Monday, March 19, 2018

'Mainstreaming' & the upcoming 2018 Pakistan election

By Omar R Quraishi

The PML-N government of Nawaz Sharif began its tenure in early June in 2013. That mean's five years of the current dispensation will end in early June 2018 -- after that we will have 90 days of a caretaker government and general elections (unless they happen earlier due to an unforeseen circumstance, or don't happen at all, also because of any unforeseen circumstance) no later than early September of this year.

I will write in more detail about the prospects of the major mainstream parties in the coming election at a later time. However, there has been much talk of late about the 'mainstreaming' of religious groups other than the parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam etc. in an effort to include them in the political mainstream.

The first such example that comes to mind is the Milli Muslim League which many observers seem to think is an offshoot of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). Last week, the MML won a big victory in its effort to be recognized as a political party when the Islamabad High Court ruled that a ban by the Election Commission of Pakistan on the MML was of no legal effect and that the League could now be registered as a political party under the electoral laws of Pakistan.

Milli Muslim League chief Saifullah Khalid

It's information secretary Tabish Qayyum is at pains to point out that the party has nothing to do with the JuD

In the NA 120 Lahore bye-election held in September 2017, the MML backed an independent candidate who came in 4th with 5,822 votes. He received more than 5 times the votes that the PPP's candidate got. The seat, a long-standing PML-N stronghold, was won by Begum Kulsum Nawaz Sharif with over 61,000 votes and the PTI's Yasmin Rashid came in with over 47,000 votes.

The MML-backed candidate did relatively well given that the party is very new. One can only surmise but it would be fair to assume that some pro-PTI voters would have voted for him. 

Then take the case of the Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), whose effort to present itself as a political party has gained considered momentum of late. In recent days, it's banners have sprung up in many major cities -- asking people to go online and register with the party, in preparation for the coming election. This is the same group that shut down a major highway connecting Islamabad with the rest of the country for 20 days, resulting in a botched government crackdown on the protesters. 

The TLP fielded a candidate in the NA 154 Lodhran bye-election held earlier this year and he managed to come in 3rd obtaining a very healthy total of 9,981 votes. Clearly, the TLP will be able to win a health amount of votes in the coming election in Punjab and even in parts of Sindh (such as Karachi). 

Of course, the debate over mainstreaming will continue, but the argument that such groups do represent at least some Pakistanis and hence should be allowed to contest elections can hardly be denied. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Dear Hum TV, showing models in blackface in NOT ok

By Omar R Quraishi

A couple of days ago a popular Pakistani morning TV show host Sanam Jung had a segment in which models put on make-up to darken their skins.

The idea, the host on Hum TV said, was to show that dark skin could also look good. It seems Ms Jung was presumably unaware that this is universally considered morally reprehensible. 

One can only help but wonder how a nationally known show host at a major TV channel would be unaware of how offensive all this was. The show's producer is also at fault -- presumably he will also claim that he didn't know this would be offensive.

The 'N' word was repeatedly used by the TV show host when referring to the make-up, and even terms like 'makrani' and 'sheedi' were also used. 

At the very least, the host and the channel both need to make an unqualified apology.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Moral of the (Senate Chairman) tale: Democracy Zinda Hai

By Omar R Quraishi

The election of the Chairman of the Senate saw the following:

1. The first ever Senate chairman to be elected from Balochistan Sadiq Sanjrani

2. The PTI and the PPP -- not exactly friends -- both backed the same candidate, Sadiq Sanjrani
Earlier, the PTI chairman Imran Khan had categorically said that his party would never vote for any candidate put forward by the PPP

However, once the election came and the result was reached with Mr Sanjrani achieving a resounding victory by a relatively wide margin, both the parties celebrated it as if the candidate were exclusively its own.

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari gives a gulab jamun to Senate Chairman-elect Sadiq Sanjrani

3. The ruling PML-N, which had the highest number of senators, though not enough to win an outright majority, saw its candidate, Gen Zia's 'opening batsman' fail.

4. The new Senate chairman was nominated by the Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Abdul Quddoos Bizenjo on a seat from Awaran (PB 41) where he managed to win even though he got a mere 544 votes. Mr Bizenjo is himself from the PML-Q and despite that the PTI and the PPP both backed his candidate, meaning in essence that a man who got less than 550 votes for his own MPA election decided who the new Senate chairman was going to be.

5. In other words, a relative nobody was elected as chairman of the Senate -- a post whose incumbent acts on behalf of the President whenever the latter is out of the country -- by another relative nobody.

6. Moral of the (Senate Chairman) tale: Democracy Zinda Hai

Monday, March 12, 2018

Expect more than shoes and ink to be thrown at politicians in the coming days

By Omar R Quraishi

Over the weekend we first saw ink being thrown on Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif as he spoke at a party event in Sialkot. Dawn reported that the man who threw ink on him chanted 'Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah' as he carried out his act. He was promptly arrested.

Here is a pic of the man who threw the ink on the foreign minister

The following day, on Sunday, a shoe was thrown on ousted Prime Minister (and the ruling PML-N's 'Supreme Leader') Nawaz Sharif as he visited a madrassa in Lahore. In this instance, the person who threw the shoe was reported to be angry with the then government of Mr Sharif for its execution of Mumtaz Qadri in 2016 for the assassination of Salmaan Taseer in 2011.

The man who threw a shoe on ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been identified as
 Abdul Ghafoor, resident of Kahuta 

Almost all heads of political parties promptly criticized these two unsavoury events. However, all politicians, not least Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif himself must share the blame for the increase in political invective and name-calling that seems to occur almost on a daily basis between the heads of most of Pakistan's major political parties.

Of course, there are some who think that the fact that religious elements were involved in these two incidents may mean that we may see a repeat of 2013 when the Taliban quite openly targeted the PPP and the ANP in the run-up to the general election that year. Of course, the part would have lost anyway but the targeting of the parties like the PPP and the ANP shrunk the public campaigning space available to at least two mainstream parties. 

It would be fair to say that in the coming days we are going to see more of these incidents, targeting the ruling PML-N, not least because of the increase in its popularity in recent weeks. Something has to be done to break that momentum after all. However, it may not be just a shoe or ink and we could see far more lethal things being thrown at political party leaders, especially those not willing to toe the line demarcated for all parties by the powers that be.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Journalists are also public figures and should be open to scrutiny

By Omar R Quraishi

I respect Umar Cheema and have known him professionally for many years. He's an outstanding reporter and has broken many a story, not least the Panama Papers, in conjunction with the ICIJ (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists).

Umar Cheema

Now he's reported extensively on Imran Khan's third marriage, specifically that he denied that his nikah took place in early January 2018 and that it took place before he iddat period of his third wife Bushra Maneka had ended. This understandably created quite a stir among many people, not least among Imran Khan's shrill and boisterous supporters -- and in fact among many people who don't necessarily support the PTI but thought that the reporting was in poor taste.

Umar Cheema has already explained his reasons for doing so here saying that the media had a right to report on public figures and how their personal decisions reflected on their public lives.

A pic of Imran Khan's nikah to Bushra Maneka -- released to the media on Feb 18, 2018

Of course, he is correct -- it isn't in fact the right of the media to report on public figures and to scrutinize their decisions and actions, it is in fact its duty. The reason is simple: if actions and decisions taken by such individuals - even at the personal level - have a bearing on their overall character and/or contradict their public pronouncements then the general public has a right to know.

That said, journalists should also accept a basic fact -- something that is not widely accepted, at least in Pakistan. And this is that journalists and the media as a profession and a field of work should also be open to scrutiny and public comment.

After all, if we as journalists are going to examine and scrutinize the actions of public figures, or hold government, judicial or military officials to account, and speak 'truth to power' as it were, we should also be prepared for the scrutiny of our own actions. If we are going to comment on the plots given at discounted rates to officers of the armed forces, we should be willing to accept criticism from the public if journalists are given plots at discounted rates, or other favours.

To a great extent, journalists are also public figures, especially people like Umar Cheema (or even myself) and we should be open to a scrutiny of our professional lives and actions. After all, the media in Pakistan - as in any democratic state - is a power unto itself, and if speaking 'truth to power' is a principle that we journalists should abide by, then we also need to hold a mirror unto ourselves.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why editor Jahanzaib Haque was wrong to have tweeted about the KGS event

Much has been said about editor Jahanzaib Haque's tweets that he did after attending a careers fair at his alma mater, Karachi Grammar School. The Express Tribune, where me and Jahanzaib were colleagues, even did a story on it here and whether they should or shouldn't have done it is an entirely separate debate.

Many people on Twitter including some dear friends have expressed solidarity and support with him saying that he was courageous to have done what he did. Part of this may also have to do with the fact that many people want to be seen on the right side of a dispute so that their chances of being published by a major online site are not negatively impacted in any way. 

That said,this entire debate misses a couple of crucial points and they need to be spelt out. Of course, it goes without saying that the issue is not that one cannot or should not criticise ones former school or university. This is a very common thing because people often have good or bad experiences while in school but the context in which such criticism is made can lessen its validity.

 Jahanzaib was on the same panel as me and was an invited guest of the Old Grammarians Society (OGS) which has been organising this event for some years now for the benefit of the schools students. We also had Faizan Syed, CEO of Health TV, on the panel and the three sessions we had were lively and engaging with participating students asking many questions related to journalism and the media.

The point essentially is that since he was an invited guest of the OGS and went presumably of his own volition, such tweets (see below -- at least two which ridiculed other speakers at the fair) were clearly in poor taste. That is a thoroughly unprofessional thing to do and in very poor taste. You don't accept an invite from an organisation or institution for an event and then use that occasion to make fun of it and ridicule others who attended it -- and that too to thousands of your Twitter followers from a handle that identifies you as the editor of a major online news site.

 By all means, Jahanzaib can hate his old school all he wants but then perhaps he shouldn't have accepted the invitation in the first place (in fact, during the panel sessions, he actively sought out its students for internships). He should have politely declined instead of saying on Twitter "in my defence I refused five times". Furthermore, to have tweeted what he did, from his handle which identifies him in a position of some authority and responsibility shows a lack of judgment on what an editor's job entails. 

These principles are so basic that one is surprised that the editor of a major news website seems to have been entirely unaware of them.

Friday, April 10, 2015

9 things that Pakistani social science textbooks will not teach you

By Omar R Quraishi

1. That Pakistan was once the home of people who used to follow Buddhism - check out the numerous ruins of stupas found all over the country especially in the north. A good example is the ruins of Taxila which at one time were home to a great Buddhist civilization over 2,000 years ago. 

2. That Pakistan was once home to a significant population which followed Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism -- proof of this can easily be found in the dozens of abandoned Jain temples in Sindh, especially Tharparkar District, in the prevalence of Hindu temples (many of them still in use) in Sindh and abandoned Sikh gurdwaras throughout Punjab.

3. That Pakisan in fact did not win a single war against India - not the one in 1948, or the one in 1965 -- which at best can be called a stalemate -- nor the one in 1971 or the Kargil War in 1999 where it had to withdraw after international pressure and gained nothing out of the adventures, except the dead bodies of its valiant soldiers.

4. That the secession of East Pakistan was in fact caused by our own follies, in particular by the refusal of West Pakistan's political leadership, especially Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who refused to recognize the victory of Sheikh Mujib's Awami League and did not let him form a government in Islamabad, which was his right given that his party won the most seats. The history books will also not mention a word about the alienation that many East Pakistanis felt, not least because of the language issue, and because most policies were West Pakistan-centric.

5. That Pakistan in fact came into being on Aug 14, 1947 and not any time before that. Many Pakistan Studies books teach students that Pakistan was in fact created when Mohammad Bin Qasim invaded Sindh in 712 AD and brought Islam to the subcontinent.

6. That much of north India -- UP in particular and Punjab as well as Rajasthan -- shares cultural, ethnic and language links with many Pakistanis.This is evident also in the fact that Bollywood films -- which draw heavily on this north Indian culture and ambience are immensely popular this side of the border. Of course, doing so would in fact undermine the Two Nation Theory, which textbooks say is what Pakistan was premised on. The textbooks are, as expected, also silent on the obvious extrapolation from the 1971 creation of Bangladesh, which is that it disproves the Two Nation theory.

7. That Pakistan's Hindus -- there are 2-3 million of them and concentrated mainly in Sindh -- are a productive and valuable segment of Pakistani society and contribute to the national economy. No wonder, that if a Hindu Pakistani goes outside his area of residence and meets another person the question that he is often asked is "Aap kya India say hain?". The textbooks also make no mention really of Pakistan's other minorities such as Parsis, Christians or Sikhs. This is because the emphasis is on Pakistan being a state for Muslims, and hence all non-Muslim groups are equated with the Other.

8. That Pakistan has had many men and women who were members of minority communities but who contributed in a major way towards their country and society. Examples are the late Justice A R Cornelius, the late Justice Dorab Patel, and Air Force and 1965 War hero Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry.

9. That there is a role for women in Pakistani society outside of the boundaries pre-determined for them by their patriarchs, i.e. fathers, brothers, husbands and so on. Of course, in reality the world is changing and so are these boundaries but most social studies textbooks for government schools will make their students think that we are still living in the middle of the 20th century.