Tagged with " politics"
May 30, 2013 - Pakistan, Politics, Social Media    No Comments

Beyond voting

So everyone and his dog has been outraged at polling irregularities in some constituency or the other and blamed everyone from rival political parties to provincial governments to local patwari to bijli ka muhikma to TV anchors to their darzi and in-laws for imagined and real slights and injustices. It is heartening to see that people not only voted but they also cared about the process and did whatever they could to ensure that their voices are heard.

The elections are over now and the people have spoken. They have done their duty as voters but now they have to be responsible about their role as concerned citizens and continue their pressure on not only the government but also the opposition parties to fulfill the promises they made during the election campaign and to get their voice across.

The easiest way to stay in touch with your representatives is through social media.  Almost every political party has official facebook presence, use that page to put your point across and garner support for your cause or opinion. Use twitter to directly interact with politicians, if you speak to them without resorting to foul language and name calling, chances are that they will interact with you and listen to what you have to say.

Make sure you know who your representative in provincial and national assembly is and try and contact them irrespective of your political affiliation because they do not just represent the people who have voted them in, they represent their entire constituency. For instance, if you believe that elected local bodies should be brought back for smooth functioning of the government at your town and tehsil level, badger your representative into bringing that system back.

Once all the assemblies are in order, their websites would have email addresses and phone numbers of all the parliamentarians who can be contacted, if you have suggestions, opinions and views, share them with your representative or any representative who you think will respond. Talk to them, inundate them with your message, wear them down and make them listen to you because they are your representatives and they are in the parliament to make sure that your voice, your hopes and your aspirations are represented in both legislation and government actions.

Be active, participate in the process. If you want the system to change and the politicians to change, you have to change the way you have behaved until now and take charge because that is the only way to bring about any change. There are no guarantees that you will get the desired results if you do your duty as an active concerned citizen but if you don’t shake things up, you know that things will remain static and you will be contributing in maintaining that status quo, it is up to you what you want to be, an agent of change or someone who maintains status quo.

Jan 22, 2013 - published work, women    5 Comments

Making informed decisions

The current session of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Assembly has been in session for almost a month; one would think that a lot must have gotten done in the assembly in terms of legislation and discussing matters that affect a large number of people residing in the province. And while a lot did get done, many matters that affected the women of the province were either brushed aside or were not addressed properly.

One case in point is the Elimination of Custom of Ghag Bill 2012. The Elimination of Custom of Ghag Bill 2012 was presented on the directives of the Peshawar High Court to promulgate a law. Under the custom of ghag, any man can publicly declare a woman to be his and that makes her unmarriageable for other men, restricting her right to choose a life partner. The new law makes the act a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence.

According to the law, the violators can be punished or imprisoned for up to seven years. Though the original text of the legislation called for punishment of seven to 14 years, the punishment was reduced to the maximum of seven years. This is a clear and present problem in the province and constitutional petitions have been filed to stop the practice and criminalise the offence.

The assembly also reneged on another piece of legislation affecting girls. Ministers, who publicly lent support to the cause of elimination of child marriage, opposed the Child Marriage Restraint Amendment Bill when it was introduced. Though it was moved by a member from the treasury benches, MPA Munawar Sulatana, it faced resistance not only from the opposition members but also from the treasury benches.

The bill aimed to increase the legal age of marriage for a girl from 16 to 18 and the punishment in the Child Marriage Restraint Act. Unfortunately, the bill was opposed, citing the reasons as flimsy, since ‘the approval of this bill will create a new debate and more issues in the province’ to the factually incorrect ones such as ‘there is no age limit for marriages in other Islamic countries’ to the evergreen excuse of rejecting anything progressive by calling it a “western agenda”.

There are certain activities that only adults are privileged to participate in. In most countries, the age for obtaining a driving license is 18 — a time when a person is supposed to have finished high school and attains adulthood. Similarly, the right to choose an elected representative is also reserved for people over the age of 18 because anyone under that age is considered to be too young to fully comprehend the responsibility that comes with voting. If people are supposed to wait till they turn 18 for something as simple as driving and voting, then how come they are allowed to get married at younger ages when they are unable to make informed decisions either about choosing their life partner, starting or raising a family or financially supporting it? The medical complications that underage girls face after early marriages and pregnancies are an altogether different spectrum of the story.

It is about time our lawmakers stopped making the same old excuses of the imposition of  ‘western agenda’ and started making laws that affect the well-being of a very large group of young persons who will soon be their voters. This will not only help in increasing female literacy and improving family planning efforts, but there will be long lasting health and well-being benefits for that section of the population.


First published in The Express Tribune.

Dec 5, 2012 - published work    No Comments

Why we need Utopia in our dystopian lives

The 21st century society is a dystopian one. No matter what part of the world we live in, our lives are marred by a sense of doom — an apocalyptic foreboding of endings. If one section of the world is threatened by terrorism, be it in schools, workplaces, airports or shopping malls, the other is hyper-aware of political instability; if economy is collapsing somewhere, then the threat of environmental destruction is threatening lives and livelihoods in another. Even aesthetics, arts and culture seem rather tedious and are dominated by the neoliberal bottom line, which insists on dumbing it all down and says that if it doesn’t sell and appeals only to the lowest common denominator of society, it’s not worth anything. Does that mean that the 21st century society is doomed for misery and utopias are a thing of past?

The answer is a resounding no. The biggest problem that lies ahead of us is not the energy crisis or food security — though they are very serious concerns — but getting rid of this dystopian melancholy that permeates every thought and action of ours, hindering our capacity to look for solutions. This fatalism can only be cured by cultural energy which actually helps us in making any sense of the problem and our approaches to dealing with it — sort of creating a utopian escape route. Society in general, and thinkers in particular, need to consciously imagine this.

Thomas More first coined the term in the early 16th century to describe his ‘good place’. Perhaps, the first known example of utopia was Plato’s Republic, which was a social and political manifesto desirous of a perfect state. It is not just Plato but the idea of utopia as the driving force behind any radical social and political ideological change has been here all along. Take the French, Russian, Chinese and Iranian Revolutions or the Taliban takeover in the 1990s of Afghanistan, for example. All these political movements were attempts to radically reconstruct society along lines set out in the ‘utopian’ thought of their thinkers such as Plato, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx and Ruhollah Khomeini, who thought society would benefit from a new, hitherto untried method.

In the present-day world, which is characterized by a sense of impending doom and pessimism, there still are traces of utopia around us, perhaps, because people will never cease to look for ways to run away from misery, poverty, disenfranchisement and apathy. The Islamic fundamentalism, the Christian Revivalism, the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the efforts to save the planet, the quest to go back to socialism in Latin America are examples of our utopian desires. However, utopia is not as simple as imagining a good place because the challenge to change the world comes with its own set of risks and unseen scenarios as was witnessed in the case of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan — a nightmarish dystopia which represents the mirror image of the good place.

How does one deal with that? Picasso once said that that everything that you can imagine is real and we, too, can deal with this probability with imagination and idealism. Just because utopia originates in the human imagination does not mean it cannot work in reality. If history has taught something, it is that Utopian thought may have originated in fiction and philosophy but it has always managed to find popularity in the social and political discourse.

First published in The Express Tribune

From preposterous to downright ridiculous

American humorist Will Rogers said it a while ago but it still holds true. “People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.” What should get people thinking or outraged elicits a different kind of response these days among the voting population. With the kind of lives we are leading for past couple of decades, we have started taking things lightly as a coping mechanism. What used to be criminal is now laughable and what used to be stupid is now endearing. No wonder we scored that high on the happiness index, because there cannot be any other rational explanation for it.
Many people have sold volumes and have made fortunes by compiling Bushisms during Dubya’s 8-year rule. I am sure someone is doing the same in Iran with the pearls of wisdom of Mehmoud Ahmadinejad, though we have no way of knowing if that compilation will ever see the light of day. George W. Bush was not the only US president suffering from ‘foot in mouth’ disease. Republican candidate Mitt Romney was planning on firing the big bird (His plan was to stop giving subsidy to PBS which will lead to closure of Sesame Street and make Big Bird redundant) to decrease the domestic debt. Fans of the muppets plan to march the streets of Washington DC before the election to register their protest.  Romney’s brilliant plan is at par with Nobel Committee’s decision to give peace prize this year to European Union or our very own prime minister’s disorientation when he called 14-year-old victim of terrorism Malala Yousufzai who is a high school student and a national icon of courage, an IT expert during a parliament session. Being the head of the government of Islami Jamhooriya of Pakistan, one cannot even ask him what kind of quality stuff he has been smoking.
If any politician in Pakistan who comes even close to good ol’ George W. in terms of political gaffes and repeated faux pas, it is no-one but Senator Rehman Malik. From claiming to have seen surveillance footage of Darth Vader like terrorists to blaming majority of deaths in Karachi on wives and girlfriends in the city rather than the precarious law and order situation. I am surprised that Rehman Malik’s comment did not give birth to a “Real Housewives of Karachi” kind of a reality TV show. Last month, he made a statement about Karachi being the destination of choice for Pakistani and Afghan Taliban for vacations. Being the interior minister, he thought it was prudent to announce it in a news conference but he decided not to do anything about it.
With the passage of time, the delusion of grandeur is reaching epic proportions. Only recently, he decided to extend his jurisdiction to other countries and took credit for people being arrested in the United States.  Yes, Rehman Baba, formerly of FIA and now of Ministry of Interior, claimed the credit for the arrest of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the producer of anti-Islam movie Innocence of Muslims. When it was pointed out to him that Nakoula was arrested for violating his bail in another case, he persisted that it was his voice that reached the right quarters which resulted in the arrest. I mean seriously! How idiotic one has to be to take credit for an arrest which was a very minor domestic matter of another country?
If Dubya stuns everyone with the fact that he was a Yale graduate, Rehman Malik, too, was bestowed with an honorary doctorate degree from country’s premier university, Karachi University perhaps, for his famous one-liners about and apples and banana or his sterling recitation of Surah Ikhlaas during a cabinet session.
The other politician who is known for shooting off the handle is Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani whose unforgettable words “Degree tau degree hoti hai chahay asli ho ya naqli (a degree is a degree whether genuine or fake)” will go down in Pakistani political gaffe history alongside with the boobie groping video. It has become such a point of reference for mockery that everything from space adventures (On Felix Baumgartner’s Space Jump, “Jump jump hoti hai, chahe space se ho ya sofay se” — a jump is a jump whether from space or a sofa) to local politics (Letter letter hota hai, chahay Grade 11 ke boy friend ko likha jaye ya Swiss hukoomat ko — a letter is a letter whether written to the boyfriend of an 11th Grader or the Swiss government).
While we are it, the Marie Antoinette of Pakistan, former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, also needs a special mention. When asked during an interview that one-fifth of Pakistanis want to leave the country, the premier didn’t hesitate to respond: “Why don’t they just leave then?”
That nonchalant matter-of-fact response was followed by, “Who’s stopping them?” What followed that super glib response were an awkward silence immediately and a thousand memes on Internet after that.
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is famous for either scandals with underage girls or for paying them for their affections. The late tent pitching nomadic leader of Libya Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was also not particularly well known for his sanity and discretion.
During his last trip to Italy, he requested the Berlusconi government to meet arrange for him to meet 700 women from the world of ‘politics, industry and culture’ who he can preach about Islam — the list included a female minister who used to be a topless model. Not only did he make the request, the Berlusconi government was weird enough to entertain it! Apparently, it was not the first such incident and the Sarkozy government was also guilty of giving in to a similar request  made during his earlier trip to Paris.
There have been politicians like Sher-e-Punjab Ghulam Mustafa Khar or Khadim-e-Ala Mian Shahbaz Sharif who are known for being ladies man and a serial groom respectively, but if there is one politician who endeared himself to people for his buffoon like antics around women, it is the latter’s elder brother.
Who can forget the saga of one Kim Barker and how the Barre Mian tried to ‘iPhone’ her. Things did not stay the same after the whole debacle became public and an iPhone had lost the innocence of being just a gift — at least in Pakistani political domain.

Bilour the bounty offerer is the recent entrant in the exalted club of ‘The gallactically stupid and the damned’. Before he offered to pay the bounty of $100,000 for the head of the filmmaker who made Innocence of Muslims, he was infamous for single-handedly ruining Pakistan Railways and for the ownership of cinemas that showed uncensored clips during regular viewings.  Had it been another country, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour should have been investigated by the taxation authorities for possessing that kind of money because reports suggests that during the last fiscal year, the tax he paid was just a little over $ 1,000 (around PKR100,000). 
Last but definitely not the least is the most theatrical of all Pakistani politicians. He may not grace your television sets everyday but when he does, he does it for a solid three hours and entertains you to no end. Altaf Bhai’s performance in the chooran chatni video is the stuff of legends and his rendition of parday mein rehnay do was perhaps the highest rated — under duress of course — television performance ever. Even Katrina Kaif cannot rival that. 

First published in the monthly magazine Pique
Nov 13, 2012 - published work, USA    1 Comment

The impunity to hope



Four years ago, when President Barack Obama became the first person of colour to be elected as the president of the US, the world was hopeful that a lasting change would come along. We all know how that turned out but there are still some positives from that election and the current election, where President Obama was re-elected, which have shaped and will continue to shape domestic politics in the US. People are less divided across race and gender lines and vote on social issues; these lessons provide an example for other countries.

However, an Obama-like victory for any individual is next to impossible in Pakistan. For starters, the middle class that played a key role in bringing this political change in the US, is limited to a few big cities (mostly Karachi and to some extent Lahore, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Hyderabad) and it is fast shrinking given the energy crisis and economic woes of the country.

In addition, our politics is caste/clan/ethnicity-based. The election result of February 2008 is a clear indication of that trend. The PML-N with its Punjabi leadership did well in upper and central Punjab. The PPP with its Sindhi leadership did well in rural Sindh and the Seraiki belt. Pashtuns voted for their nationalist party, the ANP, and urban Sindh remained loyal to the MQM. Chances are that the new elections, expected to be held in the first half of 2013, would be more divisive as more actors of the same hue have entered the political arena.

Pakistan, perhaps, is the only country where democracy, tribalism and feudalism have coexisted and still continue to coexist. Our parliament looks more like a national jirga council, where most of the elected representatives are tribal and feudal heads with fairly dubious histories. More often than not, they try to stall any progressive legislation with impunity and pride, usually in the name of religion and culture.

The American people moved away from centre right politics to centre left politics when they voted for President Obama back in 2008 and again in 2012. There is no chance of that happening ever in Pakistan. To begin with, we don’t have a middle class big enough in numbers and the urban population is too attached to religion to embrace anything different. A country where original thought is shunned and a parliamentarian had to remain in hiding after proposing changes to the blasphemy law has a long way to go before it starts hoping for change.

In a country suffering from the worst leadership crisis of its history, religious obscurantism is at its peak, the education system has failed and the youth is apathetic; the only change that can be predicted is more chaos, unless we produce a leadership that gives the whole nation a chance to hope, like President Obama did in 2008. Unfortunately, we do not have the system to produce someone like him. With an absentee foreign father and a family with meagre finances, Obama was able to attend an Ivy League school on the basis of merit and finished his degree with the help of student loans. Sadly, that’s not the case in Pakistan. Forget admission of a poor kid to an elite school, we do not provide a level playing field to our children in the same family as most families prefer to spend more money on the education of the male child. In such circumstances, we want to remain tied to a distant past.

Should we even have the impunity to hope for a better tomorrow?

First published in The Express Tribune

The other martyrs



Martyrs are valued anywhere in the world because of their valour, courage and bravery. In Pakistan, they are valued because they help in setting the public image right, secure votes and feed our national sadism that responds only to death, misery and destruction.

Let us start with political parties. Most political parties, barring various factions of the Muslim League, boast about their ‘shaheeds’. Everyone mourns the death of their party members but is perhaps secretly thrilled by it as well because we, as a nation, practice politics on the basis of the number of shaheeds per party. The Pakistan People’s Party, with the ‘shahadat’ of two former heads of the government, is at the top of the food chain and has won elections by asking their voters to atone for their leaders’ death by voting them into the assemblies. Others do it to lesser degrees of success. Case in point: every transgression of the ANP’s leadership is countered by tales of personal losses incurred by people like Mian Iftikhar Hussain. Mian Iftikhar’s loss of his only son and nephew to terrorism is extremely tragic but it cannot counter the irresponsible behavior of people such as Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour who announced a bounty for the man behind the anti-Islam video, for short-term political gains.

The armed forces also need martyrs to feed the bogey of the ‘other’ and justify their existence as well as the huge drain they are on the country’s meager resources. Ever since the war against home-grown terrorists began, nothing worked as well for them as coffins shrouded with the national flag, images of children left behind by the fathers, mothers mourning deaths of their sons and father stoically professing that they would be happy and proud if they lose their other son for the country.

One martyr who does not get either the same amount of reverence or the same coverage in our media is the much-maligned policeman; the policeman, who gets killed every time a group of terrorist or miscreants want to play hooky with the security of the country. In the battle for Islamabad’s red zone last week, Islamabad police came out most harmed — apart from the country’s image, that is. Not only did policemen suffer injuries — 55 policemen were wounded on September 20 alone in Islamabad — but the mob also set fire to their check posts and vehicles, destroying their records and valuable public property, which was paid for by taxpayers. The religious parties and organizations that are fed on the populist rhetoric wanted blood and wanted to march all the way to the US consulate, but it was the capital police that stopped them and perhaps helped the government in averting an international crisis. One can only shudder to think what would have happened had the mob reached the consulate. The very next day, three policemen lost their lives in Karachi when a similar mob was busy looting and burning the city, while many others got injured.

Policemen form the first line of defense against terrorism and many have lost their lives or limbs fighting them with old, outdated and inadequate weapons. They are asked to fire tear gas without proper safety equipment, sent to deal with deadly opponents under prepared and paid a lot less than other security agencies with inadequate pension plans and medical insurance. On top of that, they face public ridicule every day. Though their services are generally below par and there is much to be done to improve their performance, it is time we start honoring our police force for doing what they are doing right.

First published in The Express Tribune

Are fashion statements stronger than political statements?


 For as long as I can remember, Maulana Fazlur Rehman is harbouring ambitions of ending up in the PM House. He was one of the candidates back in 2002, then tried his luck again in 2008 and the latest attempt is as recent as the exit of Yousuf Raza Gilani and his Armani suits from the prime ministerial abode. The third time around, too, the Maulana’s effort to weasel his way in was to no avail; he stayed out and somehow Raja Pervaiz Ashraf got in. My sister thinks that Maulana Diesel (as he is affectionately called) is a master politician and the only reason — apart from the fact that his party is nonexistent in two provinces — that he has not been able to make it to his desired destination is his inability to enunciate his political wizardry. I beg to differ; if diction and oratory had been the desired skills then Chaudhry Shujaat would not have made it to the seat of prime minister — even if it was for a few short weeks.
The James Bond-esque shades
The only reason — apart from the clout in that parliament — for Chaudhry Saab’s ascent was his sartorial elegance. While Chaudhry Saab in his crisp shalwar qameez and designer glasses looked quite at home in a cabinet meeting, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, in his orange checkered roomal over his rumpled kurta, could have only looked at home on a dastarkhuwan with sheermal and qorma
Perhaps, if he had been fonder of the diesel of other kind, he would have stood a better chance. It was his sartorial choices — or lack thereof — that sealed his political fate. Pakistan may not be high on international style meter and our fashion weeks do not even get the fraction of buyers that a Milan fashion week gets, but no-one has made it to the top offices in this country after sporting bedraggled shalwar qameez.
The longevity of erstwhile PM Yousuf Raza Gilani at his former position owes a lot to his fashion sense; early on in his position as the head of government, Mr Gilani had learned that no matter how unintelligent he sounds and how he makes a fool of himself — either in the cabinet meetings or during interviews with former journos — a good suit and a shiny new watch can deflect attention from rather serious matters of state. Since then, we have seen Armani suits, Marc Jacobs’ shirts, Rolex watches, impeccably dyed mustache and of course, the occasional Amir Adnan Sherwani. Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, on the other hand, may not survive long. Apart from the very obvious love affair between any PM from PPP and upper judiciary in this country, Raja Saab’s slicked back-do is more appropriate for an Al Capone of Godfather film rather than the Prime Minister’s House. No suit or sherwani can take away that Mafioso look. The moniker his electorate has bestowed up on him — Raja Rental — also deters anyone from taking him seriously.
Perhaps, the only person who thinks that Raja saab is a real prime minister who actually has any control over his government is the chief justice who prompts him to write a letter to random strangers in a country called Switzerland and reopen cases against distinguished people not quite resting in peace. He has not asked the sitting PM to reopen cases against perpetually waiting-to-be PM Nawaz Sharif (is it just me or do other people also feel that Mian saab looks like a vampire at times, always very white and always carnivorous). Two other politicians who owe their popularity to their wardrobe, their sense of style and accessories are Firdous Ashiq Awan and Hina Rabbani Khar. While Hina’s Birkins are easily recognized by most, Firdous’s array of gold bangles is harder to spot, though it is heard that most of her accessories come from the opulent lands of UAE.
If Hina is known to favour Roberto Cavalli shades and the Jimmy Choos that would look great in a Carrie Bradshaw wardrobe, Firdous wins it with her impeccable makeup. It has been pointed out that she does not use any brands other than Bobby Brown and Mac for enhancing her God given beauty. Considering the amount of makeup she uses every day, I have a feeling it would cost the same amount of money it needs to feed an army of a country like Liechtenstein. 

Bobby Brown vs Robert Cavalli
What can and has helped a great deal in the not-so-recent past in the ascent to power is the colour of clothing. If you happen to prefer khaki over all other colours and heads an institution that has over half a million armed men waiting to move against anything and anyone on your orders, chances are that you will at least have a couple of chances to take over the government in your reign. The best thing about this kind of power grab is that you don’t even have to worry about periodic elections and you end up at the top for far longer than any other politico — no matter how many labeled suits he wears. Another thing that aids the men in Khakis to assume and then cling on to the power is their ability to carry big bad boots with their khakis. If khakis maketh the man, then boots are the one that pave the way to the path of power and glory!
Though Khakis have a long established claim to power and glory in this country, the last few years have been instrumental in  bringing another group to the fore — they are ‘The Robed and the Black Coats’. Just because they are endowed with a black robe, they think they can order anyone around — be it an election commissioner or the elected prime minister. They are so high on their robes, imagine how cocky they would have been if they had still been wearing Raj Era wigs. Their conceit would have known no bounds! However, despite their conceit, their self preservation instincts are stronger and they neither issue summons nor do they tell the khakis to write letters to strangers or pay taxes on all the imports for their use.
Originally written for monthly magazine Pique’s August issues

The frivolous and the inane


If someone was handing out awards to legislative assemblies for coming up with the most bizarre legislation and the most frivolous debates, chances are that the Punjab Assembly — the largest legislative house of the country — would win. The house has turned into such a joke of late that one wonders about the ability of most of its members to just be rational, let alone their ability to make laws.
Every other day, members of this supposedly august house are reported in the media about their involvement in verbal spats, at times, on the assembly floor, calling each other name that are so impolite that they often need to be taken off the records of assembly proceedings.  From trying to pass legislation against mobile phone packages to legislation encouraging polygamy and shout fests, from calling names to throwing shoes and chairs at people, members of Punjab assembly have indulged in just about everything – at times repeatedly so.
Instead of taking up issues that adversely affect the performance of the province – such as high number of children outside the schools, the recent young doctor’s strike, increasing unemployment in the province or increase in beggary – the members discuss matter that are irrelevant and can no way be passed as matters of government interest or political debate, legislation or attempts at legislation which is their raison d’être. Latest in the long line of inane debates is discussion over Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s promise to pay Rs 3 million to acid burn victim Rukhsana. Instead of discussing and strengthening laws on domestic violence, acid throwing and police reforms, they decided to go after the film maker who highlighted this issue through her work. It was quite ironic that the motion to ‘help this poor woman’ was moved by Shaikh Alauddin who is quite well known for his misogynyand has harassed his co workers in assembly on camera.
When the members of the assembly do work on issues of importance, they do not do so with the required diligence and care. According to a PILDAT report, it took the provincial assembly only 21 hours and 56 minutes to pass the annual budget for the fiscal year 2012-13 which was around Rs 782 billion. In comparison budget debate 2011-2012 consumed approximately 39 hours. Hence a decline of55% was witnessed this year in the actual time devoted for Budget debate. They pass multiple bills which had been returned to the assembly secretariat from the governor’s office with objections and reservations, without making any changes in the text or the context of the bills. The provincial law minister disregarded the governor’s reservations by saying that the “governor has hired a team of English-writers, who write the same type of objections on every bill.”
Perhaps, the Darwin Award for the most incredible legislation goes to Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan who moved a motion to remove the ostrich from the bird category and place it in the same category of animals as goats and sheep, in order to meet the increasing demand for meat in the province. One wonders why the poor birds had to be removed from their rightful place in the animal kingdom; if the reason was to encourage people to eat them, they could have done it without the hyperbole of legislation. After all we, as a nation, eat poultry like there is no tomorrow.
Going by the performance of this house, the election commission should be advised to start testing candidates on basic IQ tests before approving their nomination papers for the next elections. Who knows, the next assembly might want to declare elephants as fish.
Originally written for The Express Tribune

An unrealistic code for elections

Pick up any news item these days and there will be a connection with the Supreme Court in one way or the other. The spine recently developed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) also owes its existence to a Supreme Court directive, which resulted in a brand new code limiting the election expenses of a candidate to Rs1.5 million. Election candidates were banned from providing transport facilities to voters on election day and were prohibited from using other promotional tools. The sentiment is noble but the implementation of this code of conduct seems impossible for various reasons.
Given the state of inflation and the size of constituencies — particularly, for the National Assembly — the amount of Rs1.5 million is unrealistic. Well-heeled Pakistanis spend more on a valima; expecting candidates to woo around a hundred thousand voters per constituency on that budget would be a tad unreal. In addition, a lot of services during campaigns are provided without any monetary transaction. One supporter gets the banners printed while another provides tents for the jalsa and a third supporter does the catering for the aforementioned jalsa, free of cost. This makes the process of keeping the tabs very difficult.
The ECP also prohibits the political parties from hoisting party flags on public property or at any public place unless granted permission by the local government for a certain fee. Every city is already flooded with political flags of all colours and hues. The residents of Karachi will vouch that they have seen the political flags of all parties inundating their streets, making the street look like it is in a perpetual state of a campaign of some kind or other. The code of conduct is silent on how the ECP will get rid of the flags and whether is has the authority to order local governments to do so. Further, the removal of party flags is contingent upon local governments having the resources to remove them.
Wall chalking as part of an election campaign is also prohibited by the ECP along with the use of loudspeakers, barring election meetings. Again, controlling wall chalking would be a momentous task and the candidates can always say that their supporters and not their campaign teams are behind it.
Further, the ECP also forbids candidates to affix posters, hoardings or banners larger than the prescribed sizes for the campaign. Most urban centres and highways already sport larger than life hoardings of political leaders; the Sharif brothers in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Gujranwala, Asfandyar Wali in Charsadda and Peshawar, Altaf Hussain in Karachi and Hyderabad, Imran Khan in Lahore and Peshawar and the whole Bhutto clan almost everywhere in Pakistan. These hoardings do not ask voters to vote for any particular candidate during the election period. Hence, they are not related to any election campaign. Yet, they propagate the messages of various political parties and can affect the election process. The ECP’s code of conduct does not say anything about these advertisements.
The ECP also banned candidates from providing transport facilities to voters on election day, which, again, is essential for maintaining neutrality. However, it can adversely impact the percentage of voters, who will actually go out and vote. While limiting election expenses is a very commendable step for which ECP should be congratulated, it needs to make the code of conduct more realistic and must also come up with ways to implement it.

First published in The Express Tribune. 

Jun 28, 2012 - Uncategorized    9 Comments

Khan Sahib’s heart to heart with Julian Assange

OMG!
There is delusional, and there is delusional to the extent that people stop mocking you and start smiling at you in sympathy.  Khan sahib’s latest heart to heartwith Julian Assange falls into the later category.  Staying true to his character, Imran Khan started his statements with “Look Julian” & “You see Julian,” and treated him like he does Hamid Mir with “dekho Hamid” & “suno Hamid.” 
For starters, he seems to believe he is next in line in the quest to power and that his political rallies are changing the way people do politics in Pakistan. I wish it was the truth and I wish things had changed but the fact remains that barring a few urban pockets, politics is still heavily dependent on caste and clan allegiances. 
So confident he is of his jalsas that he thinks all the electable people are now turning to him because the vote bank belongs to him. Assange should have asked him that if the other people were that electable, then how come the vote bank belongs to him and if the vote bank belongs to him then he does not need electable lotas from other parties and can easily get dedicated and patriotic Pakistanis to contest elections and make it to the parliament. 
Khan sahib also believes that political establishment is scared of him because he is the most popular leader since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Had establishment been that scared of him, why would they provide him with protocol and security for all his jalsas all over the country? And I have a feeling that supporters of Mian Nawaz Sharif, Benzir Bhutto and Altaf Hussain will take exception to him declaring himself as the most popular one since ZAB, esp considering Mian sahib has enjoyed two third  majority in the parliament at one point in time. 
His most contradictory statements however were reserved for Pak-US relations. He wants Pakistan to do away with the client patron relationship the country has with US but at the same time he also says that Americans are very unhappy with Pakistan because we have not delivered to them. 
Doncha think Khan Sahib would be quite at home on the prime ministerial kursi?
If you are too tired to go through the whole interview, read the juiciest excerpts here.
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