely changed world and had to adapt quickly. New phrases, techniques and protocols had to be developed and adopted. On most occasions the result, apart from tragedy, was hilarity! Here are a few of the best trends that caught on in the Pakistani media.

“Dekhein ghaltian tou sab se hui hein” (We’ve all made mistakes)


The best of the trends came right at the start. Several politicians were stepping out of the darkness and back into the light under the protection of the NRO. As they emerged, blinking, trying to adjust to this fresh new world, they pledged their support to this new reconciliation. Whatever had happened, had happened. It was time to start over. And when the issue of corruption came up, they said, “Well, we all make mistakes”.
I never quite got over this phrase (as you can see!) to describe the act of corruption. I, too, have made several mistakes in my life. I can say to a certainty that none of them resulted in my bank balance being pushed up a few million rupees. In fact, most of my mistakes have been detrimental to me. There was the time I failed to estimate the speed of an oncoming car when driving into a busy intersection - that cost me a pretty penny and an earful from my father. There was the time I accidentally converted bytes to bits by multiplying by a thousand (rather than eight, if you don’t know!) in an exam - no million rupees there. There was the time I missed a miscalculation on an Excel sheet at work – the company still did not hand over the million rupees.
These politicians have to be the luckiest bastards alive! They make a mistake, and as luck would have it, they turn out richer for it. The Lord really does work in mysterious ways. You’ve got to love the image of a politician sitting in front of an illegal deal with a pen, signing it, and going “O dammit, I’ve done it again! I really should be more careful next time.” Or maybe just stuffing his pockets with bank notes, “What am I like?! Here I’ve done it again, o well!” In the background, a cash register goes ka-ching! Alas, like the NRO, this line was not to last.

“Mein inn ki bohot izzat karta hoon” (I have great respect for him/her)


This is another brilliant phrase that caught like wildfire, and is alive and well today. Somehow, protocol of the Pakistani talk show now requires participants to assure each other, the host, and the audience of their great respect for, and maybe even reverence to, their opposition. This little bit of etiquette might have been effective, if this line wasn’t usually sandwiched on both sides by streams of accusations and abuse. As it stands, all participants come out looking like complete idiots!
Here’s how it goes, Politician A accuses Politician B and his party of rampant corruption, mismanagement, theft, coupled with whatever is the soup of the day (be it the Asghar Khan case or the Baloch situation). Politician A then goes on to say “Ye mere bhai/meri behn hein, mein inn ki bohot izzat karta hoon”. The effect, of course, is that a simple-minded viewer such as myself is left wondering exactly which he respects; Politician B’s presumably advanced techniques of corruption, mismanagement or theft. The whole scenario gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “honour among thieves”.

“Waqt aane pe bayaan karoonga” (I shall reveal it when the time comes)


We have all been assured a climactic moment, when the nation shall be gathered in the old library, and in the dim lights, all shall be revealed. Presumably, this moment will have to last a good number of weeks because the revealing will have to be done by so many people and on so many diverse topics. Hercule Zardari will probably get the ball rolling with the revelation on who actually killed his wife. Then perhaps Lt. Rehman Columbo will get up in his crumpled raincoat, cigar in hand complete his predecessors story, before moving on the encyclopaedia of juicy titbits he’s been storing up. (These will include, but by no means be limited to, the case of the disgruntled WAGs of Karachi surreptitiously financed by foreign hands to carry out target killing through the medium of internet videos).
Of course, once the politicians got started with this tantalising phrase, everyone joined in. Even the ex-wicket-keeper Zulqarnain Haider got into the act with his “conclusive evidence” against Kamran Akmal. The TTP also decided to show some statesmanship when they stated they weren’t exactly sure about how they regarded Imran Khan. They, too, would only reveal their stance on him “when the time comes”. So now, anyone and everyone gets up, makes a statement and promises evidence to be delivered “when the time comes”.
I for one, can’t wait to find out if I am right. Was it actually Colonel Mustard in the Billiard Room with a Candlestick? Any day now, we’ll find out. Actually, come to think of it, we might even find out what really did happen at Tashkent!

Miscellaneous


The talking over everyone else part is, of course, old hat and not very interesting. The occasional name-calling or ‘gaali-galoch’ is interesting, but not where the real entertainment lies. The fun parts are the politicians’ somewhat vain attempts to appear respectable and cultured. These involve excessively peppering their sentences with phrases like “guzarish ye hai” and “ghaliban”, they also involve accusing other participants of having worse manners. These tactics seem spectacularly out of place in the political royal rumble that is the Pakistani talk show, and make their users come across like the inmate at the asylum who insists on wearing a top-hat with his tattered vest.
Special mention here for the woman who has epitomised the adaption to television, Miss Sharmila Farooqi. She couples these last two techniques with the deftness of an Olympic gymnast and the subtlety of a wrecking ball. After she’s done talking over everyone else, if anyone manages to get a word in, she immediately switches gears and accuses him of lacking the required etiquette when addressing a “lady”. She then proceeds to ignore his point on that account! Brilliant!

The Maulvi's Dilemma


I almost forgot one of the most amusing things we see on TV, the holy man's catch 22. This one has nothing to do with poltics. I think the most famous example of this was Veena Malik. Ever so often a "religious scholar" of some sort will entangle himself in a battle against obscenity. Some show will be denounced for its supposed low moral standards and the scholar and the defender of the show will lock horns. The arguments will fly back and forth, covering Islam, piety, social responsibility, until suddenly, the defender of said offending show will drop the bomb. He/she will innocently ask, "Kya aap ne show dekha hai?" (Have you seen the show?). Mr. Maulvi is now well and truly ensnared; thereon it's mate in two! He has two possible answers, "Yes, I am a despicable lech who enjoys the same things he is denouncing!" or "No, I have no idea what I'm talking about and have just come to rail on about things I know nothing about." Poor Mr. Maulvi will struggle against the current, trying to create a third possibility, "I have heard about it from other people." but all such efforts are rendered useless when this new possibility is quickly lumped into option 2 by both the host and the defender. "Ah, so you haven't seen it yourself, you have been shamefully misguided. Please come back when you know what you're talking about."

The past five years have in fact thrown up much more than this. The media ensured that we saw and heard every single absurdity that took place in the corridors of power, and, to be fair, in every remote corner of the country. I suspect they also ensured that we were too engrossed in the show to actually take things seriously; no mean feat! The performances have been truly exquisite and all involved should take this time to come in front of the curtain and take a well-deserved bow.