Feisal Naqvi

Archive for December, 2014|Monthly archive page

A Time to Grieve

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2014 at 3:44 am

How do you write about the killing of children? Then again, how do you ignore it?

We all know the facts by now. On Tuesday morning, nine attackers dressed themselves in uniforms and took a whole school hostage. A few hours later, the death toll was 141. Out of them, 135 were children.

Shock, horror, anguish, anger, sorrow. We have all now cycled through these emotions several times by now. What can one say about the massacre of innocents? More importantly, should one say anything?

My answer to that question is yes. Because our first and foremost obligation to the dead children is to unite against those who killed them. Not to find excuses. Or justifications. But to identify what led us to this pass. And to unite against it.

Let’s start with the first lie: that the people who did this were not true Muslims. Obviously, they are not. But they certainly believed themselves to be true Muslims. And like them, we believe there is a right and a wrong way to be Muslim. And like them, a great many of us think it acceptable to harass, oppress and kill the wrong kind of Muslims.

The truth is that the only difference between the Taliban who murder our children and those who ‘only’ kill Ahmadis is one of degree. We can either accept that people have a right to profess their religion in peace. Or we can accept that killing people for their religious beliefs is justified. There really isn’t much of a middle ground.

As somebody observed ruefully during the awful hours of the siege, I don’t know if Pakistan was created in the name of religion. But I do know that it is being destroyed in the name of religion.

Please don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with religion. But there is a hell of a lot wrong with accepting violence in the name of religion. You may live by the sword. But then you will also die by the sword.

These are not just abstract issues in Pakistan. Nor are they issues of the fringe. The Jamaat-e-Islami held a convention barely a month ago where its former leader, Munawwar Hassan, declared that the solution for Pakistan’s problems was ‘qitaal’ and jihad. Since the term ‘jihad’ literally means ‘struggle’, it can be, and often is, interpreted in many different ways, some of them ‘non-violent’. The term ‘qitaal’, on the other hand, specifically means to fight using weapons. In Urdu, ‘qitaal’ is the plural of the word ‘qatal’ which means to kill, or more specifically, to ‘murder’. There is no kinder, gentler, non-violent translation of ‘qitaal’. It means what it means: mass murder.

Let it not be said that Pakistanis have grown completely spineless. Munawwar Hassan’s speech was condemned by a courageous few. But there was no retreat by the JI’s former ameer. Instead, he issued a follow-up statement in which he blasted liberals for ignoring the fact that he had not just advocated jihad and qitaal but ‘qitaal fi sabilillah’. In other words, his entire defence of his call for qitaal was that the qitaal be done in the name of God!

We cannot afford to live in a country where elected political parties feel free to justify mass violence on the basis of religion. We are either all governed by a constitution or we are not. We are either all subject to rule of law or we are not.

Some might say that I am barking up the wrong tree. After all, the Jamaat-eIslami did not send nine suicide bombers to a school full of children.

That is correct. But they do applaud the Talibs. And they do refer to them as martyrs. Their polite hatred and their genteel call for violence is a gateway drug, one that leads so very often to a full-scale addiction. And it corrodes the very foundations of our society.

There are other lies floating around as well. Two of the usual suspects immediately accused India of orchestrating the attack. No, you morons, it was not India. Narendra Modi had the good grace to call Nawaz Sharif and condole with him because this was a barbarity beyond geo-politics. This morning, schoolchildren across India stood in two minutes of silence to remember the victims of the Peshawar massacre. Would that we had ever shown such grace.

The final, most foul lie was being mouthed by some learned preacher as I headed to work this morning. God sends suffering on those countries which are plagued by fahashi and behoodgi, he argued. It is all your fault.

No, it is not. My God does not condone the killing of children. My God does not have children killed to send a message. My God loves children. And it is time we humans took the responsibility for the evil we bring to this world

It was foggy and freezing in Lahore this morning. As I huddled in my car on the way to work, I saw next to me a motorcycle on which two small children – a boy and a girl, both wearing school uniforms – clung with all their might to their father. Perhaps they knew of yesterday’s terrible events or perhaps, like many children, they had been shielded from the television by their parents. But this morning they were hugging their father and each other for dear life. And then I couldn’t stop crying.

The only words that come even remotely close to encompassing my anguish are from the prayer written by the man who is, in reality, our national poet. My extremely inexpert, very free translation of its first few stanzas is as follows:

Come, let us raise our hands.
Even those of us who have
forgotten the rituals of prayer,
who now acknowledge no God
but that of pleasure.
Let us beg our Lord
to infuse our poisoned days
with a sweeter tomorrow
to lighten the burden on those
who cannot bear the passage of time

And so, in the words of Faiz Sahib, aaiye, haath uthaayen

This column appeared in The News on 18 December 2014


Plan 9 from outer space

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2014 at 3:42 am

The fearless leader of the PTI, Mr Cornered Tiger himself, recently announced a “Plan C” for the removal of Mian Nawaz Sharif. As originally presented, the plan was to “shut Pakistan down” through strikes and demonstrations. Subsequently, the plan has been downgraded a bit.

You see, in order to ‘shut down’ a country, it must first be the case that the country is ‘open’. Since Pakistan is already well on the way to being comatose, it will be difficult to tell that the country is shut down.

There were also other problems with Plan C as announced, including particularly the fact that the social calendar on one day was already occupied by a local group’s plan to spread peace and love through forcible conversions and the odd killing. The new version of Plan C now requires members of the PTI to channel their anger into a tsunami of twitter hashtags. Because, dude, once you trend on twitter, inquilaab aavay hi aavay!

In the meantime, Imran Khan has also announced that in the (remote) possibility of Plan C not succeeding, he has already conceived of a Plan D. Details of Plan D are a little sketchy at present, since Mr Khan’s brain trust has yet to whisper it into his ear. But rest assured that it will be horribly effective.

As of yet, no Plan E to rid Pakistan of its elected prime minister has been announced. But that is only a cunning tactic to lull the Noon League into complacency. Here, without further ado, are the plans still to come.

Plan E: The PTI’s youth wing builds a giant wooden rabbit and parks it outside PM house. When the security guards pull the rabbit in, the youth wing jumps out and promptly takes over PM House.

Plan F: IK stands on a container and shouts “Oye Nawaz!”. Repeat till NS runs away. Not to be confused with Plans A – D.

Plan G: Same as Plan F but this time IK wears a hot pink kurta-dhoti ensemble and the shouting session coincides with the launch of the ‘Maula Jutt’ remake.

Plan H: IK runs bare-chested all the way from Bani Gala to PM House. When he reaches the gates of PM House, he swerves to the right. The crowd of Insafians following him continues on its path, bursts through all security barriers and takes over PM House. Even if unsuccessful, video of run to be released as a docudrama with ‘Eye of the Tiger’ playing in the background.

Plan I: Backed by the sultry vocals of Shireen Mazari, IK stands outside GHQ and serenades the army chief with an unplugged version of “Sanoo nehr vaalay pull tay bula kay.” The chief is suitably abashed by the reminder of his bewafai and promptly launches a military coup before handing over the reins of power to IK.

Plan J: Same as Plan I but song changed to that Bollywood hit in which the refrain is ‘jhinga lala boom’.

Plan K: IK travels to the planet Tatooine and finds a young boy by the name of Anakin Skywalker whom he trains to be a Jedi knight with the help of Obi Wan Qureshi. After Anakin becomes Lord Vader and is converted to the Dark Side, he orders the Death Star into orbit around Pakistan and helps IK defeat the tribe of Ewoks known locally as the Noonies.

Plan L: IK invites all the corps commanders and the COAS to his house for a friendly evening doing karaoke versions of ‘You’re in the Army Now’. By the end of the night, everybody agrees that IK really must be made PM – like right now! – and the 111 Brigade is directed to make a move.

Plan M: Same as Plan L but the entertainment is changed to ‘Wagner for Dummies’ presented by Ayaz Amir.

Plan N: IK goes into the construction business and becomes fabulously wealthy making housing societies decorated with replicas of the Eiffel Tower. He then gives a plot to every bureaucrat and senior officer in Pakistan and is no longer interested in becoming PM.

Plan O: IK reads a copy of best-selling self-help sensation ‘The Secret’ and then spends the rest of his life really, really, really wanting to be PM.

Plan P: Same as Plan O except that IK doesn’t read the book himself. It is read aloud to him while IK runs around his garden (bare-chested of course).

Plan Q: IK visits the US on a fund-raising tour and bumps into Hillary Clinton, still hurt and bitter from her betrayal by Bill. When Hillary becomes president, she remembers IK with misty-eyed fondness and directs the US military to invade Pakistan and make IK the PM.

Plan R: IK is taken on a tour of the nuclear medicine facilities at Shaukat Khanum Hospital. While there he is bitten by an irradiated spider. Because great power comes with great responsibility, IK uses his spidey-powers to wrap NS in a giant cocoon and takes over political power.

Plan S: IK cancels his retirement from cricket and leads Pakistan into the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Pakistan wins the tournament under his able leadership. The constitution is then immediately amended by a grateful nation to declare IK as PM for the rest of his life.

Plan T: IK marries Fatima Bhutto and declares himself as the only true heir of ZAB. Zardari and his cronies flee the country in panic as Sindh declares itself for Khan. The combined PPP and PTI are enough to force midterm elections. IK wins in a canter.

Plan U: Operation Zarb-e-Azb ends with a rout of the Pakistan Army and an ascendant TTP. Mullah Omar appoints IK as his deputy for Pakistan and IK rides the Talib wave all the way to PM House.

Plan V: Altaf Bhai retires from active politics. IK takes over the MQM after reminding the Urdu speaking world that his ancestors spent more time across the Radcliffe line in Jallundur than across the Durand Line in Afghanistan. IK then moves to Edgware Road and spends the rest of his life haranguing PTI crowds over the telephone.

Plan X: IK files a petition before the Supreme Court, asking for the Independence of India Act, 1947 to be declared unconstitutional. After the court accepts his petition, the Queen of England then appoints IK as her viceroy.

Plan Y: After choosing the red pill, IK wakes up to find that the world as he once knew it is actually a giant computer simulation. With the help of a few renegade hackers, IK takes over the Matrix and reprogrammes it to make himself the PM.

Plan Z: The PTI runs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with skill and sensitivity, and makes it the envy of all Pakistanis not living there. IK runs for election in 2018 and the PTI wins a majority of the seats in parliament. Parliament elects IK as PM.

This column appeared in The News on 4 December 2014

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2014 at 3:40 am

The first known philosopher to have taken a whack at this problem was Aristotle. Since then, eggheads and children alike have been vexed by this query.

Modern geneticists now tend towards the ‘egg first approach’. Or to paraphrase Richard Dawkins, the egg came first because the chicken is only an egg’s way of producing another egg. Of course, others still continue to believe in the primacy of the chicken.

The problem before us today is not the chicken/egg dilemma. Instead, the dilemma before us is its political science equivalent: which comes first, democracy or human rights?

Let me clarify. There is a constant chorus in Pakistan of voices claiming that ‘true democracy’ can only arise once the people are educated, the judiciary is liberated and the leadership is enlightened. The minor theme in this symphony is the contention that anything short of true democracy deserves no consideration, that given a choice between an enlightened dictatorship and an unenlightened mobocracy, we should opt for the dictatorship because only that path will, in the fullness of time, produce true democracy.

I have no problem with the desire for an enlightened, literate and just democracy. What I do have a problem with is the ‘all or nothing’ approach which refuses to accept anything less than ‘true democracy’.

But…but…but, you might say, what is the value of a justice system in which innocents are convicted and the guilty go free? What value are elections if the only result is to perpetuate feudalism and dynasties? Should we not be looking at results rather than making a fetish out of procedures and processes? Does the end not justify the means?

The answer to that question is no. As in, no, the end does not justify the means. Certainly not as an organising principle.

Let me present two different takes on that question.

The first perspective comes from literature, and more specifically, Arthur’ Koestler’s great novel, Darkness at Noon.

The book deals with the arrest and trial of Rubashov, a Communist revolutionary who has in turn fallen foul of the state he had helped create. When Rubashov first meets his captors, he tries his best to establish his innocence. When he later ponders his life, he remembers all the people he helped destroy for the sake of the Revolution, even when he knew them to be innocent. Ultimately, Rubashov realises that the only logical way out for him is to serve the state with his last breath and to confess to crimes he has not committed.

Koestler wrote the book in 1940, when he and a generation of European intellectuals were beginning to emerge from a decade of thralldom to international communism. The point of the book was simple: the end does not and cannot justify the means because no matter how lofty the ideal, corrupt means can only produce corrupted ends.

A second perspective comes from the jurisprudence of Lon Fuller.

In simple terms, the most influential movement in legal philosophy over the past 100 years has been positivism, the argument that there is no necessary connection between law and morality.

Fuller didn’t quite agree with positivism. His point was that the very concept of law, i.e. the attempt to make people obey rules, meant that laws had to be made in a certain way. For example, he pointed out that laws had to be publicised because you couldn’t ask people to obey laws if they didn’t know what the laws were. Similarly, he pointed out that laws had to be achievable because there was no point in asking people to do things which were impossible.

Fuller’s philosophy is very modest: it doesn’t pretend to provide an answer to all the grand questions of jurisprudence. But its very modesty makes it invaluable. Because what it teaches us is that we cannot negate the fundamental forms of law if we want to succeed, no matter what our ultimate goals may be. Whether we want a communist utopia or a capitalist one, laws must be clear, comprehensible, achievable etc.

The same point applies to political science. You cannot ignore the basic elements of governance in pursuit of an imaginary future. If you destroy what exists today, you will only make a better tomorrow less likely.

True democracy, and fantasies of its ilk, are just that – fantasies. Or, to use an earthier metaphor popular amongst Punjabis, it is like setting someone to chase after the rear light of a truck.

In case you think that is too cynical, let’s go back and review our history. Our first coup in 1956 was brought to you by the proponents of ‘true democracy’. So was the second one in 1977. So was the third one in 1999. And had there been a coup one month ago when chaos beckoned, the traditional ‘meray aziz humwatnon’ would certainly have been followed by a lecture on the nature of true democracy.

I don’t want to be unfair on the armed forces. True democracy is a slogan which can be used anytime, anywhere. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto suspended fundamental rights immediately after the promulgation of the 1973 constitution, he did it in the name of ‘true democracy’. And when the Supreme Court of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry rewrote the constitution, it too cited the need for true democracy.

Part of the problem with true democracy is that nobody really knows what it means. More specifically, while I know what true democracy means to me, I have no clue what it means to others, especially others who might happen to be decision-makers. And to the extent I can figure out what my fellow citizens think is justified in the name of true democracy, I am very very scared.

In the words of Learned Hand, “the spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.” We have so many ideologues in this country, so many people on all points of the political spectrum convinced that they have found the key to our future. But what we need to remember is that the process of dialogue, this simple, seemingly insubstantial process of election and re-election is all that we have to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

I accept that these processes are not sufficient to bring about change. But what we need to remember is that these processes are still necessary conditions. The rules of natural justice dictate that every person must be given notice and a hearing before any action is taken against him. That doesn’t mean that the accused will receive justice. But it does provide a certain procedural minimum without which justice is certainly impossible.

By the same token, political justice cannot be reduced to form alone. Elections alone will not provide us with a better future. But without elections, without the structures of governance that we have built up, we will be left ultimately with nothing. Just like we have been so many times before.

This column appeared in The News on 20 November 2014

Weekend at Billy’s

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2014 at 3:39 am

Many years ago, there was a very bad (but highly amusing) movie called ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’. The essence of the plot is that two dopes working for an insurance company are invited by their boss (Bernie) to a weekend at his house. The next day, Bernie gets killed by the Mafia. Since people are just about to show up for a party, and since the boys don’t want to be blamed for his death, they put some mirrored sunglasses on Bernie and prop him up in a corner. Nobody notices that Bernie is dead. And the good times roll on.

I was reminded of ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ because I recently saw an equally macabre exercise in gratuitous manipulation of the dead. I refer, of course, to the PPP’s recent jalsa and the political ‘launching’ of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

As my friend Nadir Hassan has already asked, how many times is young Bilawal going to be ‘launched?’ From what I knew, he had already been launched many times over. The whole affair seems to be redolent of a bad Barbara Cartland romance in which the entry of a starry-eyed beauty into High Society is repeatedly sabotaged by evil aunts.

But I digress. To return to the jalsa, if this was all that the PPP had to show for their efforts, I doubt if either the PTI or the PML will be losing much sleep. Yes, there were a lot of people there. But remember, we are talking about a city of 20 million people and an event which was weeks in the planning.

Forget the numbers. The real problem was the vision being peddled.

I happened to be in Karachi a few days before the event and every single billboard on Drigh Road seem to have been commandeered by the jiyalas. On the drive from the city to the airport, I saw at least fifty different billboards. And on each one, the message was this: look at the quality of our dead people! Our dead people are better than your dead people!

I’m sorry if I sound callous. But there is a difference between a political party and a funeral procession. A political party does not inherit votes; it has to earn them. It has to make a bargain with voters about what it will deliver in the future and then actually deliver on those promises.

In any event, telling voters that they owe ‘the palty’ their votes because of the immense sacrifices made by the Bhutto family is a losing strategy. First, banking on gratitude is always a bad idea. Second, the people who might be expected to be grateful are those old enough to have memories of the pre-Bhutto days. In case the geniuses at Bilawal House haven’t noticed, the media age for Pakistanis is less than 25. That means more than half of all Pakistanis barely have any memory of when BB was alive, let alone when her father was alive.

Finally, how many times is this bloody card going to be encashed? Let’s be clear, Benazir may have fought bravely for women’s rights but each of her stints in power was marked by highly credible allegations of massive corruption. And as for the PPP’s most recent stint in power, the less said the better.

Many years ago, I went to the urs (the death anniversary) of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. I rode there on the top of a train and returned with malaria. In between, one of the more memorable sights I saw was a fat gent in a leopard-skin outfit whose feet were being kissed by a long line of devotees. I was introduced to the portly pir, the guddi nashin of something or the other. It was a moment of perfect mutual incomprehension. He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t abasing myself. I couldn’t understand why people were grovelling before him.

Today’s PPP evokes the exact same lack of comprehension in me.

I know that the PPP has always been big on death anniversaries. For 35 years, jiyalas have gathered on the death anniversary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. For the past six years, they have also gathered on the death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto. But there is a difference between a party which honours its past and a party which shamelessly and cynically exploits the sacrifices of its leaders. I don’t know when that line got crossed. I do know that this version of the PPP is very far on the wrong side of it.

One could forgive the shameless trolling for votes if the PPP actually delivered anything in terms of governance. But, it doesn’t. In fact, the one thing which emerges from scrutinizing the PPP is that it actually, really, truly does not care what people think. It has become so utterly and completely decadent, so indifferent to the plight of those placed in its care that what happens to citizens does not even remotely register as a concern.

Eight hundred years ago, Ibn Khaldun invented the discipline of sociology in the Muqaddimah, his introduction to a history of the world. What he posited was a cyclical theory of the world in which barbarian raiders from the desert, flush with military vigour, attack a settled and decadent civilisation. Once the barbarians take over, the next generation marks a high point in which the passion of the founders is tempered by the learning of the next generation. Then comes the third generation, in which learning and wisdom is abandoned in favour of the pursuit of pleasure. And as the decadence reaches its peak, a fresh generation of barbarians plans its attack.

The interesting thing about Pakistani politics is that you can easily place our parties on the dawn to decadence spectrum. At least for me, Imran Khan’s PTI occupies the energetic barbarian slot while the PML-N is somewhere past greatness but not yet a hopeless cause. The PPP, however, is beyond debate. It embodies decadence in full Roman bloom, the kind of time when horses are made senators and guests are buried alive under rose petals.

The PPP is not a dead party; at least, not just yet. But it is certainly a dying party. What it needs is fresh blood. Not fresh sacrifices.

This column appeared in The News on 23 October 2014