Red, White and Black

Hum dekhen ge
8 January, 2011, 12:44 am
Filed under: Islam, Pakistan, Politics | Tags: , , , , ,

The past three days for a liberal/progressive Pakistani have made for a very numbing experience. The public reaction to the horrific assassination of Salman Taseer has shocked many a people in the country. For me and many of my friends, the most shocking aspect of the past few days was the outpouring of public support for this wanton killing.

4 hours into the death of the governor, congratulatory smses started circulating and facebook groups supporting the assassin crept up. Then one read about the flowery reception given by some lawyers to Mumtaz Qadri. The next morning Dawn carried a photo of a garlanded Qadri raising a victorious fist while standing at the door of the police van – all the while surrounded by adoring lawyers. This morning one of my students with whom I had previously discussed Salman Taseer’s stand on blasphemy and challenged to identify verses of the Quran that support this injustice came up to me during the class break. He told me that the point was moot now. He was happy that Salman Taseer had been killed. He did not feel the need to hunt for those verses anymore. Did I not hear that 70% people in online polls supported the murder? Did I not hear about the 500 ulema who had declared the murder just? What more proof could I ask for? He felt vindicated in his opinion and that was the end of the matter. Before class resumed again, I just had the time to tell him that they were all wrong. (I plan to sit him down sometime next week and discuss this matter in a bit more detail. But for the time being, his obvious satisfaction over the act stumped me.)

He is not alone in these views.

I have had sufficient interaction with 200 odd undergrads this semester to know that he will have a good number of friends standing by him on these views. A while back a Newsline study by Ayesha Siddiqa argued that Pakistani students at elite universities had strong religious identities and were politically conservative. My experience teaching the history and politics of Pakistan at a premier engineering university this semester has reaffirmed these findings. (For that matter, why should these views be surprising at all? Recall SDPI’s “The Subtle Subversion“, which catalogued how the state in Pakistan has sought to cultivate a highly conservative and reactive mindset through primary and secondary education textbooks?) So why should we be so shocked when seemingly decent/rational/educated people around us think it of no big concern that an innocent man was killed in broad daylight for expressing his opinion? Why should we be perturbed at the unleashing of public joy at this murder?

72 hours later, I think the fog is finally lifting. As horrific as the events of the past three days have been, they have given us a reality check. They have exposed our opposition. No longer can we comfort ourselves that the silent majority would not support those who had holed up at Lal Masjid, that the silent majority would be appalled by attacks at Marriot and at crowded marketplaces in Peshawar, that the silent majority would have condemned the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team. The line has been drawn and we at least have a better appreciation of the opposition that we are up against. And we also know that we have to fight back. That we have to confront those with regressive and intolerant worldviews. We surely have to confront them. For not confronting and giving up the fight for the future of this country is simply, simply, not an option.

So where do we go from here? I have a few thoughts. For one we need to start defining the public discourse on these matters. There is this one particular bit of Aaron Sorkin dialogue that kept coming back to me today. It went something like this:

Lewis: “People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.”

President: “… People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.”

The leadership that we have is inept and has failed to set any sort of public discourse on strategic matters for the country, let alone something as contentious as blasphemy. So when the public discourse is being set by the religious right and no feasible alternative is being presented to the thirsty masses, they are going to drink the sand and think they have just been blessed with God’s man-o-salwa. So let’s start setting the debate.

In the media discourse there are already some signs of hope. When the conservative Nazir Naji  argues on Capital Talk that Pakistan’s problems will only be solved once we return to a secular political system. When someone like Ch Shujaat Hussain musters the courage to call for a review of the blasphemy law. When even Kamran Khan begins to acknowledge that rising intolerance and religious extremism and diminishing space for rational dialogue are critical problems for the country. But this is not enough. We are standing at the precipice. A structured push for changing the discourse on critical national matter is the need of the hour. We need to provide the leadership – the alternative vision. We want to re-imagine Pakistan. At the same time, we need to recover the space that has been ceded to the religious right and start challenging the conservative mindset. I don’t know yet how or who will do all this? But I know that I am going to do what I can in my immediate circle, with friends and acquaintances and in my classrooms.

The journey for Pakistan’s future might just gotten harder, but I refuse to believe that the future is lost to us. For really, what other option do we have?


What is The End?
6 October, 2008, 11:01 am
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics | Tags: , , , , ,

The recent statement making the rounds came from the British military commander in Helmand. Discussing the future of the taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, he stated that:

“It’s about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that’s not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army.”

Brig Carleton-Smith said the goal was to change how debates were resolved in the country so that violence was not the first option considered.

He said: “If the Taleban were prepared to sit on the other side of the table and talk about a political settlement, then that’s precisely the sort of progress that concludes insurgencies like this.

“That shouldn’t make people uncomfortable.” [#]

An honest statement. The insurgency in Afghanistand and Pakistan cannot be crushed by western forces. That is a basic fact of this conflict and a fact that the West refues to acknowledge. Therefore, this is a welcome statement.

But this brings us to the question: how can this conflict end? This insurgency can only be defeated through indigenous opposition – when the local people themselves decide to lead the fight against the militants and the role of foreign forces is eliminated or at least curtailed. For that matter, it is pertinent to ask what is the curtain scene for the global war on terror? What is the ultimate objective for the American agenda in the region?

The war on terror was proclaimed with two objectives: to catch and kill Osama Bin Laden and his associates and to destroy the infrastructure of Islamic extremism threatening the US.  To achieve these two objective a military approach was adopted and a “war” was declated. Now, it is possible to achieve the first objective through this approach – yes, OBL and his close associates can be killed. But will that solve the problem? Will that mean that the war has been won?

In all honesty, the American administration is not even serious about the second objective. So the focus is on killing a few men and that is supposed to miraculously solve all the problems. Here is a newsflash: it won’t. Today, its Osama Bin Landen – tomorrow, it will be someone else. There is no end possible to this war. And that is a fact missed by most.

Just musing.

The Bad New World?
12 September, 2008, 11:10 pm
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics | Tags: , , ,

Bush Said to Give Orders Allowing Raids in Pakistan

U.S. Reported to Kill 12 in Pakistan (fifth such incident over the past 2 weeks)

Gilani, corps commanders endorse Kayani’s stand: Nation told not to get upset by US threats

Karzai backs US plan to attack Fata militants (Of course, he has done an exemplary job in Afghanistan)

and this piece says it all:

The September 3 Attack on Pakistan

I am too angry/worried to write coherently about this insanity. But I know that this will not (cannot) end well for any of the parties concerned. We should brace ourselves for worse days. Truth be told, there is not much that the Paksitani state will do about this situation. There will be angry statements protesting the violations of our sovereignty, but we know that will not amount to anything. Will Pakistan do more than temporarily stop NATO’s feul supply? Will the army retaliate? No.

The Pakistani nation will shamefully endure another insult.  Resentment will flourish. The new democratically elected government will be under increased pressure and will have to deal with diminishing space and options. Don’t expect it to grow a spine and stand up to this madness. Tough times are ahead.

And of course, who will suffer the most in this sordid affair? The ordinary people. The militants pissed at the airstrikes will step up their attacks on the rest of the country. (Funny way to fight the Americans.) Yes, this does not augur well.

Dealing with the Taliban Insurgency
27 August, 2008, 8:41 am
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics | Tags: , , , , , ,

In the midst of the political circus of Pakistan, the war in our backyard continues to be ignored.  Violence has been raging in the tribal areas and Swat valley. Violence that is not just related to the war on terror and the Taliban, but adding to the delectable mix is renewed sectarian strife in Kurram Agency. And when the state and the militants battle it out, the ultimate sufferers are ordinary people – whether they are victims of fateful suicide bombs or refugees in their own country. The recent military offensive in Bajur created over 400,000 IDPs. The state moved in to provide relief and support to the dispossessed only as an afterthought. It is from amongst theses IDPs that the Taliban find their potential recruits.

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Black Flag Week: Support the Judiciary
9 March, 2008, 12:38 pm
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics


From here. And the email forward:

Aitzaz Ahsan has given a call to observe Black Flag Week in Pakistan.
Everyone is requested to show their solidarity for the restoration of
the independent Judiciary in Pakistan. You can watch the message (with
English subtitles) at:
The Emergency Times:
Teeth Maestro:

Here are a couple of things you can do:

1) Record a small video of yourself wearing a black flag, black
clothing or even just a black cap and post it on youtube in response
to the Aitzaz’s video message. In the video you should talk about why
you support the restoration of the judiciary.

To respond to the video:

If you have trouble uploading the video on youtube please email the
clip to

2) Take a picture of yourself, your friends and/or your family holding
a black flag or wearing black clothes and send it to If you are uncomfortable revealing your
identity you can have the picture taken from your backside or cover
your face before taking the picture. You can also help us by taking
pictures of your friends, family members, relatives and others who may
not be able to take pictures

3) Take part in the events that observe the Black Flag Day in your
cities. You can get information about the major events at:

If your event is not shown on this blog please email with details of the event and it will be
updated shortly.

4) Attached is a picture that you should use as your facebook, orkut
and myspace picture for till Sunday, March 16, 2008.

5) You can use many variations of a black flag. Suggestions include
black armbands, headbands, stickers, caps, headscarfs, etc.

6) Please encourage your friends, family, teachers and everyone else
you know to participate in the Black Flag Week. The biggest strength
to the campaign would be pictures and videos.

7) Please forward this email to as many people as you know to make
this campaign a success. You can also inform them of this campaign
through facebook:

In solidarity,

What Next?
19 February, 2008, 4:02 pm
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics

Around 3 months ago, I had made a post on this blog calling for a boycott of the elections. The post was made when the civil society movement was at its highest and the political parties were toying with the idea of a boycott to pressurize Musharraf. I got a number of comments on that post, but owing to the necessities of academic work, I was never able to reply to them.

One of the main reasons, I had supported the call for boycott was that I was certain that under the pro-Musharraf setup, elections would be massively rigged and that the issues of the judiciary and media’s independence would not be addressed. I was also disappointed by the fact that PML-N (at that time) and PPP were not taking a strong stance in support of the civil society and the lawyer’s movements. I had hoped that if a society-wide boycott could be engineered, it would sound death for Musharraf and his cronies.

Did my position change in the post-Dec 27 world? I don’t think so; I still retained the principled stance of the boycott. But the events witnessed over the past 48 hours do shed a different light on the entire set up.

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4 December, 2007, 11:11 pm
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics

Boycott the Elections. Stay at home.


Can you? [Access full size here, as I can’t get the wordpress editor to process a full image.]