Keep Talking and Keep Listening!

They say listening is more difficult than talking. But what is even harder in today's world is to communicate - an intense process of listening and talking and listening and responding........
This is a forum for people to engage in a conversation which is an art that many people don't know. Lets listen to others while maintaining the courage of conviction.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Political Homosexuality

Do political hijras look any different?

Can I suggest that politics is also highly gendered. Just like things fall in the category of masculine and feminine, political ideology also has its types. Considering my own bias for the feminine, I would argue that there are forces, which support the democratic process, and hence can be rated as feminine. Those that favor authoritarian-military rule fall in the category of masculine. In Pakistan's case there is yet another category of political heterosexuals. These are individuals or forces that might pretend to be feminine but are actually the other, or they tend to swing both ways. Therefore, politics has increasingly become the game played by political hijras (eunuchs) or heterosexuals.

To give an example a few weeks ago Farahnaz Isphani's company organized a show at the Pakistan National Council of Arts, Islamabad where the chief guest were the PM, Yusuf Raza Gillani and the now 'extended' army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani. For those, who are not familiar with the lady, she is a PPPP parliamentarian and wife of Pakistan's ambassador in Washington, Hussain Haqqani. She was formerly a booker for CNN before getting a job with VoA which she had to leave because of the company's internal politics and her poor management. Anyway, the news is that this event happened exactly after her husband shook hands with the army chief.

This country and its politics seems to be a great example of political heterosexuality - everyone ready to bugger the other and offering their own service to the more powerful. Farahnaz's case is not new. The government's foreign minister falls in the same category. He seems pretty keen to become 'His Master's Voice'. Shah Mehmood Qureshi's recent letter to the UN in which he objected to the fingers raised by the international organization on the military and its intelligence agencies during investigation of Benazir Bhutto's murder is one of the many examples. Why should it surprise anyone at all? Its nothing new that the great sajjada nasheen has done. I remember a dinner party at the US ambassador Wendy Chamberlain's house in Islamabad. She had invited a few people for dinner including JI's Liaquat Baluch, the NRB fame Lt. General (retd) Tanveer Naqvi, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and a few others. I can't forget how pir sahib was singing praises of the devolution of democracy plan carved out by the general and making all efforts to make the general happy. "Oh it is a great program and we are making tremendous progress in strengthening of democracy" was the pir's refrain. He was then commanding the local government in Multan. It didn't matter that his party chief BB, who was then alive, did not agree with the devolution formula. In any case, the pir from Multan has this toothpaste or a traitor smile. The other examples being Zia-ul-Haq and the present head of the state. You don't know what are they hiding inside. But who cares? Shah Mehmood Qureshi wanted to save his little fiefdom in Multan. This puts him in the category of political eunuchs which means that they are not what we think they look like.

The pir sahib's political heterosexuality is, unfortunately, a manufacturing defect. He was born with it. He seems to have taken after his father Makhdoom Sajjad Qureshi. While Sajjad Qureshi was the governor of Punjab General Zia, who was both the President and army chief then, happened to visit Lahore data darbar. As the dictator got out of the mausoleum Makhdoom Sajjad Qureshi, who was also then the sajjada nasheen of a great shrine in Multan, put Zia's shoes in front of him with his own hands. This is called saving ones backside or knowing which side the bread is buttered, and then really applying lots of it on the toast . But its this over-obsession with saving the backside which turns a lot of politicians towards political heterosexuality. While they pretend to be for the democratic forces, there heart lies elsewhere. Moreover, this is not limited to the PPPP. Look at PML-N where the younger brother has been in bed with the military for a long time assisted by other political heterosexual like one particular chaudhry who actually looks like one in reality as well. Not to forget the PML-Q which is defined by its political heterosexuality. Deep-center, look at the great pir sahib of Pagara sharif who has played second fiddle to the GHQ. Interestingly, the pir sahib was quite powerful during Zia's regime and is held responsible for thwarting the procurement of newer Type-23 British frigates and supported the case for the old Type-21s. The pir sahib is related with pir Yusuf Raza Gillani, Makhdoom Ahmed Mehmood (PML-Q), Tasneem Nawaz Gardezi and other political stalwarts. Marriage was a great tool to connect European courts during the days of monarchical and feudal Europe. Dig a bit deeper and you will find familiar names - people involved in getting the Bhutto government of the 1970s in trouble by leaking secrets of dalai camp to the press, or the legal community working closely with the military. Some would like to say "is hamam mein sab nangey hein" (all in this bath are naked). This is not about nudity but about political sexual preference.

Nothing odd in this behavior except that the elites tend to service their interests first. Shah Mehmood Qureshi or other pirs like him represent a certain vested interest. Given Pakistan's patronage based political system, an individual politician's capability is gauged on his power to extract resources (all kinds) from the state. This formula does not produce democrats but hijras. 64 years after independence the patronage based political system has turned the tide in a way that civil-military relations must be carefully re-evaluated. There is now an abundance of political hijras and military hijras (these are military personnel pretending to be pro-democracy while they just use the concept to further their own political objectives. Most just want to remain in circulation through the media and the conference circuit and not die away like frogs).

Time to rethink the concept of the powerful establishment in Pakistan. Although it is a complex subject on which serious work was not done after the great sociologist Hamza Alavi or American political sociologist Stanley Kochanek (sadly both are now dead), I would like to lay down some basic perimeters of the country's power politics and contours of the establishment. First, as argued by well-respected authors like Mohammad Waseem, Pakistan's polity is really bureaucratic in nature. The state bureaucracy, from the early days, had a game plan for the state according to which politics, politicians and political parties were to be used to seek legitimacy from the public. This is also the reason that the military bureaucracy allows a civilian interlude every ten years. Also, it explains why the politicians tend not to learn from their past mistakes. Power, including electoral power, is always carefully manipulated. Most politicians understand that the electoral process is primed to meet the demands of the establishment except for in a post-crisis election. The formula is that every election after a crisis is likely to be fairer than the one held in relatively normal circumstances. For example, the 1970, 1988 and 2008 elections were comparatively fairer. In the absence of a crisis it is easier to distract the un-motivated voter to sift through the results.

Second, as Hamza Alavi argued, the state bureaucracy (civil and military) was meant to service the interests of the elite. I would argue that the over-concentration of power resulted in turning the civil and military bureaucracy into powerful stakeholders (for those interested in data-based analysis plz see Stanley Kochanek's book on Pakistan's Politics and Interest Groups). Third, at this juncture the establishment or the power elite is closely connected with each other through personal ties and shared interests and values. Just look at different powerful families. One example that quickly comes to mind is that of the Abida Hussain clan which has stakes in the political system, the media (through Najam Sethi/Jugnoo Mohsin group), business and industry (Syed Babur Ali), the military and the civil bureaucracy. Another angle - you will find members from the same family in different political parties as well as the state bureaucracy, the media, judiciary and other powerful groups. So, they tend to fight each other and use the conflict to gain legitimacy. This explains why the political leadership never managed to get rid of the army nor the army could ever succeed to bring about alternative leadership.

Therefore, I'd like to argue that the powerful establishment always comprises of a primary group which is aided by a secondary group of beneficiaries. Its the prime actors who form the core of the establishment. Since the birth of the country, there has been a lot of juggling between the primary and secondary players until the group began to consolidate its shape in the past couple of decades or more. A glance at the following table will give some idea about the partnership:

1947-54: (primary) LF+TIs+CB+Mil
               (secondary) TMs+PMIs+LC+Media

1954-71: (Primary) Mil+CB+LF+TIs+B&I
               (Secondary) LC+PMIs+Media

1971-77: (Primary) LF+TIs+CB+Mil
               (Secondary) Mil+B&I+LC+Media+PMIs

1977-88: (Primary) Mil+CB+PMIs
               (Secondary) LF+TIs+LC+Media

1988-99: (Primary) Mil+B&I+CB+PMIs
               (Secondary) LF+TIs+Media+LC

1999-01 (Primary) Mil+B&I+CB+PMIs+Media
              (Secondary) LF+TIs+LC+NGOSec+ForExp

2001-08 (Primary) Mil+B&I+CB+Media+PMIs
              (Secondary) LF+TIs+LC

2008-todate (Primary) Mil+B&I+CB+Media+LC
                    (Secondary) LF+TIs+NGOSec+ForExp

LF = landed-feudal
Mil = Military
TMs = Trader-Merchant class
B&I = Business and Industry
CB = civil bureaucracy
LC = legal community (a glance at Kochanek's work will show that the legal community was always part of the power elite. They were included in the initial legislatures and played a more formal role in the form of the judiciary)
TIs = Traditional Islamiscts (pirs and sajjada nasheens)
PMIs = Post-modernist Islamiscts (religious right and religious warriors)
NGOSec = non-governmental sector
ForExp = Elite foreign expatriates that are increasingly becoming partners of the state bureaucracy and frequently channel money into military sponsored projects abroad. These connections are useful especially in terms of financing positions and endowments abroad that will service the interest of the bureaucracy.

A careful look at this power arrangement and you will notice how state bureaucracy has always been a member of the core/primary. This includes the Bhutto years when the military was resuscitating and the civil bureaucracy became tremendously powerful due to its expanded role in business and industrial management. Also, the media was always on board. The first paper Dawn had state-sponsership and its editorial was always close to the state including after the change from the right to left of center. Its just that the center (after 1971) was aligned with the left as well, or at least seemingly so. Then there was Pakistan Times, the Nawa-i-Waqt group, Massawat, etc. After its physical expansion the media has begun to play a more important role. While the ownership was always aligned with the establishment, especially state bureaucratic forces, in recent years the editorial has largely managed to align itself as well. No wonder, the pay commission issue is never resolved.

The problem with the above alignment is that the elite become myopic and predatory and begin to inadvertently destroy the state. They have managed to damage the nation-state and all we are now left with is the administrative-state. This structure results in generating a clogged-up political system reeking of stench because political power does not move around and is concentrated in a small space. Much to the dislike of my alleged leftist friends, the current fad of militancy is actually a result of the above-described political heterosexuality and muck. Violence is natural in a socio-polity where all legitimate means to re-negotiate power are dead or tightly-controlled. This is not to suggest that the Deobandi-Salafi-Wahabi jihadis are the future. They, of course, have a central place in the core group of the establishment and may partly replace the elite in different parts of the state, if not the entire country. But more important, they will prosper considering that the existing elite have mostly seemed to turn into bloody hijras. I would like to apologize from the actual physical hijras because they may have more balls in them than their political counterparts.

Ps: If you think the above table needs modification, plz suggest and lets have a good discussion. An analysis of the sociology of power politics is crucial for understanding the country's political future.