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.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bringing Change in a Praetorian State - Hamza Alavi Distinguished Lecture 2011

The mirage of middle class revolution

The middle class is incapable of bringing change in a praetorian state like Pakistan

Change seems to be the new anthem exciting the people of Pakistan. Crushed or pulled apart by two opposing influences, people want change. On the one hand, there is the humiliation of being endlessly poor and powerless, suffering from a moth-eaten political system. On the other, there is the burden of an image of a pariah state that has resulted in reduction of opportunities for an average Pakistani. There are several diagnosis and an equal number of prescriptions.

However, what seems to have caught the imagination of many, especially in large urban centers, is the idea of replacement of the traditional elite comprising of feudal landowners and industrial-business elite by the middle class. The latest political narrative being spread through the media and newer publications talks about the growing power of the middle class. There are at least two books published in 2011 that repeat the middle class mantra. But will this emerging middle class bring the much-needed change in Pakistan?
In sociological terms the concept of lower, middle and upper classes developed as a response to the rigid and deterministic Marxian definition of class. However, as experts point out there is no consensus on what constitutes these different categories, especially the middle class. Every society though has its own variation. For instance, while looking at Pakistan, the middle class must be divided amongst three levels: lower, middle and upper, as well as on the basis of location such as urban versus rural middle class. According to Nayyab, the middle class represents the middle position on the continuum of wealth, power and prestige.

“In the wealth continuum middle class can be presented by individuals who are neither rentiers nor unskilled labourers. On the power continuum they can be the people who are not as weak as to carry out the commands of others but not as influential to achieve their goals despite opposition. Similarly, they cannot be individuals who receive little respectful treatment nor the ones who are entitled to deferential and respectful treatment”.
There are three estimates of the size of the middle class: first, 20 million; second, Ishrat Hussain’s 30 million; and third, Durre Nayyab’s 61 million. Nayyab’s definition uses the concept of ‘extended middle class’. Without getting into the issues of definition, it is noteworthy that the growth of the middle class is accompanied with increased urbanisation. In fact, Pakistan has the fastest growth rate of urbanisation in South Asia. The estimated growth rate of urbanization for 2005 is calculated at 35 percent. According to Arif Hassan, this urbanisation also includes migration from rural to urban areas. About 8 percent of the total population (1998 census) comprises of migrants, out of which 63.7 percent have migrated from rural to urban areas. Another important phenomenon is the growing number of urban centres. For instance, in Punjab alone there are five large cities (population around 10 million), 15 intermediate cities (population around 5 million), 74 small cities (population around 1 million), and 114 towns (population less than 50,000). This number will increase after the new census.

As far as the nature of the middle class is concerned, the bulk of the rural middle class represents medium-sized (less then 100 acres) farmers and the burgeoning trader-merchant class that live in towns or small cities but have cropped up from villages and depend on the agrarian economy. The rural-urban borderland middle class, on the other hand, comprises trader-merchants, small businessmen and professional class belonging to various vocational groups in intermediate cities and large cities. The purely urban middle and upper middle class includes the bulk of the state bureaucracy such as civil servants and military, the burgeoning media, judiciary and legal community, the NGO sector and professional expatriate Pakistanis that are keen to build their influence in their home country by remaining central to its politics. The case of Ghulam Nabi Fai, an expatriate Kashmiri leader based in the US and some of his friends that were allegedly part of the ISI’s operations in Washington, DC is a case in point.

                    One of the primary assumptions is that this extended middle class works for and is an instrument of change. It is also believed that this class aims at a new agenda that represents departure from the traditional elite. Since the middle class is an intermediary class that has the potential of transforming into the upper class, it desires an environment that supports upward mobility. In Pakistan’s case, the upward mobility of the middle class thus far has been in the form of economic growth accompanied by very slow political growth. Hence the argument is that the empowerment of the middle class will result in a drastic change in the country’s power structure. Some even argue that such empowerment will trickle down to the lower classes as well. The subtext of this change theory is that empowerment of the middle class will bring liberal-secular modernity to the country. The political movement led by Imran Khan or Pervez Musharraf and a few others is viewed as representing the ethos of the middle class. People like Shaoib Hashmi have defended Musharraf’s coup on television programmes on the basis of the general representing middle class ethos.
Does this middle class have the capacity to bring a real change based on political liberalism? No. Here is why it is not possible.
First, as some would argue that Pakistan actually does not have a middle class but an middle income class. This differentiation is due to the inherently pre-capitalist nature of the socioeconomy that has not gone through the same experience of industrialization as Europe where the entire argument of the middle class was based. Second, the middle class cannot be politically progressive as it is a product of a praetorian society and political structure that is driven by politico-economic factors such as the link between military dictatorships and the middle class. The economic growth of the extended middle class is linked with a praetorian state system that is based on kleptocratic distributive system. There are two aspects of it: one, according to Akbar Zaidi, the regimes of Generals Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf built and provided fillip to the middle class in terms of enhancing its economic potential which creates a bonding between the military regimes and the middle class; and two, given the praetorian nature of the society, which means it is driven by an authoritarian instinct, the political process remains dependent on military authoritarianism even under civilian governments and the distributive system kleptocratic. Not surprisingly, this group of people is inclined towards authoritarian rule, especially by the military, rather than support the democratic process. Most recently, new political movements denoted by urban-based political parties such as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf – PTI (the justice party) run by the former cricketer Imran Khan espouses wrangling political control through the army’s help. This in Pakistan is referred to as the ‘Bangladesh model’, a form of a middle class coup meant to eliminate traditional power centres.

The military in Pakistan, which is also considered as representing the middle class interests, is inclined to insert a ‘clean’ party in the political process. In any case, the armed forces, which form a sizable chunk of the middle class, are inclined towards their organisational control of politics of the state, indirectly if not directly. Therefore, the middle class is not necessarily inclined towards a democratic process. Such a behavior is directly related with the absence of means to negotiate political power through legitimate means. The society has become so deeply praetorian that it cannot imagine a change without force. The middle class aligns with faces rather than values and principles resulting in a situation where particular groups will align with set icons in the name of liberalism or radicalism.

Third, a glance at the behavior of various groups that fall in the category of extended middle class shows that it has an authoritarian nature. The media and the legal community, for instance, are as inclined towards force as the elite. So there is no basic difference between the two.

Fourth, the divide between the middle class and the elite may be imaginary as the various classes are linked and so the extended middle class is partly an extension of the ruling elite. Historically, the urban middle class grew into the elite, which Hamza Alavi categorised in his work as the indigenous bourgeoisie and metropolitan capitalist. The state has always had a direct role in elevating groups from one class to another. The British state, for instance, made many middle class players, who worked as its contractors into upper middle class and later the upper class. Similarly, the deep state or the establishment in the country has supported various groups and propelled them or kept them in power. Hamza Alavi expounded upon this factor at great length. Describing and explaining the linkage between the various power centers or classes is certainly one of his biggest contributions. In his seminal work that explained Pakistan as an overdeveloped state, Alavi hypothised about the linkage between the various elite groups and the manner in which their interests were served and protected by the military and the civil bureaucracy. The state evolved as a bureaucratic state in which the bureaucratic forces were more powerful and the politicians to legitimise the former’s power. Although Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal has vehemently challenged Alavi’s perspective, the fact of the matter is that it is Alavi’s paradigm that aids in understanding the peculiar behavior of Pakistan’s power politics.

It is important to understand the power structure and behavior of power politics to understand why the middle class may not be the agent of change. Pakistan has a power structure in which power is a continual process that does not stop but changes face and perhaps colour. The middle class, which is being imagined as the focal point of power in the future, has actually never been out of power.

According to Akbar Zaidi, the regimes of Generals Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq had built and provided fillip to the middle class in terms of enhancing its economic potential. Let us also not forget that one of the major components of the middle class is the military and civil bureaucracy that has undergone a class transformation as well. A recent research done by Shuja Nawaz and Christine Fair highlights the changing colour of the military as being more urban middle class. This is not a recent phenomenon but something that had begun to happen after the 1950s when the indigenisation of the officer cadre forced the military to increase its induction and so it could not be limited to just the elite families. The intake into the two bureaucracies has a strong middle class component. It is another matter that there is a class system within the bureaucracies as well in which the echelons integrate smoothly with the rest of the ruling elite mainly due to common interests. However, those at the bottom of the ladder aspire to get to the top and thus become protectors of elite interests. Or those at the bottom of the ladder have been made to believe that it is through their association with a particular organisation or interest group that they can further their own interests.

People like Fahmida Riaz and Shoaib Hashmi, among many others, failed to understand the peculiar construct of the country’s power politics. Had they read Hamza Alavi and understood his underlying philosophy, they might not have been confused by Musharraf’s personality. It would certainly not take them much time to understand that the middle class may be the background for many in the military and civil bureaucracy but, once at the top, the echelons are integrated into the elite and represent elite interests rather then that of their original class. Power wipes out their original memory or association with the lower-middle or middle class except for some superficial values or belief system.

The power structure has resulted in the evolution of a praetorian society or what Alavi used to call the pre-capitalist socioeconomy which means a combination of feudalism and post-colonial capital. Most important, force, authority and even violence is central to the social structure. The formula is not liberal at all. So, we have to think hard when we talk about rampant feudalism in the country. It is fashionable to say that the middle class will become a source of ending feudalism when the fact of the matter is that the feudalism’s physical shape has changed. The 2008 Parliament, for instance, has about 25 members out of a house of 342 with over 100 acres landholding. Not to forget the leadership of parties like the PML-N, PML-Q and Jamaat-e-islami that have a middle class background. Even the current PPP leadership, a party usually associated with feudal-landowners, has become a mix of rural and urban middle class with peppering of traditional elite. This is not the defence of the feudal-landowners but it is to understand and explain how it is not necessarily kinship that cuts across class, sect and cast which determines the power of an individual or a group. In addition, it is how a particular group is connected with the power centre and included into the kleptocratic distributive system.

This system determines both the distribution of power and resources. Thus, the state and its establishment plays a critical role in determining who will be powerful and what kind of power each will have. The establishment is the permanent power which comprises of primary and secondary players. Over the decades since independence, the arrangement of these players has changed. But in the past five decades, the military and civil bureaucracy have been almost like permanent members of the establishment. One of the reasons for this is the state authority which is critical for power politics. Today, the media, expatriate Pakistanis and even jihadis are part of the relationship. These actors are certainly not part of the traditional elite but the middle class. However, they have risen to become part of the new elite which is as exploitative as the old one. But the hatred and dislike of the traditional elite, the emphasis on religion and militant-nationalism, are some of the tools to generate a narrative that helps control the society and the ordinary people. Controlling the narrative or influencing the mind of the masses through a discourse is central to establishing the hegemony of the establishment. In a conversation I once had with Hamza Alavi, he explained to me how the same forces that apply real-politique rules for their actions then emphasise moral-politique. This is mainly to establish hegemony which is a triangular equation comprising of: “political power + economic power + intellectual control”.

The military-dominated establishment has in 64 years created a sophisticated formula for generating a narrative and building partners that cut across all ideological divide. The liberal and the conservative and the radical are all in some form of partnership with the establishment, most certainly in the extended middle class. The lower class or the dispossessed are too uninteresting for the establishment to partner. The machinery for generating the establishment-friendly narrative is so extensive and well-oiled that it has almost completely dominated all means of producing and communicating the narrative. As a result, the society, especially the middle class has structured itself along two axis: neo-liberal-nationalism and right-wing-radical-nationalism. While the neo-liberal-nationalism axis depicts an authoritarian and top-down model of economic and political development marked with the expansion of a national security obsessed middle class and ruling elite, the right-wing-radical-nationalism axis denotes growth of religious radicalism and militancy as symbols of geo-political modernity and being anti-imperialist in nature.

It is due to the fact that all stakeholders take strength from the praetorian culture that it is impossible for them to formulate things in terms of liberal values and democratic principles. For instance, the supporters of PTI and its leadership do not believe in following the democratic means for change. Rather, they want to use extra-constitutional methods to bring a change that would then represent middle class rule and democracy. Similarly, the representatives of the middle class even though they are liberal, have little patience for any alternative perspective such as disagreement by ethnic minorities. There is, in fact, greater acceptability for the use of violence against ethnic minorities or any other group that disagrees with the central narrative. The formula of the upcoming middle class, hence, is not only a contradiction in terms but denotes praetorian behavior of the society. In any case, the middle class is not liberal, secular and politically progressive. The middle class politics is actually about initiating the process of re-formatting the power political structure rather than any deep-set structural change. The establishment, which had supported a certain type of players, is now keen to replace them with others. Therefore, it is not that pre-capitalist socioeconomic structure is changed at all or feudalism discarded but that there are newer actors who have become the neo-feudal such as the media barons, media practitioners, significant members of the legal and judicial community and the militants.

Today, it’s not merely coincidence that militant organisations hold jirgas and enforce their version of justice in certain areas of Punjab and Sindh. They have acquired this power due to their association with the state and the establishment which does not allow its law enforcement agencies to really apprehend the jihadis. One phone call and the friendly ones captured by the police are freed. Like the traditional feudal-landowners that had grown powerful in the past in assistance from the civil and military bureaucracy, the militants and other groups mentioned earlier have risen to a level where they cannot be challenged due to their association with the establishment. Today, the militants question the power of the feudal-landowners resulting in a change in the power equation. Consequently, there is not a single political party or group that does not have a linkage or partnership with the militants. Violence and unquestionable power is the name of the game as far as the country’s politics is concerned.

It is not just the traditional elite or even the new elite that recognise the growing power of the militants. The new rural and urban middle class, especially in the emerging urban centers contributes resources and supports militant organisations and madrassas. For those who get passionate about supporting the seminaries as part of the local culture, the fact is that the old madrassas were tied to the local culture but not the new ones are burgeoning all over the place. In the past 6-7 years, for instance, more than 2,500 new madrassas have been established in rural Sindh. These are the ones with high walls and no connection with the local culture or people. The middle class contributes because it sees the militants as a possible source for renegotiating power in a system where power cannot be renegotiated through non-violent and legitimate means. This kind of middle class, hence, is what can be defined as representing right-wing-radical-nationalism axis. Interestingly, this trend can be found amongst the more educated urban middle class living in large cities as well.

Last year, I conducted a study  on the socio-political attitudes of youth in elite universities in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. One of the surprising findings of the study was that  their world view was not very different from that of the madrassa trained youth. The militants are seen as representing a force that can fight for and serve the national cause vis-à-vis the external world, especially the US. This is the same thinking that is echoed by liberal leftist thinkers like Tariq Ali or many others without calculating the cost of such association for the state and the society. In other words, the other axis, which is neo-liberal-nationalism, is indirectly tied with the other axis. The common denominator is nationalism, a trend worth looking at because nationalism produces different results including fascism.

In Pakistan’s case, there is a greater likelihood of extreme forms because of the praetorian nature of the society. In any case, the neo-liberal-nationalist represents Pakistan’s neo-conservatives the bulk of whom may not support the militants or the radicals but swing towards the military and the state establishment. These neo-cons, in fact, have increasingly been swinging towards a more non-religious-militant- nationalism. This group usually considers itself as liberal because it is anti-mullah. However, it is not politically liberal and more inclined towards partnering with non-religious elements amongst the military as a guarantor of ‘liberal security’.

The bottom-line is that the middle class formula that is being espoused by some segments of the elite as a harbinger of great change and transformation is nothing more than a bid to carry out some cosmetic restructuring of the political scene without altering the norms of politics or the basic structure of the state system. Pakistan is a praetorian society which means that it is mired in or inclined towards illegal and excessive authority and violence. Different segments of the society tend to partner with various actors that possess means of force and violence to renegotiate power.

                    Will this trend change? The answer is not in the short to medium term. There is no magic wand that can change the way this society operates. There are people who suggest that given some changes in the political system, greater democratisation of the political parties, more sensibility by the politicians and other such means Pakistan will change into something akin to a new shiny coin or close to it. Others believe that installing systems will bring the change. The mantra is bringing change from within.

None of these tactical methodologies will work beyond a short span at best. The situation must be weighed against the nature of the power political structure. The current day Pakistan lacks the societal sensibility to calculate the opportunity cost of praetorianism that would lead them to think of switching from the ‘roving bandits’ to the ‘stationary bandits’ formula. While studying Pakistan, it is instructive to remember the economist Mancur Olson who wrote about kleptocratic distributive system and the problems of over-plundering. According to Olson’s concept of roving versus stationary bandit, roving bandits enforce a higher cost on the settled community/town/village that they pillage. By engaging in collective over plundering, the roving bandits impose a negative externality on the society resulting in depletion of resources. This ultimately reduces the dividends for the bandits as well. The stationary bandits, on the other hand, are rational; since they settle down in a community, and agreeing to willingly protect the society against other roving bandits in return for economic gains. The entire paradigm is based on negotiation of mutual interests. Applied to Pakistan’s case, this means that the ruling elite the emphasis is on over-plundering at the cost of the masses and the country’s well being. The middle class is also part of the kleptocratic cycle.

Since the country is generally dependent on external sources of income, the current over plundering has not resulted in an urgent realisation for transformation. Perhaps, a state and society continually in a mode to beg and borrow from foreign sources or means not internal to the economy cannot begin to comprehend the significance of domestic re-engineering. This behavior is reflective of the feudal tendencies of the society, or the ruling elite. The Pakistani middle class or those that represent middle class interests are no exception when it comes to plunder. Incidentally, these middle class forces including the state bureaucracy and some political parties also suffer from a feudal attitude. The use of force and coercion is similar as one hears in stories about the jagirdars. In fact, jagirdars have proliferated. Nevertheless, the mantra of the middle class as an agent of change is extremely powerful. People can hardly guess that the middle class suffers from praetorian behavior mainly due to the fact that education and access to sources of information puts them in a position where they can ably manipulate image and analysis. Surely, the voice of the poor farm or factory labour in remote parts of the country is less likely to reach the elite than those with access to media. Education is an enabling tool as far as influencing image is concerned.

At this juncture, there is nothing short of structural change that will do the trick. Pakistan needs a regime change, which does not refer to a shift from civil to military or vice versa, but a real structural change. Most formulas are long-term including the age-old method of injecting more democracy to kill bad democracy. We always forget that a single election does not bring democracy. Every time the process is interrupted, the machine has to be started once again. So, every interruption, no matter what form it takes, brings the system back to where it started. Not to forget that we have an unnatural environment of the establishment constantly interfering with the process of electoral democracy. Referring to the theoretical framework presented by Hamza Alavi, it has also become difficult to separate the grain from the chaff as the civilian powers are connected with the establishment or are its secondary or primary partners. There is this inherent flaw in Pakistan’s socio-political system that may not repair until there is a direct conflict between the power fraternity and the dispossessed. This means more suffering until we get to a point where a genuine demand for change is generated and people are moved to combine forces and alter the structure rather than replace a face.

Some might consider this as nonsensical but can Pakistan even dream of bringing about a change without acquiring tools for transformation? Pakistan needs its genuine historians, political scientists, sociologists, philosophers and scientists to conceptualise a metamorphosis. This is no mean idea but its only with the birth of sociologists like Hamza Alavi and Feroz Ahmed, historians like Aziz Ahmed, scientists like Abdus Salam and many others that we will step on the path of change. Pakistanis have to get praetorianism out of our bloodstream to become sane again. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Maleeha Lodhi Juggling a Dream

Maleeha Lodhi’s edited volume is one of the few books that Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Public Relations’ head Maj. General Athar Abbas recommends to his visitors. The value of this book for Pakistan’s armed forces and establishment is that it presents Pakistan as ‘beyond a crisis state’. The basic thesis of the volume is that there are many things which are not right about the country but that in itself does not qualify it as a failed or failing state. The seventeen contributors have come together in this volume to present the generally unsung successes of Pakistan or to make it look like a normal state, like any other.
            Having gone through the book from cover to cover a reader can get a bit lost. There are some chapters which tend to stand alone as Ahmed Rasheed’s on Afghanistan. Broadly, the seventeen chapters can be divided into five discussion themes: (a) presenting an alternative narrative, (b) history of Pakistan’s birth (c) debate on the changing nature of civil- military relations, (d) opinion by Pakistani expatriates on technical issues such as improving governance, economic development, solving problems of energy generation, and improving quality of youth through education, and (e) military-strategic issues such as nuclear security, military strategy, relations with India, and debate on Afghanistan. The book is a great example of an edited volume since it does not burden a reader with a long introduction and conclusion. Moreover, it neatly brings together three kinds of authors: (a) those who have a big name and hence market value such as Ahmed Rasheed, Ayesha Jalal, Akbar S. Ahmed, Ishrat Husain and Mohsin Hamid, (b) writers with technical expertise or a bent of mind which is sympathetic to the military establishment like Muneer Akram, Riffat Hussain, Brig. (retd) Feroz Hassan Khan, Shuja Nawaz snd Meekal Ahmed, and (c) young writers who are meant to bring a fresh perspective, for instance, Moeed Yusuf and Ziad Haider. The book is wanting in terms of a solid debate on youth, women, and relations with the US, India and the Muslim world. The chapter on youth and education by Moeed Yusuf or Riffat Hussain’s contribution on analysing a couple of decades of India-Pakistan peace initiatives does not fulfill the purpose.
Irrespective of how sympathetic one feels with Lodhi’s agenda of improving Pakistan’s image, the task could have been done in a more sophisticated manner than, for instance, by Mohsin Hamid’s suggestion that the country must be taken seriously because it is the 6th largest country in the world and has more non-Muslims living in it than the total population of Toronto and Miami. Even more non-serious is the suggestion that honour killings can be ignored because better things happen as well such as men dressing up as transvestites and doing a television show. All states and societies have inherent contradictions. But one behaviour pattern cannot be deemed as representing the overall attitude of a society. Pakistan’s problem is not that it will physically dissolve. At this juncture, it is physically secure with all external and internal stakeholders interested in keeping the state alive. However, it is also a fact that all players want to dominate and capture the state including the militants.
            So, the narrative in this book does not really explain the direction which the country is taking, nor does it analyse the impact of the growing latent radicalism in Pakistan on the future of its people and the region as a whole. It is even more difficult to sympa- thize with Akbar S. Ahmed’s assertion in the book that the historical confusion regarding the state’s ideology, which dates back to its birth, is nothing more than strategic vagueness that was meant to gel different people and schools of thought together. The confusion created due to the lack of clarity of the country’s earlier and later leadership has pushed the country in a direction where it has become a nest of militancy and latent- radicalism. What is required, as suggested in Ziad Haider’s excellent analysis, is an alternative narrative. However, neither Haider nor any other contributor to this volume has mulled over the issue of an alternative religious, political and social discourse that may take the country out of its current logjam.
            Pakistan’s fundamental problem is that the state defines citizenship on the basis of a citizen’s putative relationship with religion and the central establishment. This leaves out millions of non-Muslims or members of minority ethnic communities from a sense of representation. Those that choose to protest their rights like the East Pakistanis or Baluch are then brutally butchered in the name of national security. This volume chooses to focus on religion related violence. This category of violence cannot be stopped because the problem of the religiosity of the state becomes compounded with another issue of a powerful military bureaucracy, an institution which tends to use all measures including religion and violence to gain its military-strategic objectives. According to Zahid Hussain, some of the militant groups were connected with the military due to the role they played in the possible resolution of the Kashmir issue or in helping GHQ Rawalpindi deal with India.
            Whether it is the urge for strategic depth in Afghanistan or India in general the state’s strategic goals have been critical in changing social ethos and framed the attitude of the middle class. It is not the modern and liberal socioeconomic category that Lodhi imagines it to be. Had the editor gone more than skin-deep in digging into the character of the middle class, she and other contributors to this volume may have found that the bulk of the middle class is, in fact, radicalized or not liberal at all. The fact that people do not generally vote for the religious parties does not indicate the character of the society. Pakistan’s electoral politics responds to patronage politics and not to ideological politics. Maleeha Lodhi clearly shuns the feudal and patronage tendencies of the country’s political system and links it with the traditional elite. However, such analysis lacks depth and fails to present the correct picture that feudalism in Pakistan has actually morphed into different shapes and penetrated various institutions including the military and civil bureaucracy. So, it does not make any difference if, as Shuja Nawaz writes in his chapter on the military, the armed forces have become more diverse in terms of their ethnic composition or are increasingly from urban areas.
            A number of authors in this book use highly superfluous and unscientific methodology to explain different social norms. In fact, there is little analysis on how the military visualizes itself or its role in the country’s power politics. The GHQ does not intend to empower the political leadership. Hence, Saeed Shafqat’s notion that the extension given to the Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani indicates a level of confidence of the political leadership in its own capacity to deal with the military, appear comical. Shafqat’s piece is certainly in a more academic style than many other chapters in this volume as it experiments with the concept of elite negotiation to explain the current coexistence between the political forces and the military. Pakistan’s military bureaucracy is known for making partnerships with civilian stakeholders which eventually make the organization last longer than, perhaps, its counterparts in the Middle East. The story of the coexistence between civil and military narrated by Shafqat does not do justice in explaining the real malaise of Pakistan’s political system.
It would have been a good idea to have a chapter dedicated to understanding Pakistan military’s preoccupation with India. In this regard the chapter by Muneer Akram, who is a senior Pakistani diplomat, on strategic issues is refreshing. It clearly explains that the establishment has moved away from its fear that India wants to destroy Pakistan. It is rare in the works on strategy to come across a clear perspective on the military’s perception on India as in the chapter mentioned here.
            Equally good are the chapters on energy security and bureaucratic restructuring. Though a bit dense Ishrat Hussain’s chapter on administrative restructuring is another good contribution which will help any Pakistani government in improving governance. If asked to summarize the book, it is an expression of the desires of many Pakistanis to emerge as a successful country. Whether this dream will get fulfilled is a million dollar question which sadly doesn’t get answered in this book.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Two Dead...Twenty More to Go

I had met Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti just a couple of months ago at a dinner party hosted by the Brazilian ambassador. He did not wear the airs of a minister or a VIP, was extremely personable and friendly to talk to. When I asked him about what was happening on the blasphemy law, and whether President Asif Zardari was doing anything about it, his answer was that though the president wanted to bring the change, he was surrounded by people in his party who would not let him do it. In fact, almost a year ago, the president had invited a few civil society members and told them to keep reminding him about bringing the much-needed change in the controversial blasphemy law and improving relations with India.
Unfortunately, now it appears as though he won’t be able to fulfil any of those wishes. The death of two senior members of the government, Salman Taseer followed by Bhatti, would push Zardari further into hiding. Perhaps his insistence to the civil society to keep the pressure on him was meant to create a counter-balance to the hyper-conservative elements in his party. He wanted to show them that there was sufficient demand from the liberal civil society in the country to consider a review of the blasphemy law, which was made and implemented under General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule.
One wonders if the president realised then that Pakistan’s liberal civil society is composed of a handful of people, and is getting smaller by the day. Not too long ago, Senator Farid Paracha of the Jamaat-e-Islami had challenged a liberal Pervez Hoodbhoy on television and told him that the religious right knows exactly who this handful of liberals are. And the religious zealots are now taking the liberals down, one by one. So, if you are a liberal, better write your own obituary and keep it close for the moment when your turn comes.
Why can’t civil society fight these militant forces? There are several explanations. First, the liberal sections of society have always remained confused between social, cultural and political liberalism. Therefore, liberal poets like Fahmida Riaz, who remained in self-exile in India under Zia’s regime, consider Pervez Musharraf’s government liberal and representative of middle-class values. But does she even know that the bulk of the middle class is conservative, and many of them aid and abet jihadis and fund madarsas? She probably doesn’t even realise that her middle-class hero Musharraf had actively partnered with the jihadis while holding his glass of whiskey in the other hand.
Second, this socially liberal civil society remains confined to upper and upper-middle classes that cannot fathom the socio-political growth of the rest of Pakistan. One wonders when the liberal elite interacted with real Pakistan. They seem surprised that the heroes of middle-class urban Pakistan are people like Faisal Shahzad, Aafia Siddiqui and Mumtaz Qadri. As for the lower-class Pakistani, he/she cannot afford God, like the poor in other parts of the world. No effort was ever made to liberate the lower classes socially and politically.
Third, a shift in the trajectory of the Muslim elite at the time of Partition. Having made a country in the name of religion, the elite then abandoned the religious discourse to the mullah with whom they had an understanding, so that religion and religious slogans could be borrowed from time to time to gain legitimacy. More then 60 years after, the liberal elite has no control over the religious discourse.
At this juncture, Pakistan represents a fairly slow Iranian model. What must be watched is the bridge-building between the Deobandis, the Ahl-Hadith and the Barelvis. This may translate in the medium- to long-term into creating a hybrid-moderate-theocracy. The word “moderate” implies the presence of some liberal elements that are needed to engage with the rest of the world. But in the longer term, it could push further towards a fully theocratic state.
Lest we forget, the brutal murders of Taseer and Bhatti indicate the coming of age of Zia’s children. The bulk of educated civil society, including the media and lawyers, are tilted towards the ideological right. The judiciary is known to free murderers like the head of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other jihadi organisations because the police cannot provide evidence to convict them. In such a situation, all we need to do is begin counting the bodies. It is two gone and twenty more to go.

Are You there Mr President?

Rehman Malik has yet again scattered his pearls of illogic by imposing restriction on artists visiting India who will now have to seek a no-objection-certificate (NoC) from the ministry. Initially, it sounded as if he meant everyone visiting India. It seems so reminiscent of Zia days.
            More important, I wonder what the President has to say in his defense when he had reminded some visiting civil society members a year ago of constantly pestering him to revoke the blasphemy law and improve relations with India. Creating space in the religious discourse and improving relations with regional states is critical for Pakistan’s own growth and development. Since the end of the 1980s, every government seems to have realized this logic. Or was it a different Asif Zardari than this one who seems to have gone in hiding and so allows his interior minister to shoot himself and the entire nation in the foot? Or is it that the President is too scared to implement what he had reminded the civil society members? We know that his party is completely divided on supporting Taseer and may be in a greater fix on improving ties with India.
            Such restrictions on artists is absolutely ridiculous and gives the country an image of a state with an iron curtain just like the former Soviet Union had during the days of the Cold War with the US. A singer, an artist, a writer, poet, sculptor, or anyone who can create has a right to travel around freely. Unless the government employs these people, they are private citizens that sell certain services. It brings good name to the country when they perform abroad.
The government may or may not have any contribution in training these artists or making them famous. In any case, why should the government care about its citizen making a fool of himself or herself while they are abroad when it allows its great names like Mehdi Hassan or others to die in poverty and infamy? Lets be honest, it was only after Rahat Fateh Ali made his way to a bigger market in bollywood that he got noticed in Pakistan and outside.
            Why such show of aimless ego when the government doesn’t really care about hundreds and thousands of Pakistanis that travel or live abroad? Or will Rehman Malik impose a condition on all Pakistanis traveling abroad to seek NoC just because some are caught steeling or engaging in other crimes in other countries? After all, people are people and they may or may not engage in activities that would eventually put them in trouble or embarrass them. But they do not necessarily become the government’s responsibility. In any case, if Mr Malik is so peeved about the state’s honor and wants to regulate the behavior and personal lives of citizens, he may also look into disciplining the numerous militant organizations that create trouble abroad. This might help the state’s image more than anything else.
            The interior ministry does not even have the infrastructure and system to impose such a law. Such restrictions at best will ensure that Pakistani artists don’t get invited abroad.
The interior minister is possibly trying to make the establishment happy. But then, isn’t he supposed to get his queue from Asif Zardari? Or is it that the president himself has changed the way he used to think about peace and stability in the region and changing relations with neighbors?
            I am also reminded of Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s first visit to the UK as a foreign minister. The Pakistani high commissioner gathered a few individuals from think tanks and some journalists for a dinner meeting with the foreign minister. Later in the evening, the foreign minister rose to give his speech. He passionately spoke about his desire to make his first trip to India and improve relations with the next door neighbor. It all sounded good except that the defense, air and naval attache’s sitting on my table did not see eye to eye with Shah Mehmmod Qureshi. Clearly, their brief was different from Qureshi’s. It was not too long before SQM also started following the brief from the GHQ rather than from his party’s leadership. Now, it appears that other ministers have gone the same route. A similar restriction was introduced under Zia’s rule which was fought back and removed through the efforts of Benazir Bhutto. It would help if someone saw the illogic of the above decision. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Case of Cholistan's Stolen Land

Anyone passing through lower Cholistan, especially if they happen to be participating in the famous Cholistan jeep rally, will not fail to notice the prominent Lashkare Tayyaba (LeT) and Jamat-ud-Daawa (JuD) wall-chalkings. One of the slogans decries India for being “a water thief.” Water is a sensitive issue for people who don’t have access to it. India’s decision to construct new dams or to control the flow of water is causing major concern in the area. But that is not only the cause of concern in the region.
       Move on towards Sadiqabad and Rahimyar Khan in Bahawalpur and you will hear farmers complain about how the army is stealing their share of water. In the past few years, people of the area have held public demonstration against water theft but to no avail. According to official estimates, 21,000 acres of land in these two districts are affected due to water theft from the Abbasia link canal. Out of the canal’s capacity of 4500 cusecs of water, nearly 350-400 cusecs are being stolen. This canal became operational in 2002 and the army units have made 20 illegal outlets (104-109 RD and 213-228 RD) at Chak Wahni and Qasimwala heads to feed their lands. Officially, the army is only allowed one outlet to feed its troops while they exercise in the area. Irrigation officials claim that even the legal outlet has been expanded illegally to draw more water. Driving along the canal, one can spot huge excavating machines and dumpers meant to dig the land and make outlets. Taking their cue from the army, others have also joined in the fray. The irrigation officials named some local politicians and professionals such as Asmatullah Niazi (district president, PML-Q), Iqbal Moghul (Naib Nazim, Liaquatpur), Iqbal Channar (MPA, PML-N), Professors Rafiq Minhas and Nazeer Khan, relatives of a local PPP politician, Col. (retd.) Naveed, and Brig. (retd.) S. M. Tiwana as some of those who steal water. But irrigation department officials contend that the army steals a larger share and poses a bigger problem. And unless they don’t stop this illegal practice, the civilians will continue to follow in their footsteps. Furthermore, civilian water thieves argue that they won’t stop until the army does the same. This makes it almost impossible for irrigation officials to stop anyone else. In any case, a lot of the civilians involved in stealing are well connected with the army.

       Irrigation officials have tried their level best to put an end to this of water theft, but they lack the resources and the authority to contest the army’s involvement. The staff responsible for stopping such illegal practices comprises a sub-divisional officer (SDO), a mate and four baildars (agricultural labor). And they have no legal authority to arrest the offenders or take any action against them. The police, on the other hand, are reluctant to act because of fear and for administrative reasons. Since the area in question falls between two districts – Bahawalpur and Rahimyar Khan – it is usually not clear which DPO has jurisdiction to carry out the anti-theft operations. In any case, such administrative excuses are often used to hide the fact that no one wants to take on the army. A couple of years back, when an irrigation department officer tried to close one of the army’s illegal outlets, he was manhandled and kept in custody for 24 hours. Interestingly, the army has also forcibly taken over two irrigation rest houses at Maitla and Qasimwala. The provincial administration and the chief minister Punjab knows of the matter and was updated about the situation during his visit to the area in June/July 2008. Despite all information he just evaded the issue. The officials seemed especially unhappy with one army officer in charge of these operations, Major Manucheher Munawar Awan.
       Filing complaints against such high-handedness is a tough job because these matters do not come under the jurisdiction of Bahawalpur Corps. Oddly enough such issues fall are under the administrative control of the Pannu Aqil Corps, which operates through an office at Bahadur Chowk, Rahimyar Khan. The area was abuzz with complaints about the high handedness of the major representing the Panu Aqil Corps.
       Water theft, however, is part, or an extension of a bigger scam involving the army’s illegal occupation and use of state land. According to official records, the army has illegally occupied 99, 865 acres of Cholistan land and 5,000 acres belonging to the forest department. Moreover, the army has 2,07,992 acres legally leased to it by the provincial government for operational purposes such as for building firing ranges. A large chunk of the legally-leased land was given to the army in 1978. In the larger Bahawalpur division (Cholistan is part of Bahawalpur), the army only has ownership of about 8,700 acres that were sold to it out of which 8500 acres were purchased by the army to build the new cantonment in Bahawalpur city. However, the illegal acquisition of land and its illegal subletting started mainly after 1999. These activities coincided with the tenure of three army officers who were made in charge of the Cholistan Development Authority (CDA) and had the power to allocate land. The first one was a serving major general, S. Zaidi who served for a year to be followed by a retired major general Razzak and later a retired brigadier. Brig. (retd) Tiwana also acquired personal stake in the illegal subletting of the illegally occupied land. The brigadier is now a cultivator of hundreds of acres. The tenure of the three officers spanned nearly a decade 1999-2008.
A lot of the illegally occupied land is used for commercial purposes. According to official records, the army has illegally leased out 17, 063 acres of the illegally occupied land and 3,000 acres of its legally leased land. The subletting activity means leasing the land to big local landowners and businessmen of the area or non-locals who have acquired this land. In a lot of cases, land is leased out in the name of some senior army personnel who then sublet it to others. The illegal water outlets are meant to provide uninterrupted supply of water. It is a very clever scheme because the cultivators don’t have to pay any water rates or agricultural and other taxes levied by the provincial government. The land tends to be more productive then others because it is virgin land and has ample supply of water. The going rate in the area is Rs 35,000 per acre (this rate is common information for the local cultivators). However, there is no standard rate as far as the army is concerned. Depending on their level of acquaintanceship with the army, some lessees may pay a lower rental per acre. In any case, there is no transparency in this business and it is common knowledge that the actual rental income deposited in the Corps Commander’s special fund with the intention of being spend on soldier’s welfare is often less than the going rate. There is little transparency of the special fund which was established during Zia’s reign as an amount of money placed at the Corps Commander’s discretion for secret or special operations, or welfare of soldiers. When a local revenue officers raised questions about the subletting and rentals he was politely told to mind his own business as a lot of ‘big fish’ had stakes in the property.
       So the business continues, no questions asked. The Poor Cholistanis are being deprived of their land and the farmers are being deprived water, creating major resentment among the locals against a state institution and the state itself.