Divided but United

Written by Fakhar Ahmed  •  Special Features  •  June 2013   

With Nawaz Sharif back in power, Pakistan needs to stand united despite ethnic and political differences.

During the last sixty five years of independence, Pakistan has fought three wars with India, suffered 30 years of military rule, faced feudal-biased democracies, endured the fall of East Pakistan and the rise of Bangladesh, survived some of the severest floods and earthquakes in history, and handled international conspiracies. At present, the country faces the worst economic, political, security and energy crisis; has to reach a consensus over Kashmir and deal with a combustible situation brewing up in Afghanistan. Despite a torrent of such calamities, the nation has survived.

Following independence on August 14, 1947, the influential lobby consisting of local feudal lords and the upper class that rendered their support to the British Colonial empire in the sub-continent, became a part of Pakistani politics. India, however, ensured that the land holdings and feudal estates were cut to size for its own good. The 2013 general elections in Pakistan saw the rise of a similar lobby of feudal and upper class actors. With the dust settling on May 11, Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League (N) emerged victorious. The unsettled question of being elected based on regional, ethnic and respective provincial vote count despite a grave possibility of rigging of the elections cannot be ruled out. The smaller provinces of Sindh, KPK, and Balochistan are facing a wave of terrorism and violence, and are left out on the national front.  Akin to the 2013 elections,  the elections in the 70s also created a political divide between the political groups of East and West Pakistan, hence fueling the separation of West Pakistan and leading to the emergence of  Bangladesh  as an independent state.

Today, the smaller provinces express their dissatisfaction over the unequal distribution of their political rights. Where the Urdu speaking community of urban Sindh made tremendous sacrifices and migrated from India to Pakistan in 1947, in Balochistan, tribal leaders led Baloch nationalist’s parties to believe that their basic rights as citizens and political freedom are being suppressed. Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, has been subjugating the smaller provinces over the years. A similar situation exists in areas of rural Sindh where the majority voted for feudal lords. Political leaders from Punjab believe that the political parties in Sindh and Balochistan possess armed groups and provide safe havens to miscreants for their political existence.

The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which neighbors Afghanistan, has its own plethora of problems and is a victim of terrorism. The province largely voted for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan, who has made lofty promises to change Pakistan’s status quo. Extremist groups continue to exist and function along the porous borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The nation stands divided yet united. The newly elected democratic government of Pakistan will have to face serious challenges during its first 100 days in power. From a rotten economy and a corrupt political system to a looming energy crisis and permeating terrorism, the new government faces an uphill battle.

With international forces gearing up to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 2014, the situation validates that influential and international players supported the long military tenures in Pakistan, and  many  foreign interest groups continue to play an active role in Pakistani politics. The country has a long way to go before it can attain political maturity, sovereignty in foreign policy, or a sustainable economy. Interestingly enough, Western democracies supported General Zia ul Haq when they wanted the Taliban and the Mujahideen to fight against the Russian invasion in Afghanistan. Similarly, international democracies supported General Pervez Musharraf when they planned to conduct the War on Terror in Afghanistan, against the Al-Qaida. Even though Pakistan tends to benefit from a 7% to 8% GDP growth rate under military regimes, it is often during the same time that western powers suddenly value the tenets of democracy and exert pressure for power to be handed over to feudal and rich influential ‘democrats’ who, with few exceptions, have no professional competence of good governance. It is no surprise then that the country often falls at the brink of going bankrupt during democratic regimes.

Today nearly 34% of Pakistan’s population is living below the poverty line as defined by international standards; more than 5 million children do not go to school; lack of potable water, power shortages, and an ever increasing population is making the country a victim of social injustice, bad governance, and corruption. Thousands of mothers die each year while giving birth and thousands of children die of basic illnesses due to lack of proper health facilities.

Unfortunately in Pakistan, the election-based democratic mechanism and state machinery is beyond the reach of a professionally competent, middle class, honest leader. The process to elect parliamentarians in Pakistan is managed by the Election Commission of Pakistan but the lower cadres of the judiciary and teachers from the state’s education department manage the election process. These officials depend on feudal lords and influential groups to receive promotions and transfers. Therefore, they are unable to control rigging, even if no corruption comes into account. However, with the influence of a strong judiciary and a vibrant electronic, digital and social media, the dynamics of the democratic electoral process in Pakistan have changed.

It is imperative that power brokers and authorities make decisions on merit and understand public perception, as Pakistan can no longer sustain feudalism, a single province-led democracy or a military rule. The power brokers of Pakistan view the emergence of Imran Khan as a popular leader but not as an experienced or mature politician who can address Pakistan’s current turmoil. Khan’s dialogue-based strategy to tackle the war on terror failed to impress the Pakistan military or certain Western interest groups who have been embroiled in this war for over a decade. Pakistanis are waiting to see if Imran Khan can deliver in KPK, which will prove to be the first test of his campaign rhetoric.

Karachi, generating more than 65% revenue for Pakistan, has been at the center of Pakistani politics, held staunchly by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). MQM, by virtue of powerful but small numbers of parliamentarians, has to co-exist and form an alliance with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that previously had a stronghold in Sindh but conceded defeat in the 2013 elections because of its poor performance.

Nawaz  Sharif is the first prime minister in Pakistan to take office for a third time and has formed his cabinet with a majority of politicians belonging to Punjab along with some old faces claiming to have professional credentials but having failed to deliver in the past.

Pakistan’s three major institutions: the military, the judiciary and the media, have an almost larger than life influence over the state of affairs and the ruling party has to carefully select its future course of action. A large group of intellectuals in Pakistan are temporarily willing to support Nawaz Sharif’s government for the time being; closely monitoring his performance depending on the first 100 days of the new government.

A fierce, independent and free media has allowed for political maturity and is adamant to uncover corruption, missteps and injustices conducted by the new government. Shahbaz Sharif, the current third time elected Chief Minister of Punjab has a better image for being a good administrator and illustrates the capacity to deliver. This time, however, the delivery has to benefit across the board and not the pro-government Punjabi elements alone. The new government will also have to show supreme leadership with regard to two new avenues of economic development; firstly with China, to manage and develop the Gwadar port and secondly, to focus on the Iran Pakistan Gas Pipeline project which the West continues to oppose. Another key issue is to manage the strategy on the War on Terror and define the role, which Pakistan will assume in the region. Political analysts claim that Nawaz Sharif is a changed man and is expected to handle things in a more mature fashion. This makes the first 100 days crucial for his leadership. Sharif has gathered enough numbers in Parliament to enjoy power but power has to support provincial autonomies and respect ethnicities so that Pakistan stands united. 


The Leading Lady of Bangladesh

Written by S.G. Jilanee •  Special Features  •  June 2013   

Sheikh Hasina faces political turbulence over many of her decisions; the forthcoming elections will decide her fate.

The eldest of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman’s five children, Sheikh Hasina is the current prime minister of Bangladesh. She was born at her ancestral home in the Tungipara village of the present Gopalganj district on 28 September 1947. In 1968, she married M. A. Wajed, a nuclear scientist, who died in 2009. Hasina graduated from the Dhaka University in 1973.

Actively involved in student politics in her college and university days, Hasina was elected as chief of the Student’s Union of Eden Girls College, and was a member of the Awami League’s student arm, the Chhatra League of Dhaka University.

In 1975, her entire family, including her parents and brothers were assassinated in Dhaka. She and her sister Rehana escaped, providentially, because they were in Germany at the time. When they landed in India on return, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took them under her protection --an act of grace for which Hasina continues to remain ever beholden to the Indian government.

In 1981, Hasina was unanimously elected president of the Awami League while still living in India. She returned home on 17 May 1981. By a curious coincidence, President Ziaur Rahman, who had granted amnesty to her father’s killers, was assassinated on 30 May, just thirteen days after her return.

Hasina’s Awami League, along with the BNP led by President Ziaur Rahman’s widow, Khaleda Zia, advocated for the restoration of democracy during Gen. Hussein Mohammad Ershad’s rule in the 1980s, until he stepped down in 1991. The BNP won the democratic elections held the same year. Although the two ladies had struggled jointly to bring Ershad down, after the elections they soon fell out and the acrimony has continued ever since.

Hasina’s politics are based purely on self-interest. In 1996, for example, she supported an abortive military coup, led by Lt. General ASM Nasim against the legitimate BNP government. In 2007, Hasina supported Army chief, Moeenuddin’s takeover of the government, declaration of emergency and postponement of the elections. At her bidding, the Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil, signed a deal with Jatiya Party to make its leader H.M. Ershad, president of Bangladesh. Another agreement was signed with Khelafat Majlis that included banning Ahmadis in Bangladesh and framing an anti-blasphemy law. However, after becoming prime minister in 2009, Hasina reneged on all her above agreements without any qualms.

A glaring example of Hasina’s lack of principles is provided by her shifting stand on the issue of the caretaker government (CG) to hold elections. At the end of Khaleda’s term in 1996, it was in response to Hasina’s agitation that a provision for the CG to manage elections was incorporated in the constitution and elections were held. Unsurprisingly, she won the elections to serve as prime minister from 1996 to 2001.

In 2001 she lost the elections to Khaleda Zia. But when Khaleda’s term ended in 2006, Hasina plunged the country into violent political unrest over the issue of who would head the caretaker government. The violence claimed at least 40 lives and led to an army takeover. The 2008 elections were also held under a CG, this one sponsored by the army, which Hasina won to become prime minster for the second time.

But in 2011 her own government repealed the provision of the CG in the constitution that had been inserted at her own demand.

Hasina has also betrayed a despotic streak. Two Islamist TV channels have been shut down, because, they telecast “live images of the security forces’ attacks” on Hefazat-e-Islam demonstrators on May 5 that left an unknown number dead.

In mid-April, the government sealed a very popular newspaper, Amar Desh, and detained its acting editor, Mahmudur Rahman on sedition charges. But the Economist says that the real reason for the action might lie in the ad run by the paper, a day before his arrest, regarding the possible publication of a translation of a series of “damning American embassy cables on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman” from the Wikileaks trove. In addition to this, Hasina’s government has drawn flak for the mega graft scandal in the World Bank sponsored, Padma Bridge Project and the issue of forced disappearances.

While Hasina can count on sending her father’s killers to the gallows and prosecuting Jamaat-e-Islami’s top leadership for war crimes in 1971, how she fares in the elections at the end of the year, remains to be seen. 


A Personality Extraordinaire

Written by S. G. Jilanee •  Special Features  •  May 2013   

Faiz Ahmed Faiz has not only mesmerized an entire nation but has captured the attention of the world. He remains one of Pakistan’s most beloved personalities and a national treasure.

Perhaps the most famous and “beloved” poet of Pakistan, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, was born on 13 February 1911 in Sialkot to an “academic family that was well known in literary circles.” He was born as just Faiz Ahmad. After he began writing poetry he chose Faiz as his pen-name and consequently came to be known as “Faiz Ahmad Faiz.”

Faiz received his early education in an Islamic school where he learned Urdu, Persian and the Quran. In 1926, he attended a Scotch Mission school and ultimately attained his M.A. in English Literature and Arabic in 1932.

In 1935, Faiz joined the faculty of Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh as a lecturer in English Literature. In 1936, Faiz had joined the Progressive Writers’ Movement. Sajjad Zahir, a fellow Marxist appointed him as the Movement’s first secretary. Two years later he became editor-in-chief of the monthly Urdu magazine Adab-e-Latif, in Delhi. In 1941, Faiz published his first literary book Naqsh-e-Faryad and joined the Pakistan Arts Council in 1947 to serve as its secretary from 1959 to 1962. In 1937, he moved to Lahore after accepting the professorship at the Hailey College of Commerce. During World War II, he enrolled in the British Indian Army in 1942 as a commissioned officer where he rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel. Faiz opted for Pakistan in 1947 but was so distressed by the Kashmir war with India that he resigned from the army in 1947.

A year before joining the army, Faiz had married Alys, a British national. Their marriage was a perfect meeting of the minds as Alys was member of the Communist Party of the United Kingdom while Faiz had met communist leaders, M. N. Roy and Muzaffar Ahmed, during his college days and under their influence, joined the Communist Party. Soon after leaving the army, Faiz became editor of the Pakistan Times in 1947. The next year he became vice-president of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF). “During 1948–50, Faiz led the PTUF’s delegation in Geneva and became an active member of World Peace Council.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, he devoted himself to promoting the communist cause in Pakistan. As editor of the Pakistan Times, “he lent editorial support to the party.” Having served in the unit led by Akbar Khan during the War, he held the latter in high regard and was later involved with the circle that supported Major General Akbar Khan’s coup plan, in 1951.

When the coup failed, the conspirators were tried in a military court. Faiz was sentenced to four years imprisonment. In 1955, his sentence was commuted and he went into exile in London. In 1958, Faiz returned but was again detained by the government for publishing pro-communist ideas and advocacy for a pro-Moscow government in Pakistan. However, in 1960 he was released and this time departed for Moscow.

In 1964, Faiz returned to Pakistan and was appointed rector of Abdullah Haroon College.

Faiz also enjoyed good relations with socialist Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Therefore, in 1965, Bhutto, then foreign minister in the Ayub Khan government got Faiz an honorary slot in the Information and Broadcasting ministry, where his task was to rally popular support for the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War.

In 1972, when Bhutto became prime minister of the “residual” Pakistan, he appointed Faiz as Culture adviser, where he worked until his retirement in 1974.

But the vicissitudes of his life did not cease. Because of his strong ties with Bhutto, he fell afoul of Gen. Ziaul Haq after the latter had toppled Bhutto and was kept under surveillance. Faiz once again went into self-exile in 1979, this time to Beirut. But due to the civil war in Lebanon in 1982, he returned to Pakistan.

Two years later, Faiz Ahmed Faiz died in Lahore, on 20 November 1984.

Faiz was a humanist and a lyrical poet. His songs touch hearts not only for their lilting music, but chiefly because, they “tell of saddest thoughts.” He talks of the oppressed lower-class and the tyranny of military dictatorship but at the same time kindles hope of a better future. His famous poem, “Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhengay...” speaks of the day when the mountains of tyranny will vanish like pieces of cotton in the air; when crowns will be flung and thrones will be overturned, and the Kingdom of God will be established where today’s downtrodden people will rule.

But Faiz did not write only revolutionary poems. He also wrote of love and romance that became the hallmark of classic Urdu poetry. He started with love poems in the genre of “ghazal” that overflow with tender sentiments and portray a marked influence of Ghalib. A distinctive feature of Faiz’s poetry is that even though his poems, particularly the political ones, are couched in a simple conversational style, the language and diction is polished and refined. It is the diction of the elite rather than of the commoners. Yet, his poetry has been very popular not only in Pakistan and India but also in the Soviet Union,

In 1962, Faiz became the first Asian poet to be awarded the Lenin Peace Prize, a Soviet equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1976, he was awarded the Lotus Prize for Literature. He was also listed four times for the Nobel Prize. In 2011, the Pakistan government declared the year of 2011 “as the year of Faiz Ahmed Faiz” and set up a “Faiz Chair” at the Department of Urdu at the Karachi University and the Sindh University. The Government College University of Lahore followed by establishing the Patras, Faiz Chair at the Urdu Department.

During his lifetime, Faiz published eight books. Two of his books, Dast-e-Saba and Zindan-Nama are the products of the period of his imprisonment. Faiz’s awards, besides the Lenin Prize, include MBE (1946), Nigar Award (1953), HRC Peace Prize, Nishan-e-Imtiaz (1990) and the Avicenna Prize (2006). 


The Weeping Widow

Written by S.G. Jilanee •  Special Features  •  May 2013   

Sri Lanka’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world’s first female head of government, was a perfect blend of ambition and perseverance.

Born on April 17, 1916, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became famous as the modern world’s first female head of government. She was the widow of Sri Lanka’s fourth prime minister, Solomon Bandaranaike and the mother of Sri Lanka’s fourth Executive President, Chandrika Kumaratunga.


The Great Game

Written by Fakhar Ahmed •  Special Features  •  May 2013   

After its successful economic growth between 2002 and 2007, Pakistan today stands at the verge of collapse, threatened by economic uncertainties, lawlessness, water and food insecurity, energy shortage, shrinking of its industrial base, quasi-democracy, a huge mix of feudal and corrupt elements coming to the fore, deteriorating education, health and social welfare institutions, growing terrorism, ethnic violence and, more importantly, huge geopolitical and strategic risks. All this is further accentuated by the emergence of enemies of Pakistan from within and outside, backed by international vested interests and an unstable Afghanistan.

There are those who credit the 2002-2007 economic growth to former President Pervez Musharraf while some view his political actions as the very reasons for the current economic and security disaster. Some even think that ousting Musharraf from power was part of the Great Game as Pakistan’s GDP was touching 8% and the enemies of Pakistan felt that such growth was not suitable for a Muslim nuclear state. Pakistan’s enemies may also have comprised some allies who created conditions to make Musharraf resign as president and go on self-exile.


Battling Polio

Written by Arsla Jawaid •  Special Features  •  May 2013   

It was a crisp morning. The Area Incharge had asked polio workers to report to Gulshan Bunir (Karachi) to conduct the anti-polio drive. With security threats at an all-time high, it was imperative to make sure that workers were home early. That morning, Madeeha woke up slightly late and skipped breakfast. While getting dressed she told her mother, also a polio worker with 10 years of experience in the field, that her shoes looked old, “Maybe tomorrow we can go shopping for new shoes?” She put on her burqa, her worn-out shoes, picked up her bag and left for the field. An hour later, her mother, Rukhsana Bibi, left for the same area.


SouthAsia Magazine wins US Genesis Award 2013

Written by SAO •  Special Features  •  May 2013   

SouthAsia-Magazine-wins-US-Genesis-Award-2013Pakistan’s Southasia Magazine has been declared winner of the US Genesis Award 2013 in the Brigitte Bardot International Print category. The other contender for the award was South Africa’s The Star.

Presented by the The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which is America’s largest animal protection organization, the Genesis Awards celebrate the role that news and entertainment media play in raising awareness about animal issues. The Genesis Award ceremony was held on Saturday, March 23, 2013, at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California.

This is the second time that Southasia Magazine has won the US Genesis Award. It won the Award for the first time in 2007. The other two contestants for the award on that occasion were The Evening Standard and The Sunday Times (both UK-based publications). The Magazine was described as ‘Pakistan’s monthly equivalent to Time magazine.’ Southasia was also nominated for the US Genesis Award in 2012.


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