New Age Islam Edit Bureau
27 May 2016
The Many Faces of Pakistani Sovereignty
By Ayaz Amir
Alesha Should Not Have Died
By Aisha Sarwari
Ending Child Abuse: Laws And Responsibilities
By Gulmina Bilal Ahmad
Whither Yemen War
By Mehboob Qadir
By Zubeida Mustafa
Chicago Consulate Of Pakistan
By Syed Kamran Hashmi
America’s Presidential Sweepstakes
By Harlan Ullman
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
The Many Faces of Pakistani Sovereignty
By Ayaz Amir
May 27, 2016
The mother of all embarrassments was the taking out of Sheikh Osama bin Laden. General Headquarters went into deep shock and commanding generals lost the use of their tongues. Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s killing, by comparison, is a smaller embarrassment. Yet we are going through the motions of mourning.
Interior Minister Nisar can’t help himself. He wept copiously at the death of TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud, so profound his grief that it felt as if he had lost someone dear. He’s again into mourning over the death of Mansour.
A few hundred Maulvis and seminary students can’t be managed when they head towards Islamabad and occupy D Chowk, Islamabad’s apology of the Place de la Bastille. A lone gunman, Sikander, comes along and makes a comic spectacle of the entire Islamabad administration for hours on end and the interior minister is hard put to handle that. But he must speak out on foreign policy and take fierce jabs at the United States, holding out vague threats about the future impact on Pak-US relations.
The army chief, Pakistan’s shadow Mustafa Kemal – because most power is in his hands now – has also spoken aggrievedly of violated sovereignty, in a meeting with the American ambassador who called on him at General Headquarters, now a more important fount of foreign policy than the Foreign Office.
When you have nothing to say it is best not to say anything. “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence”, said General de Gaulle. It would have been better at this time not to have given time to the American ambassador. If we were really aggrieved and not putting on a sham that would have been a clearer message than the sound of empty words.
On sovereignty indeed the Pakistani governing classes need to take a basic lesson in gynaecology. Sovereignty is a bit like virginity – once lost it is lost forever. Pakistan has been losing its sovereignty for as long as one can remember. So getting worked up about it from time to time is not without its share of comedy.
For no valid reasons we gave away parts of our sovereignty by joining the West’s anti-communist alliances. We gave the Americans the use of the Badaber airbase near Peshawar from where the Americans flew U-2 spy-planes over the Soviet Union.
We lost a huge chunk of our sovereignty in 1971 when India attacked East Pakistan and helped create Bangladesh.
We gave the run of our country to the Afghans in the post-1978 period, no questions asked. They could go anywhere, settle anywhere, bring any amount of Kalashnikovs and heroin into Pakistan – in the spirit of Islamic brotherhood our generals-in-command opened the country’s arms and bosom to them.
Post 9/11 there was a double attack on our sovereignty: from the Americans on the one hand who established bases in Pakistan and got land access to Chaman and the Khyber Pass; and from the TTP and Al-Qaeda on the other, which established their writ over the tribal areas, ousting the jurisdiction and authority of the Pakistani state.
When an American Navy Seal expedition penetrated right up to Abbottabad in the darkness of the night and attacked the compound in which Sheikh Osama was holed up, our generals were red-faced. There could be only two explanations for the Sheikh’s presence: we knew not or we were complicit. Neither was very flattering for us. Instead of answering these questions, the military establishment went into deep mourning and raised the banner of violated sovereignty.
If the Americans had abused our sovereignty, which they did, was the Sheikh strengthening our sovereignty?
The same question can be asked with regard to Mullah Mansour. What was he doing in Pakistan and how did he have a Pakistan ID card and passport on him when he was killed? Mansour was commander of a force waging an insurgency in Afghanistan. Whatever his status to us, his status for the Americans was that of an enemy. If he was not coming to the negotiating table and we despite our empty and foolish boasts were unable to drag him there, if he had lost his utility as a peacemaker in American eyes, and if they had him in their crosshairs and got him out, why are we beating our breasts?
Suppose Mullah Fazlullah instead of being our enemy were an enemy of Israel. Would the Israelis hesitate for a minute to kill him if they had the opportunity? If Fazlullah is out of our reach, the Americans do not suffer from the same constraints regarding their Akhtar Mansours.
What world are we living in? Haven’t we suffered enough on account of our disastrous Afghan policies? Our own house is not in order but we must fight for influence in Afghanistan. Why are we still holding on to Taliban ‘assets’? Is there such a thing as the Quetta Shura or is it a figment of the world’s imagination? What are we hoping to gain from the presence of these warriors on our soil?
This doesn’t mean we declare war on the Afghan Taliban as the Americans want us to do, doing their business for them even if we get burnt in the process. Pakistan has enough on its plate. But why are we still hosting such elements in our midst? What are we hoping to gain from their presence? Whether we are playing a double game or not the presence of phantoms like the Quetta Shura lend strength to such accusations. The Afghan Taliban are an Afghan problem and we should leave it at that. We have no business fighting them or protecting them, or pretending that we can bring them to the negotiating table.
Gen Raheel Sharif was the main mover behind this approach to the Taliban. He should be rethinking his priorities.
Rhetoric aside – and there is no one to beat us when it comes to rhetoric – our problem is that we are a begging nation, living on alms, whose security establishment suffers a nervous breakdown if the US withholds eight F-16s. The Americans wanted Turkish land access for the invasion of Iraq and the Turks, after considering the matter in their National Assembly, put forward a compensation tag of 24 billion dollars. For the invasion of Afghanistan we gave much more than land access and settled for ridiculous terms.
And we call ourselves a Fortress of Islam. Let us be what we are but why give Islam a bad name?
When the Americans want to talk sharply to us they remind us of the 20-30 billion dollars in various forms of aid given to Pakistan since Sep 2001. What they tend to ignore is the close to 800 billion dollars spent in Afghanistan over the same period.
But then we have generals content with small American favours like education for their kids in American colleges…and a prime minister desperately shuffling notes in front of TV cameras as he tries to stammer a few words to President Obama in the Oval Office. Are such heroes capable of sharp rejoinders?
Our ruling elites are corrupt to the bone, lords of overseas wealth and properties. Politicians, bureaucrats and generals have families permanently settled abroad. Should such tainted brass-pots be reading us lessons in sovereignty? If we had a proper legislature the word sovereignty would be banned from their lips.
Alesha Should Not Have Died
By Aisha Sarwari
May 26, 2016
Extortionists and haters alike harass the transgender community in Pakistan. Mafias try to exploit them sexually, or through panhandling. Not only do they go through life with an identity crisis, they are continuously segregated by mainstream society and find themselves out of jobs and devoid of any advancement opportunities. They are at the bottom of the pecking order of our horrid education system that is busy demonising all sorts of other communities that don’t agree with the Muslim male ethos.
This is why Alesha, a transgender and coordinator of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Trans Action Alliance, ended up dead. It is likely her attackers were part of a gang in Peshawar. Halfway to the other side of the city, she was brought to Lady Reading Hospital bleeding and broken. In a more humane society, this would mean the beginning of the end of her ordeal; in Pakistan this meant the beginning of a new one.
The hospital administration, with a rallying mob of admitted patients, could not allow her in either the male or the female ward. They were uneasy, disturbed and even disgusted. There was much ado, Alesha was unattended for hours and was not admitted to the intensive care unit. The problem is that a haemorrhaging wound doesn’t wait for society to figure out what comes first: its transphobia or its humanity. Alesha died amidst attempts to treat her in some corner by putting up some makeshift curtains. She was beautiful and had a lovely smile. Even as she lay dead. Even our living don’t look that good.
The problem is that as a people, we only see beauty when it aligns with our notions of what it should be. In this case, the gender binary is so strong that to shake the male-equals-superior and female-equals-subservient paradigm is next to impossible. Transphobia is rooted in sexism. It is unfathomable for misogynists to digest that a man at birth would want to embrace a female identity and biology. They assume this is deplorable and they also assume that it is a choice. Just like it is okay for girls to wear blue but a disgrace to see a boy in pink, it is a carnal sin to be more feminine at will. Progress can only mean being more male.
If the government thinks that allowing transgenders the right to define themselves as “trans” is the final redemption for their human rights, it cannot be more wrong. Yes, identity is important but it is only useful if it has a cultural subtext to be allowed expression. While one leads to the other, in this age of religious extremism, and impunity when it comes to gender crimes, an ID card where gender is identified as “trans” isn’t worth a penny. Transgenders need acceptance. This is unfortunately deemed akin to an end to male superiority. With a government that looks as if it is involved in a gladiator match in ancient Rome, and only a trickle of a representation of women within it, what can one expect but more crimes like these? K-P seems to be at the centre of these gender crimes. Just a few weeks ago, a girl was drugged in Abbottabad and burned, tied up at the back of a van, in what was essentially an honour crime.
Someday, there will be equality in its truest sense, but currently in K-P and elsewhere, the men with their hyped male bravado are reigning supreme. They rule with a combination of fanfare, gusto and ambivalence and as a result, they are putting forth a gore-fest. There are so many things that one can die for. Being of an undefined gender should not be one of them. The following month will see the pious praying for forgiveness and vowing to be kind to their fellow beings. The injustice that many of them mete out to transgenders will probably not be on the list of acts for which they will be asking for forgiveness.
Rest in peace Alesha. Pakistan has failed you and your people.
Ending Child Abuse: Laws and Responsibilities
By Gulmina Bilal Ahmad
Teen years are perhaps the best and most carefree time of our lives. We tend to stick to the memories of our teenage lives, which include our friends, favourite places and everything else that reminds us of our teen years. But sadly, not everyone is fortunate to have had a period of teenage like that. For them, teenage remain a time of abuse, a time that should be erased from the memory, and a time that should not have occurred at all.
The teenage of more than 280 children and teenagers of the village Hussain Kabirwala of District Kasur was ruined by a shameless gang of people, including teenagers. Their lives remain a cruel reminder of the vulnerability of our children to abusers. It was during 2015 that this mega scandal was unearthed for the first time. Most of the children and teenagers less than 14 years of age were sexually abused and filmed, and their parents were blackmailed. Millions of rupees were extorted from children and their parents. All of this did not happen all of a sudden, but continued for years until someone gathered the courage to break the silence.
Most of the gang members were arrested, but nothing much could be done due to their linkages with police and high-ups in the local and provincial government. However, the worst part was that the law dealing with such cases remained toothless, and it did not allow a strict punishment for those who were involved in inhumanity against children.
However, a welcome revelation came during the month of March this year when laws criminalising child pornography, exposure to seduction and trafficking were passed. New sections were added in the penal code after section 292. Addition of sections 292-A: exposure to seduction, 292-B: child pornography, 292-C: punishment for child pornography and 328-A: cruelty to a child. These additions in the penal code of Pakistan were welcomed by civil society activists, politicians and citizens in general.
The absence of laws allowed child abusers to walk free or receive a negligible punishment for their wrongdoings, something that happened in Kasur. However, now these newly passed laws provide some hope for children, teenagers and their parents that remain vulnerable to filthy designs of mafias of child abusers.
The newly added sections under the section 292 deal with the issue of child pornography in a comprehensive manner, and I must say that the use of language is particularly commendable.
For instance, the section 292-A includes every possible material that can be used to seduce a child including “obscene and sexually explicit material, document, a film, video or a computer generated image or attempts to do the aforementioned act.” Similarly, the section 292-B is also quite comprehensive in detailing various types of child pornography including “photograph, film, video, picture or representation, portrait, or computer generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of obscene or sexually explicit conduct.”
Similarly, section 292-C details the punishment for involvement in such acts.
The section 328-A: this deals with cruelty to a child, or ill-treatment meted out to children. It describes “whoever wilfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, abandons or does an act of omission or commission that results in or has, potential to harm or injure the child by causing physical or psychological injury…” This law is also an excellent addition to the penal code as it tries to fill the gap that had been left due to the absence of laws for the protection of children. It tightens the noose around the neck of such people who employ children as their servants and subject them to abuse of all sorts. It raises alarm bells for such parents that wilfully neglect or ill-treat their children. Although our society is very different from most western societies and respect for parents is considered as one of the most important attributes of good upbringing, yet the addition of such laws will try to reduce the incidence of abuse that is sometimes meted out to children by their parents, relatives or others.
Child abuse either in physical or psychological means is considered as one of the worst crimes in western societies and that is why laws and punishments dealing with cases are very stringent. It is a welcome development that such laws have been included in the penal code of Pakistan. However, something that is more important than passing laws is their implementation and the will of society and its people to end such abuse at every level, so that every child can enjoy and have their childhood as the best time of their lives.
Gulmina Bilal Ahmad is a development consultant.
Whither Yemen war
By Mehboob Qadir
May 27th, 2016
After a swift and unexpectedly successful march on the capital city Sanaa early last year, Houthis emerged as the new predominant force in Yemen, creating serious security concerns in neighbouring countries, particularly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the UAE and Oman. Tremors were so powerful as to force an unusual scramble by the KSA and UAE to invoke GCC defence pact provisions and send out frantic appeals to Pakistan and other countries to dispatch troops to help them fight in Yemen. This was an extraordinary panic call, as Pakistan’s armed forces have never fought a friendly country’s war in another friendly country. Pakistan considered the Houthi uprising a local rebellion unworthy of its military intervention. Prudently, Pakistan decided to help through diplomatic efforts, while assuring Saudi Arabia, a long time ally, a guaranteed defensive intervention should her integrity be threatened. Even this declaration was quite out of the ordinary under the circumstances and could be stressful for Pakistan as things are evolving ominously in the Middle East. Resorting to diplomacy was a sensible move. Pakistan’s remarkable composure incensed the UAE whose irate foreign minister had implied ‘dire consequences’.
Houthis posed a direct and immediate threat to Saudi Arabia’s stability, delicate ethno-tribal balance and her critical naval vulnerability at the Bab al Mandab Straits, therefore had to be dealt with resolutely and vigorously. Aden had to be the next whose fall could effectively jeopardise international shipping and intern good part of the Saudi navy in the Red Sea. Saudi Naval fleet is effectively split into two and is anchored in inland naval bases in Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Both these narrow bodies of water have their bottlenecks respectively at Bab al Mandab and Hormuz. It has no serious blue waters naval deployment capability even if her navy was able to break out into the open. Houthis had created a real crisis and it should have been anticipated by Saudi defence experts.
However, insufficient strategic calibre and absence of a proper sense of what-could-happen prevented them from a resolute scramble to make a short shift of the puny threat posed by the ragtag Houthi militia. It wasn’t difficult but they were short of the needful military and political acumen. In modern history Saudi wars have been fought by the US and Europeans while Saudis have proverbially sat back and drawn deep on their Shisha and sipped long their bitter cups of coffee.
To begin with, Houthis had overstretched themselves militarily by capturing Sanaa without the ability to sustain their victory or beat back a determined counter attack. The action was basically meant to intimidate sitting government into coming to terms with them. Had the Saudi forces moved with speed in time, in a double pincer manoeuvre from the sea and the direction of Najran-Sharoura, converged on Sanaa and blocked Houthi escape eastward before the pincers closed, they could have eventually boxed them into north-western Yemen with nowhere to go except the negotiations table? They did not heed this friendly advice and are now paying the price. The ISIL and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have moved into the void left by disintegrating Yemeni state.
The fundamentally flawed Saudi military doctrine combined with inexperienced defence and foreign affairs leadership created an unfavourable decision-making environment at a moment of grave national crisis. As a result, despite overwhelming military superiority and availability of a strategic window of opportunity, Saudi and allied forces completely bungled their Yemeni campaign. They had the opportunity to cordon off and eventually surround the Houthis in under two weeks and then bring them to negotiating table for a political settlement from a position of strength.
They also would have prevented spaces abandoned by the Yemeni state and left by the Houthis from being occupied by the ISIL and AQAP fighters, as also effectively prevent external intervention or reinforcements from reaching Houthis. They could do none of these nor make their national territory any safer from the mounting Houthi threat. Their spluttering air campaign and disjointed attempts at para-drops and limited offensives have not paid off. In fact their pussyfooted military reaction emboldened the Houthis so much that recently the latter shelled Najran and Jizan, two major Saudi border towns, setting up a panic displacement of Asir region population inwards.
There is an eager anticipation in the air that Sanaa might fall soon to the GCC coalition forces. Fall of the capital city will be like the fall of Grozny or Kabul. Like the Chechen and Taliban fighters it will free Houthi rebels to resort to bush warfare all over the countryside, and that is their strong point. The war in Yemen will invariably be prolonged and complicated.
Houthis are not alone in keeping Saudis sleepless at night. Their economy is melting down. Iran has just been unshackled and KSA’s eastern provinces are in sectarian ferment. The ISIL in the neighbouring Syria and Iraq are aggressively pursuing their murderous agenda, and are no friends of Saudis. Dreaded Saudi internal security steel mesh is not as effective as it used to be. There are big holes where sharks have started to slip in and out.
They have a huge expatriate work force, which has seeped into all walks of Saudi life, fully aware that they are indispensible to the Saudi state and society. By the same token they are also aware of the chinks in the lumbering state apparatus. Up to now they were kept under check by a combination of coercive police power, highly restrictive inter-city movement and severe penalties for jumping an employer. Expats had some of their basic civil liberties denied like the right to assembly, speech and affiliation whose breach could result in jail, deportation and monetary penalties. In all it was a system devised to exploit and keep this rootless working mass bonded.
This dragnet is about to shatter. It is evident that due to stuttering Saudi military strategy and inability to assess the real dimensions of dangers to the state security including an inexplicable precaution to appear politically correct in dealing with the Yemeni crisis they have lost the initiative to Houthis decisively. The Yemeni president had made a written request to Saudi Arabia to help repel the Houthi attack. Following Houthis is a much greater menace: the ISIL and the AQAP. Considering Iran’s newly gained liberty of action in the region, the overall scenario is becoming bleaker, and eventually will be beyond the compass of Saudis to handle. Yemen is to the KSA what Afghanistan is to Pakistan.
Initiative is still with the Houthis, which is what matters in war and should worry the Saudi strategists. Rebels have been proactive since quite some time, and next lot might start raiding deep inside Saudi territories. This will cause two different but mutually reinforcing effects. Militarily it will tend to partially reverse the front on the fixed Saudi forces slicing it dangerously at different places. Socially it would be even more unsettling.
It can force population in bordering areas to shift helter-skelter inwards in larger numbers. A major displacement can seriously jeopardise Saudi Arabia’s internal security system resulting in breakdown of law and order. Uncommitted locals, disaffected expats and proxies might take advantage of the slipping grip of the police and intelligence agencies. If such a thing happens, that will be the beginning of the end of an otherwise composed and apparently stable Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Ensuing anarchy can be anybody’s guess, and its ramifications for the region could be really devastating.
Mehboob Qadir is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan army
By Zubeida Mustafa
May 27th, 2016
A PARADOX of the modern age is that as the world shrinks to become what Marshal McLuhan termed a global village, borders that separate people from one another are proliferating and becoming increasingly impenetrable legally. This is happening in an age when mobility is on the rise and people are leaving home in larger numbers than before. Some have experienced migration thrice in their lifetime.
Generally, writers and analysts focus on the political, economic and sociological dimension of crossing borders. Attention is focused on governments’ policies of making foreigners’ entry difficult into their country, the impact migration has on the host nations’ economy/politics and the challenges of integrating migrants from diverse cultures into a cohesive society.
There is yet another aspect of crossing borders — the human aspect. Few take note of it though its impact on an individual can be poignant and generational. It is only the personal becoming the political that draws attention.
Two catalogues in a three-volume project, produced by Houston’s Voices Breaking Boundaries, try to seek out voices that otherwise would never be heard. Titled Borderlines, these elegant publications capture the trauma, hopes and despair of migrants when caught in the wrong spaces of the borderlands.
Some have experienced migration thrice in a lifetime.
Sehba Sarwar, who is the artistic director of these catalogues, is also the creator of this project. She writes with deep feelings about her experience of her “appalling loss” when her father passed away in Karachi. At this sad moment, Sehba was in Houston thousands of miles away.
The two issues of Borderlines, which bring together the works of nearly 50 artists and writers focus on practically every dimension of a person’s identity when borders have been crossed.
Many years ago, when people moved away from home to take up abode in foreign climes, the phenomenon was attributed to push or pull factors. Immigrants were driven away from their country because of fear or insecurity. Or they were attracted by greener pastures abroad. Now there are many more factors.
There might be matrimonial alliances, dreams of a brighter future for one’s children, or the love of learning that lure people away. I even know of a businessman who sold off his business in Karachi to move to a small town in North America when he got sick of the corruption here. He is a man of integrity and felt he could not take the extortionist culture of which he had to be a part to run even a modest business in Pakistan. He is happy as he can lead an honest life.
Another highly qualified engineer left when he discovered that merit does not count in professional life here. Connections and ethnicity matter.
Whatever may be the cause, this is certain that migrants go with mixed feelings because modern online and telephonic technology and quick means of communications have made home just a stone’s throw away. There is no total break.
Yet the physical barriers such as geographical distances and border crossing protocols at times make the home country — seemingly so close — so unreachable. This inarguably creates more inner conflicts and contradictions in a person.
This also makes assimilation — the dream of many host countries such as the US — more challenging. Others such as Canada and the UK have opted for multiculturalism. Yet problems remain.
I found Borderlines interesting as it shed light on new dimensions of migration. Noor Zaheer, an Indian social activist, has another way of looking at her wanderlust in her essay Living the Dead. She writes: “Maybe my borders are more within than without … In a world that is continuously defining itself through borders, races, nations and organised religions, it is like an elixir to find a space where the negation of all that is possible, that there are still ways to journey on roads that lead nowhere, that travel remains possible without a quest, that the journey can still be the destination.”
Then there is Nandita Bhavnani, whose parents were from Sindh and migrated to India at the time of Partition in 1947. When she was planning her first trip to Karachi, she realised that for her family going to Sindh was equated solely with the past. “How can you possibly go back?” she asks. But after she revisited Sindh she wrote: “I learned that more than architecture and geography, it is people who make a land.”
That is confirmed by Sehba’s drawing-room art production on dissent to honour her father. She connects the memories of dissent in Karachi (where her father led a student’s movement in the 1950s) with the Chicano civil rights movement, whose leader Daniel Bustamante is also honoured. So the world is after all a global village. It is important though, that the people living in it share similar values and concerns.
May 27th, 2016
FOR those who grew up amid Taveez scrolls being found in wheat canisters, visitations by shape-shifting spirits and relatives disappearing for 40-day vows of silence, magical realism is not that much of a leap. Those books are not so outlandish about the cook who transmits emotions through food as eaters ingest her feelings, or the ethereal beauty who ascends to the sky while folding laundry, or Satan disguising himself as a foreign academic.
In one story, an aristocrat lives in trees and dies without touching the ground. An old woman lived in a tree outside my grandfather’s house. He told me Mai Jaina’s presence protected the house from bad things; my mother said she was there to kidnap disobedient children. However, no one objected to her living there. The neighbourhood sent her food for years till she disappeared.
Sometimes magical realism is still jarring, as in José Saramago’s Blindness. It’s about an outbreak of blindness and the subsequent moral disintegration of society. Many dystopian novels have bleak moral landscapes but this premise, people inexplicably going blind, and just as inexplicably regaining their sight, is freakier than any apocalypse or supernatural insurgency. Looking around at the country, I think part of the dread was that it was plausible.
It seems support for extremism and tolerance of terrorism was a similar malady. Not that the vision has been restored but some signs of recovery are evident. We’ve stirred out of our stupor. The main similarity, however, lies in that central feature of magical realism called ‘authorial reticence’; the narrator offers no rational explanation for the incredibility of events and expects you to take them at face value.
The Maddest Conspiracy Becomes Real.
It’s the same story in Waziristan, Swat and TTP-dominated areas of Karachi: there was no such prior problem; out of the blue some hordes arrived and took over; they unleashed an affliction that caused locals to go crazy for a while; everyone suffered devastation; the authorities first moved slowly, then their resolve strengthened and they fought heroically to defeat the terrorists; and now things are getting back to normal. There are no reasons given for how it became possible and why it was allowed to fester.
But the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, has changed. The tree Mai Jaina lived in has been chopped down. Spirits inhabited ancient mansions not modern housing schemes. Séance has given way to writing messages to the dear departed on their Facebook walls. In Karachi, the ghostly ‘bride of Karsaz’ must deal with an entertainment mega-complex on her spot.
Magical realism’s defining characteristic is that the extraordinary enters the mundane seamlessly. Now we have the reverse. The mundane enters the exalted; the ridiculous enters the sublime seamlessly. That’s bathos.
So instead of spirits of ancestors returning for Neyaz, dead militants come back with their own videos. In Chilas last year, a boy was apparently tortured and killed by supernatural violence. An FIR was registered against evil ghosts. Recently, fervent religious protesters vowed to create a superior moral order, expressing their anger at the system by throwing slippers at an army helicopter that flew by. The slippers rained back on them. A coalition of religious parties vowed to ‘bring on Allah’s earth Allah’s intended order’. To do so, they banned mannequins used in shop displays because mannequins have feminine curves.
Satire now has to be written with a disclaimer, primarily because it’s enacted daily, whether its Altaf Hussain’s Sisyphean resignations or presidential convoys running over state-owned ostriches. From Ramzan’s inner purification ending in squabbles over moon-sighting, to fatwas blaming low mobile call rates for moral demise, bathos is replete. The grand narratives are gone, whether magical, spiritual, ideological or political, with consequences best portrayed by Ghalib: “So narrow is the world of the vanquished, that a single ant’s egg is the whole sky.” Heroism now lies in labouring through the slog of incremental change.
Meanwhile, the maddest conspiracy ends up becoming real — like America using polio vaccines to make Pakistani men impotent. At one level, the conspiracy to render the Pakistani male incapable of producing children has been refuted 180 million times. On another, the outrage over the OBL raid was that foreign forces penetrated the motherland and with all our weapons, intelligence networks and bravery, we were powerless to prevent it — rendered impotent by the preceding polio drive.
When Cyclone Phet was about to ravage the Karachi coastline, warnings were issued and the seashore closed off. I lived on Clifton beach. While TV suggested evacuation, our apartment was packed with spectators and we ordered pizza. The road outside was congested with picnickers who came to see the cyclone with mats, food baskets and children, ignoring the distraught policemen screaming out cautions.
Being the punch line is no reason to not enjoy the show.
Chicago Consulate of Pakistan
By Syed Kamran Hashmi
If asked about one of the worst days of your life, you as a Pakistani — aside from health-related emergencies or a financial crisis — would almost always recount the time you were humiliated in a government office while applying for a passport, filing a complaint in the police station, getting the electricity bill fixed, or updating the address at a NADRA office. To cope with the psychological trauma inflicted by clerical staff, people go through the same five stages of grief as they would upon the diagnosis of, let us say, terminal cancer. First of all is the denial phase. “How could he [the clerk] delay such a simple process?” the victims complain. It is quickly followed by anger in which the applicant tries to intimidate the official by screaming at the top of his lungs, or by threatening to take up the matter to senior executives or by warning the staff of the consequences. But, the truth is that these hollow warnings never work. People blow their fuse in theses offices every day. Employees know the routine well and they just ignore complaints. So after the wave of anger has receded, while the file has not moved an inch forward, the reality sets in, and people cover the next three stages — depression, bargaining and acceptance — fairly quickly.
Do you know very well what I mean by bargaining? In simple terms, you negotiate a price that will satisfy everyone from the peon to the director to get the ball rolling. It does not matter to them if you took a day off from work, wasted hours on public transport and spent hundreds of rupees to file your application. If the ‘surcharge’ is not paid, your request will be denied with a strange objection on it. For example, he might say the backside of the copy of your national identification card is not attested, even though the front has been signed off; the picture looks too dark while it is not any different from other documents; or the application requires four copies of your passport while you have submitted just three.
The only way to avoid this embarrassment or paying the ‘premium’ is to by-pass them altogether by approaching a senior, more powerful officer, in the same department through your personnel connections. Some times you do know the right person and get lucky. But, mostly you don’t, which means you are at the mercy of maniacs waiting to pounce on your vulnerability. The worse part is that their notoriety transcends beyond the physical boundaries of Pakistan. Stories circulate about how people were ignored or mistreated by the staff in overseas embassies and consulates. Even for simple tasks like the renewal of passports, Pakistanis look for a ‘source’ to circumvent the procedure and avoid unnecessary delays or humiliation.
We expected the same treatment from the Chicago Consulate of Pakistan when a few weeks ago we applied for Pakistani visas for my children. The process, according to the consulate, takes four-five weeks. The problem was not that we did not have a few weeks, we did. It was only that we did not have more than a few months in our hands. A single objection could easily push the application back by a fortnight, spoiling our plans. We were nervous that they would tell us how we forgot to sign the first page of the form or did not get the sixth page notarised. Should we call the Consulate General and ask for help or take our chances? That was our dilemma.
After brooding over it for a couple of days, we decided to take our chances and sent the application. As an extra step of caution, we called the consulate to say we would appreciate if the application could be processed faster. Five days later, a knock on the by FedEx surprised us delivering our passports, visas stamped, no ‘surcharge’ paid, no ‘source’ required. It was unbelievable.
Impressed both by the courtesy and the efficiency of the office, I called the Consulate General of Pakistan in Chicago, Faisal Trimizi, a career diplomat and a gentleman, to share my experience. “People call me all the time to expedite their application. I tell them you don’t need my help,” he said. “Just let me know if you encounter any trouble.” He sounded confident that his staff would not delay or turn down the application without a good reason. “People from all over the US want to apply through our consulate.” He later on added. I do not doubt that because every Pakistani I have met in the last few months who had to deal with Chicago was raving about their experience. “The staff was respectful and friendly,” a friend of mine told me who had to get a new passport in 24 hours. “I got it and flew the following morning.”
I know growing up in Pakistan we develop a keen eye to detect the negative aspect of almost everything. Over time, we sharpen our skills so much so that even the positives also look negative. Probably, it is our way of giving back to the community what we get from it: stubborn unhealthy scepticism and paranoia. It is therefore understandable that that we find it hard to appreciate if only a few out of many government offices perform their duties well. Don’t get me wrong, we are very good at sycophancy but I am not talking about that. I am talking about the admiration the whole team deserves, like the Chicago Consulate of Pakistan, when they take an extra step to bring ease in your life.
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist.
America’s Presidential Sweepstakes
By Harlan Ullman
In Tennyson’s epic poem describing the Charge of the Light Brigade on October 25, 1854 at Balaclava in the Crimea against highly fortified Russian artillery positions, the “immortal 600” actually numbered about 680. Roughly half were killed, wounded or taken prisoner and only 195 riders survived with their mounts. Tennyson’s line “the world wonders” was meant in praise of the heroism of this desperate and miscalculated attack. As a French general observed, “It was magnificent. But it was not war!”
Today, the world may be indeed wondering about American politics and the extraordinary political campaign for the presidency that is dominating media reporting literally around the globe. Donald Trump is more or less perceived with a mixture of scorn and horror by most foreign observers. Bernie Sanders is seen as an old man who has passed his sell-by-date, and Hillary Clinton was last century’s news. At a time when American leadership has surely come into question in many important world capitals, and as events continue to deteriorate in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen for example, the world wonders about what lies ahead for it and for the United States.
And the current state of America’s presidential sweepstakes that has turned into a national game show but with few winners is not alleviating these worries.
Less than a month ago, pundits were predicting a contentious and explosive Republican convention in Cleveland. The “Stop Trump” movement was gaining strength. A floor fight would be vicious. And the Republican Party would be ripped asunder by competing and irreconcilable factions. Yet that did not happen. Donald Trump’s two competitors withdrew. While the Bushes and Romneyites continued to say ‘hell no’, Trump will be the GOP nominee. And forecasts of a shattered Republican Party have proven wrong. Obviously, winning the election trumped Republican principles. And the party has fallen in line to support if not advocate for the nominee. Wow!
Meanwhile, it is the Democratic Party that to many observers is in disarray. Sanders refuses to quit. Clinton is torn between finally winning the nomination and turning fire onto Trump. The convention in Philadelphia now seems to have inherited all the centrifugal forces that only a few weeks ago threatened to divide Republicans. Further, the Damoclean Sword of Hillary’s private e-mail server persists. Trump’s lawyers have delayed the trial over charges of fraud brought against his university until after the election. So the Republicans may have gained an advantage there. Meanwhile, the campaigns have become even nastier.
Democratic political action advertisements are going for Trump’s vulnerable jugular concerning the fairer sex voicing over his particular slurs on images of women wearing provocative tee shirts highly critical of the Republican candidate. Sanders’ rallies in California have turned violent and threats over assignment of delegates filled the media. And Clinton is turning her attack dogs loose.
Likewise, Trump is on the counter-offensive. Aside from reminding the public of Bill Clinton’s past indiscretions, Trump has capitalised on using misdirection to confuse and confound Mrs Bill Clinton. Releasing the names of eleven potential Supreme Court nominees and declaring a willingness to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un would, in normal times, be dismissed as nonsensical. In this election, however, everything Trump has said, no matter how ludicrous or unserious, is being taken seriously.
Polls — notoriously wrong at his juncture — now put Trump a few points ahead of Clinton. While the Financial Times of London released a survey showing that businesses and business leaders favour Clinton by over a two to one margin, and reflect worry and concern over a Trump victory, on the home front what should have been a Democratic blowout appears to be far more problematic. And many observers and media cognoscenti who dismissed Trump as a joke or obscene political presence unelectable at any speed, let alone capable of winning his party’s nomination, are now rapidly changing their once steadfast rejection of his candidacy.
In the different setting of war torn Iraq, then General David Petraeus frequently would ask observers to “tell me how this ends.” The same point could not be more relevant to the presidential elections. Assuming Clinton wins the nomination and the e-mail sword does not descend, is she capable of defeating Trump? Statistically, Democrats have presumably 240 or so of the necessary 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Behind with women and minorities and possibly much of the business community, Trump clearly has many obstacles to overcome. Yet, Clinton has proven to have a political glass jaw. While it would seem a rout in her favour, as quickly as the looming end of the Republican Party transformed into what might befall the Democrats, the electoral landscape could become as or more volatile.
The stunning fact is that both Trump and Sanders have energized a considerable segment of the public who are frightened and fearful of the future largely because of a government that seems incapable of governing. Trump only promises he can repair that government. Sanders mutters platitudes about taxing the rich and breaking up villainous banks while providing free public college education for all. And Clinton offers 10-point action plans that are cautious and most likely will have only marginal if any effect.
The campaigns have turned into grotesque game shows with the almost certain outcome that no matter who wins in November, America’s government will remain broken for a long time to come. Should that dysfunctionality persist, the defining words of the Declaration of Independence cannot be ignored: when government becomes destructive, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and establish a new one.
Harlan Ullman is UPI’s Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist. He serves as Senior Advisor for Supreme Allied Commander Europe, the Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security and chairs two private companies. His last book is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace. His next book due out next year is Anatomy of Failure: Why America Loses Wars It Starts