10 Reasons Why Pakistan’s Twin Marches are Heading Nowhere

This article was originally featured in the Daily Times in two parts on September 17-18.

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Quaid-i-Azam once said “Democracy is in the blood of Muslims, who look upon complete equality of mankind…[and] believe in fraternity, equality and liberty.”

For over forty days, Imran Khan and Dr. Tahirul Qadri have been staging sit-ins in Pakistan’s capitol calling for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. Yet even at its peak the average number of those attending does not amount to winning a single constituency in the general elections. Both Imran Khan and Dr. Tahirul Qadri have become increasingly isolated and the hope of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation is waning with each day.

Here are 10 reasons why Pakistan has rejected the calls for inquilab (revolution) and azaadi (freedom).

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1) Despite irregularities, 2013 general elections were better than ever before and several polls suggest PML-N sustains popularity. According to numerous independent election monitoring organizations such as FAFEN, PILDAT, and EU, although the May 11, 2013 Pakistani general elections were far from perfect they were actually better than all previous elections. The positive reports were based on the independent reports of over 41,000 trained observers stationed all over the country.

Evidence of PML-N’s sustained popularity is seen in many recent polls. A recent Pew Research survey shows that 64% of Pakistanis have a favorable opinion of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and only 32% give him an unfavorable rating. Another survey by PILDAT states that 63% of all Pakistanis believe the 2013 Pakistani Elections were fair and transparent.

According to Gallup Pakistan 66% of Pakistanis think that Imran Khan should have waited for the next elections. It also revealed a strong committment to democracy with 81% saying they prefer it to the 13% who favored dictatorship. Furthermore all other political parties have renewed their confidence in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and both Pakistan’s National Assembly and Senate passed unnanimous resolutions declaring it illegal to ask for his resignation or dissolution of the Parliament. Coercing his resignation would hence be an unconstitutional assault on the Parliament and Senate resolutions. As many have pointed out, if Imran Khan thinks Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rigged the 2013 elections on a massive scale while not even being in office, it doesn’t make sense that he needs to resign before any investigation takes place.

2) Time for unconstitutional power grabbing is over. While Pakistan’s neighboring country India has steadily been strengthening its democracy, Pakistan’s progress has been stifled by political unrest and it has suffered at the hands of military dictatorships. Imran Khan himself has said in an interview last year that the worst thing that has happened in Pakistan is the disturbance in the continuity of its democracy.

In 2013 Pakistan witnessed for the first time in its 67 year old history one democratically elected government peacefully handing over power to another democratically elected government. This peaceful transition of power is an important milestone in Pakistan’s history for which Pakistan was internationally praised and an accomplishment Pakistanis should feel proud of. Orderly and peaceful democratic transitions of power are a testament to a maturing political climate in the country. It is necessary for the constitution to be rendered supreme and the democratic processs strengthened for Pakistan’s future generations to inherent a strong nation.

Pakistanis are tired of political musical chairs. They no longer want to see their rulers desperately trying to sustain power but to actually tackle the problems which affect average Pakistanis. The constitutional way to call for the resignation of the Prime Minister is through a “no confidence” vote in the Parliament. There is no support for this from any other political party.

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3) Current rigging allegations are not enough to change the PML-N’s majority. All political parties acknowledge that some local level rigging took place in last year’s election but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence it was massive or done by any one political party. Furthermore despite irregularities current rigging allegations do not change the overall results of a landslide victory for PML-N. This is why all other parties have accepted the results. 410 petitions against rigging were filed with the election commission, only 58 of those from PTI, and of those 39 have already been handled by the courts. Even if every single remaining allegation of rigging went in PTI’s favor it would still not be enough to change the overall results.

Though the government should have initiated reforms earlier to avoid the current crisis, there were already calls for both a Parliamentary Committee and a Judicial Commision to investigate accusations of widespread rigging and enact electoral reforms. Fiery rallies may rouse emotions but bring little practical change and are best kept for election campaigns. It’s imperative to work within the framework of the constitution for real change.

4) Conspiracies on both sides must first be investigated. PTI and PAT’s claims and ultimatums are getting increasingly bizarre and inconsistent. Imran Khan has accused the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudary, GEO/Jang, Najam Sethi, General Kayani, celebrities, and mafia in what seems to be one of the “most devious international plots” against him coming into power. But we have yet to see or hear of any proof. PTI’s Deputy Information Secretary Fayazul Hasan has claimed on national TV that Pakistan’s military establishment, USA, UAE, India, and even MI6 were all allegedly involved in a massive international plot against Imran Khan winning the elections.

These claims failed to be substantiated by any independent organizations overseeing the elections. Imran Khan and Afzal Khan’s claims have also been refuted by Election Commission. Afzal Khan not only said he has no proof to offer but he testified that the May 11th Elections were the best ever held in Pakistan. Undermining each of Pakistan’s institutions without providing hard facts is highly irresponsible.

Furthermore PTI’s own President, Javed Hashmi, has made damning accusations that Imran Khan and Dr. Tahirul Qadri are working on a conspiracy against Pakistan’s democracy at the behest of some retired generals who are responsible for writing this “script.” This puts both PTI’s and PAT’s credibility into serious question as themselves being “match-fixers.” Until a full investigation is done their accusations against others or demands made of the governement must also be taken with a grain of salt.

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5) Peaceful and lawful protests are a democratic right. Without a democracy — this same one they detest — Imran Khan and Dr. Tahirul Qadri would not be allowed to voice their dissent. We should celebrate the right to assembly and peaceful protest. That’s what sets apart democracies from dictatorships. However, incitement to violence, attacking and trespassing into government buildings, holding PTV hostage, and disobeying Supreme Court (SC) orders are not “democratic rights.”

As is the case in any civilized country, protests must take place with the permission of authorities and within the frameworks of the laws. We watched in horror as Imran Khan said he would personally strangle police officers who laid hands on his party workers and equally shocked when Dr. Tahirul Qadri called on his followers to kill each member of the Sharif family if anything happened to him. Such statements advocating anarchy are reprehensible and can even be criminal. It is alarming that protestors have taken the law into their own hands. Furthermore the protestors are in clear violation of Supreme Court orders to clear the red zone, not bring infants and weapons into the area, or desecrate property. They have also gone against their written agreements with the government.

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6) “Unverifiable” thumbprints due to ink quality does not make a vote “bogus.” Pakistanis risked their lives on May 11, 2013 simply to cast their vote. In historic numbers they defied the Taliban and fulfilled their responsibility to their country. Many lives were sacrificed for democracy. Still Pakistan saw the largest voter turnout in its history. We should not let such sacrifices go in vain. The fact that 50-60% of the votes may not be verifiable by thumb print because of the quality of ink used does not mean they are bogus votes. The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) has already differentiated “bogus” votes from votes on which thumb prints are not verifiable but otherwise valid.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported the pre-poll environment was hostile to certain parties and there was not a level playing field for candidates to even campaign. Candidates from ANP, MQM, and PPP were routinely targetted. Yet in the national interest of the country they have accepted the results. FAFEN reported four areas in KPK were women were being turned away from voting. Have we ever heard Imran Khan or Dr. Tahirul Qadri speak out about these violent and obvious forms of rigging?

7) Civil disobedience hurts the state of Pakistan. The campaign for civil disobedience was not taken seriously by any of the other political parties, including the Jamaat-e-Islaami. It is reported that Imran Khan himself paid his utilities bills defying his own call for civil disobedience. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s minister for local government and rural development, Inayatullah Khan, said the province would not be practicing civil disobedience as it would be “tantamount to treason” if practiced by a government institution. The call was overhwhelmingly rejected by businessmen and traders throughout Pakistan. Hurting Pakistan’s economy at such a critical time is not helpful nor patriotic. According to some Pakistan has had one thousand billion rupees in losses due to the dharnas.

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8) Neither Imran Khan nor Dr. Tahirul Qadri have offered real solutions. What exactly will Dr. Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan do to relieve poverty ? We simply don’t know. Chanting slogans are very different from delivering on the ground. It’s no longer enough for these two leaders to appeal to the masses by stating what’s wrong with others. It’s time to provide real solutions and show real results. Imran Khan has the perfect opportunity to implement his ideas in the province of KPK to show he can make things work. Pildat’s latest survey shows a 37% positive rating to KPK’s Chief Minister whereas Punjab saw a high 66% positive rating for its Chief Minister. Rather than the streets this is where the competition should be.

9) Pakistan is facing many crises that deserve attention. Hundreds of people have died in the past few days in mansoon flooding. Pakistan’s army is fighting a critical war against terrorism in North Waziristan which affects the security of the entire region. Many are calling operation Zarb-e-Azb a battle for the “existence of Pakistan.” Whereas one million people failed to show up to the Azaadi and Inquilaab marches, the number of IDPs have reached a record one million. The other political parties have urged the nation to pay attention to the IDPs and not be divided at such a critical time. Some crucial economic and defense deals with the Chinese President were to help Pakistan move along in its ecmonic recovery. That too was stalled because of the the dharnas. Repeatedly bringing Pakistan to the brink of instability also does not help the common man.

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10) Power vacuums aide extremism. It is alarming that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has threatened to make its way into Pakistan. When we do away with the laws of the land, we are left with anarachy. Much of the Muslim world is in chaos right now. Already Pakistan’s minorities, women, and children are under attack from various extremist groups. A power vacuum would put the entire country into more danger. Political turmoil has given rise to extremist groups such as ISIS by allowing them the space necessary to commit atrocities not only against the state but its most vulnerable citizens. As if the threats TTP, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Ahrar, and Al-Qaeda were not enough, ISIS has declared its plans for making Pakistan and Afghanistan a part of its ‘caliphate.’

Strengthening Pakistan’s institutions, government, and its democracy would act as a fortress against terrorism and make it harder for Pakistan’s enemies to threaten its stability and economic standing in the world. We need to take a good look at current events around the world to know how much worse things can be when there is political unrest in a country already under attack by terrorists.

Is that the future we want for Pakistan?

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The “Cricket-isation” of Democracy

In January 2013, Dr. Tahir-ul Qadri, author of renowned fatwa against terrorism, held Pakistan’s capital hostage for several days while making a categorical litany of demands that had to be met within fifteen minutes by the government “or else.” It was four days of high drama but the crowd of 25,000-60,000 remained remarkably peaceful.

A similar carnival is coming to town again.

This time not only does it feature Tahir-ul Qadri and his followers, but PTI, Shiekh Rasheed, and Jamaat-e-Islaami’s alliance as well. It’s a peculiar bunch but that is often what makes the carnival more appealing – one exuberant theatrical performance after another. Dr. Qadri will now compete with Imran Khan’s egocentric diatribes and JI’s eulogies for terrorists. Who will outdo the others? Will the various leaders be packed into one air conditioned container as their followers blister in the heat? Will each require their own bomb proof, bullet proof, make up bunker? In either case we are in for lights, camera, and lots of action.

Most importantly we are awaiting the outcome. Will democracy stand at the brink of derailment? In a dramatic end will part of the crowd save face at the last minute and will there be hugs all around? Last year we held our breathe when Tahir-ul Qadri demanded his followers raise their hands and pledge an oath to not leave the confines of the dharna until he permits.

We saw women and children camping outdoors through cold temperatures, rain, and hunger. But thankfully within hours of negotiations, Dr. Qadri had developed a renewed fondness for all of Pakistan’s political parties including those whom he had dismissed as “thieves.” He had thanked and signed the Islamabad Long March Declaration with the same person he called Pakistan’s “ex” Prime Minister, whose arrest he and his followers had demanded just hours ago.

This time unwavering Imran Khan has announced a battle against Firoun himself. We already see slogans of “we will fight” along with Dr. Tahir-ul Qadri’s calls on twitter for martyrdom, and the likes of a dramatic revolution that may trigger the “permanent end to the powers of the rulers.”

Imran Khan believes the legal system has failed him. He claims the former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudary whom he once praised for his bold decision making should be tried under Article 6 for being a “traitor.” Riding on the wave of the current displeasure against Pakistan’s biggest news agency for it’s allegations against ISI, he claims that they along with the returning officers, and Nawaz Sharif’s PMLN party, which apparently sweeped elections gaining an overwhelming majority, maliciously planned a massive conspiracy to steal the elections from PTI.

But he doesn’t stop there.

In a speech to his party workers Imran Khan goes on to blame the West, celebrities, the mafia, and all those in the nation who don’t agree with him whether secular or religious. It seems only inevitable that he may next indict fate itself not just for the rigging but his inopportune fall as well. In a recent interview he called for the revival of Jihad against all such above mentioned forces. Isn’t that what the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is for? Had he been successful in opening their offices in Islamabad perhaps he could better consult with them on how to collaborate to fight a jihad against the media, liberals, parliament, and judiciary of Pakistan.

Though no one is quite sure what will ultimately satisfy Khan, his justification for the dharna against Pakistan’s “false” democracy is that he found Parliament depressing and deemed it unfruitful to go to the courts after not getting his way. In both parliament and court there is no hooplah, fanfare of screaming girls, or banners soaring with the wind. The thrill of the Cricket match in which there is an ecstatic crowd cheering him on is missing. Perhaps he also misses the last few days which he was confined to his hospital bed and could not campaign.

The “cricketisation” of democracy would entail quick justice, a clear winner, and plenty of public displays of indignation. Such is required for the sensibilities of a former cricket star living in the fast lane, not a refined politician who must bear the ugly and often boring route of democracy.

In clear defiance of the Taliban’s threats, the people of Pakistan came out in large numbers on May 11, 2013. For the first time in their history Pakistanis have seen the peaceful transfer of power from one government to another a remarkable landmark achievement for which Pakistan earned universal praise.

Yes it was not perfect but the question is does it mark an important milestone towards a better future or a “black day” in it’s history?

For Imran Khan that black day marks a day of rigging and massive conspiracy against his party. For Tahirul Qadri it is his second attempt to overthrow the system itself. For JI perhaps it marks a confused day in which “martyr” and civilian were at odds. For Shiekh Rasheed it’s a reason to overthrow the present government and call for midterm elections.

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Clearly it is a democratic right to rally, foster support from their base, and even play the game of politics to gain relevance especially at a time where there is much infighting within parties such as PTI. In the meantime it seems PMLN has caught onto the cricket match and has launched May 11th as “PMLN Day” to celebrate their one year rule.

But it is of concern that civil debate is being stifled in Pakistan. In a disturbing trend PTI followers and grassroots leadership continue to display disturbing photos on social media which praise Osama Bin Laden as a martyr, Malala Yousafzai as a drama, Hamid Mir as a traitor, and some call for the permanent banning of Geo. But how much can social media memes, rallies that resemble rock concerts, and twitter trolls can help you if you are simply lacking substance to your arguments?

Furthermore when leaders such as Khan accuse the former Chief Justice of Pakistan of being a traitor, at a time when another institution calls for the banning of an entire news channel on the same grounds, it sends the signal to simply excommunicate those who don’t agree with us with little evidence (similar to the media trial he rightly decries) and aims to silence the rest.

It’s about time Imran Khan begin listening to the saner elements within PTI. Democracy takes hard work and time to flourish. Yes, there is a lot to fix but it should be done through legislation and rule of law. Let’s hope we see Imran Khan prove his worth as a legislator to his constituency instead of crying over one year old spilled milk.

Posted in 11May, Malala Yousafzai, Pakistan, PTI, Tahir-ul-Qadri | Leave a comment

Silencing Malala Yousafzai and “the Brown Man’s Honor Complex”

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“I want to give my message to Pakhtoons, to educate their sons and daughters. Not just school, work on them so they treat every human being well…Teach them tolerance. Teach them how to tolerate the ideas of others and how to live in coexistence with others.”– Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai at the Global Education First...

Malala Yousafzai at the Global Education First Initiative anniversary event (Photo credit: United Nations Information Centres)

In a Pakistani interview long before she became a household name, outspoken Malala shared her dreams of becoming a politician, gave advice on foreign policy (yes including drones), and thanked the Pakistani Army for their successful operation in Swat. Malala was a force to be reckoned with long before the Taliban shot her in the head for speaking out for the education of girls. And despite their best efforts, she is an even greater force to be reckoned with now.

Assed Baig in his article, “Malala and the White Saviour Complex” failed to understand the universality of Malala’s message and did not give her the credit that she deserves. This is not the story of “the weak native girl being saved by the white man,” it is the story of the bravest girl in the world. A girl with a voice so powerful she had to be eliminated. The West didn’t offer Malala protection when she was receiving daily death threats nor did a knight in shining armor rescue her when she stood face to face with the Taliban. She endured these threats alone without the tactical support of the world’s largest armies; let alone a bullet proof vest or a bodyguard.

Baig argues that although her message is true and profound it has been “hijacked by the West.” Therefore this coverage must be scorned and vilified. His very masculinity as a brown man and worldview in which the West must remain the enemy are brought into question when Malala receives a warm welcome by the international community. How can the West be the enemy and then do any real good? He cannot fathom doctors, activists, institutions, and politicians around the world engaged in humanitarian work unrelated to a larger racist narrative.

More troubling, he can not fathom Malala being a true inspiration to the West. As she spoke from the podium of the United Nations inspiring millions by her words as the likes of Pakistan’s little Mother Teresa — others such as Baig felt a sense of shame that a native girl stood on a world stage “unveiling” herself as the poster child for a narrative which dishonors the brown man.

Does Baig realize he is identifying every brown man with the Taliban? At the UN Malala demanded the strongest leaders in the world “…to change their strategic policies in favour of peace and prosperity,” as she averred the urgency to protect the rights of women and children. Since being attacked she has not hesitated a single day in speaking out against the Taliban. In meeting with President Obama, Malala reiterated the concerns back home about drone attacks. One wonders if a Muslim man had made such a fearless litany of demands to both world leaders and terrorists alike would Baig and others have referred to him as a “tool for the West” or celebrated him as a hero?

Remnants of Baig’s distrust eerily reminded me the rambling letter Taliban Commander Adnan Rashid wrote to Malala explaining that every perceived Western good must have within it a sinister plot, a suspicion so deep and twisted that he justifies the killing of polio workers and education activists. He offered Malala a safe return to Pakistan only if she study Quran at a Madrassa and reject a western education. He too accused Malala of being easily swayed and “using her tongue at the behest of others” depriving her of her own agency and ideas.

Similarly Baig’s argument seeks to confine Malala and place restrictions lest she become impure with Western exposure, sympathy, or indoctrination. Though it was the Pakistani military who cleared Swat from the hands of the Taliban and the Pakistani military doctors which removed the bullet from Malala’s head, Baig continues in making even her medical treatment in England a means of shame for the native brown man. Such divisive attitudes seek to perpetuate a cycle of hate, cynicism, and distrust. There seems to be no room in such a world view for reconciliation, redemption, or working together with “the white man” for common goals.

Furthermore it is a sexist narrative. Vilifying coverage of Malala’s message is another attempt to silence her. Comparing her to victims of violence who were not specifically targeted for their fierce activism (literally called out by name and shot in the head for only that reason alone) doesn’t make sense, even though their deaths are tragic and wrong. Extremists have intentionally killed far more people in Pakistan than any drone. They have deliberately destroyed countless Pakistani schools and vow to continue doing so. And if we are comparing, how many schools have the Taliban built?

As Malala Yousafzai stood on the world’s stage, she paid homage to her culture, her religion, her heroes, and her dreams. Her eloquent voice aligned with those of countless other girls whom she spoke for, and imagining them all standing before her gave her peace. Far from needing a savior she embodied a remarkable image of Muslim female leadership and power — she was the savior — the likes of that of Benazir Bhutto — Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister, her ideal, and another woman attacked and killed by the Taliban. Her message remains that we must join hands with all people from all walks of life who support education, and that includes Gordon Brown. It echoes the highest ideals of her heroes who taught mercy, unity, forgiveness, reconciliation even with one’s staunchest foes, and also called for non-violence.

“Our words can change the whole world because we are all together, united for the cause of education. And if we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness…” Malala Yousafzia

Malala’s dreams have not been hijacked, she has been given the largest global platform in order for her to amplify her voice. Why should that disgust us? Shouldn’t it make us proud? It is not just the West, but also the East which lauded her with praise. Pakistan’s former President has awarded her the highest national award in Pakistan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has named her the Education Envoy for the country. If Gordon Brown, now the UN special envoy for Global education is presently ‘using’ Malala, it is certainly not to spearhead another war, but to grant free primary education to all children — a campaign that Malala along with other Muslim Nations fully supports.

By denigrating Malala’s profound message as “western propaganda” Baig and those like him are doing far more to try to rob Malala’s dreams before they even come to fruition simply because it’s not the kind of “so-called propaganda” they would like highlighted.  Yet the irony of such sensationalism is that had the media largely ignored Malala’s story, Baig would be outraged that the image of a courageous Muslim fighting terrorism instead of promoting it is not deemed news worthy. And had she succumbed to her wounds, the media frenzy around her would not have amounted to some sinister plot to use her as a “tool.”

Yes there are hundreds and thousands of girls like Malala who struggle, who are robbed of an education, who are silenced, and whom Malala now speaks for. But as fate has it, there is only one Malala Yousafzai the captivating activist, just as there was one Hellen Keller, one Benazir Bhutto, and one Martin Luther King. The world needs heroes because of their innate leadership qualities, electrifying charm, and resolute unshakable commitment to their dreams that make them stand apart from every crowd and inspire us all to higher ideals. Even the Taliban could long see that Malala is no ordinary girl, but is intensely special, and that’s why they still want her dead.

Those who want to paint Malala as an easily influenced “tool” and not as a strong young Muslim woman driving an inspirational campaign have failed to really listen to her message. They failed to know who Malala is and to know the message she has always stood for. We face a grave danger to our own advancement as a society if we label brave female activists who use an international platform as ‘tools’ or ‘traitors’ hurling an attack on the native man’s honor. Shouldn’t we instead rally to their causes as their biggest supporters as opposed to being cynical of their fame, and even join in applauding them when the world takes notice of our own heroes? Whose side are we on?

Meriam Sabih has a BA is English and Psychology from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Follow Meriam Sabih on Twitter: https://twitter.com/@meriamsabih

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