Friday, May 15, 2009

Silver Lining of the Dark Clouds

It is an oft repeated saying that every dark cloud has a silver lining. Even the worst situations and circumstances have some positive out comes. Though today every Pakistani is sad at the tragic incidents taking place in Swat and FATA, yet there are some long term positive outcomes which are at the moment being overlooked by the media pundits and experts. The rise of Taliban in Swat and FATA and their actions after getting authority for a short while have helped in breaking many myths and in dispelling many illusions which had fascinated the poor people of Pakistan for a very long time.

It is for the first time that our nation saw at first hand that what these elements stand for, what ideologies they actually harbor, what strategies they espouse to achieve their goals and what is the real face of some parties within the mainstream political system claiming to be champions of democracy. Until now most of the Pakistanis had no idea what it means to be living in a territory controlled by extremist elements and how it is going to affect their lives and life styles.

We had only read about this style of governance in the columns of some journalists heaping praises on Mulla Umer and his ministers dealing with the affairs of state in Afghanistan while sitting on the prayer mates and wearing simple cloths. When the people of Pakistan looked at the lavish life styles of our current ruling class and exploitation of the national resources, they thought that perhaps they also needed such down to earth and simple rulers to solve their problems. But our journalist had failed to show the other side of the picture. Those appearing simple in manner were tyrannical in nature.

The Taliban in Afghanistan were bent on imposing a particular brand of Islam on the masses. Their particular brand of Islam and Shariah has no roots in Islamic history and fiqah. They had interpreted Islam according to their limited and outdated perceptions and were not ready to recognize any other interpretation of Islam even by the most prestigious scholars and Ulema. The Taliban in Pakistan have proved no different. It was only when we heard Sufi Muhammad denouncing democracy and decreeing all those who believed in democracy as Kafirs that we realized what was in the offing for all of us. Some of us sincerely believed that Taliban brand Nizam-e-Adl was the panacea for all the ills of the society. Thanks to statements of Sufi Muhammad and his cronies, now the people of Pakistan understand that Taliban and their supporters recognize only one evil in the society i.e. women. Taliban and their supporters don’t think that inequality, corruption, lawlessness, poverty, and access to health and educational facilities are any problems at all. Their Islam can make all the social evils of society disappear by confining women to their houses, by not allowing them to see the light of the day and by denying them all human rights. If Nizam-e-Adl had not been signed and if Sufi Muhammad and his followers had not expressed their real views openly, all these facts would have remained hidden from us and we would have continued to believe that perhaps given a chance Taliban brand Islam may prove to be the answer to our social problems.

Many religious political parties have been fooling the innocent people of Pakistan in the name of Islam and Islamic system of government since the independence. They have always claimed that they believe in democracy and want to come to power through democratic means. Though it was not clear what kind of Islamic system they wanted to impose once they came to power in Pakistan. The temporary success of Taliban in Swat and Malakand exited the leaders of our religious political parties and they inadvertently let their guards fall and exposed their real intentions to the nation.

The statement by the newly elected Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami, Syed Munawar Hassan has explained the vision of religious political parties about the Islamic system in the country. He said that Jamaat and Sufi Muhammad shared the same vision of Islam and only differed in the methodologies adopted. His statement is indicative of the fact that Jamaat had in principle no objection to the kind of tyrannical Shariah being imposed on the people of Swat. The only objection is on the means which were adopted for that purpose. In fact Taliban and TSNM have enjoyed the tacit support of most religious political parties and Ulema until now and it is not surprising that we seldom find Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman and Qazi Hussain Ahmed and other Ulema out rightly condemning the suicide attacks killing the innocent people. Even if they deign it proper to condemn the attacks, the condemnations are always qualified with many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ seeking implied justifications of these attacks. The opposition of Jammat-e-Islami and Jamiat to the current military action in Malakand thus comes as no surprise. Both these parties were among the beneficiaries of Afghan war and had a major role to play in the rise of Talbanization in the area. In the victory of Taliban they envisioned the accomplishment of their own agendas of ruling a theocratic state and in their defeat they see their own dreams being crushed.

Similarly, until now most of the people of Pakistan sincerely believed that war against Russia was an indigenous Jihad movement fought by Afghans themselves on their own. The Taliban phenomenon has helped us in realizing that war against Russia was as much Jihad as the Taliban insurgency in NWFP and adjoining areas. Taliban in Pakistan are fighting a war fully funded and supported by our enemies. Without their sustained support and supply it would not be possible for them to hold against a full fledged army action. The war in Afghanistan against Russia was being fully supported and funded by America for her strategic purposes and fought by warlords trained by Pakistani forces. Now the same Jihad is being carried out against state of Pakistan and Pakistani armed forces. The only difference is that now it is being funded by some other stakeholders as well. The Frankenstein which we had created to ward off Russian threat has now turned against its own creator.

The shattering of all these myths will enable the people of Pakistan to see the things in their right perspective and will ultimately lead to the retreat of these forces which had kept the Pakistani society hostage for the last three decades. People of Pakistan are now much clearer about the type and system of government which they want and they have also seen through the designs of the extremist forces. In the longer run we shall once again be able to see the re-establishment of a liberal and pluralistic society which Pakistan had back in sixties and seventies and which was destroyed by the hypocritical policies of the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Revolution or Evolution

“Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the arrows and slings of outrageous fortune or to take up arms against the sea of troubles and by opposing end them” Shakespeare

We hear of revolutions everyday. We read about revolution in technology, revolution in communications and revolution in electronic media. But the revolution which never came and yet is affecting our lives the most in the present era is the Islamic revolution. The struggle for bringing about an Islamic revolution somehow somewhere through political or military means started with the jihad movement of Syed Ahmed Shaheed in the beginning of nineteenth century. Two hundred years hence it is still going strong with the Osama of Alqaida and Mullah Umer of Taliban in the lead. This struggle for bringing a change in the destiny of Muslims through revolutions, which took different shapes and adopted different modus operandi in different backdrops has cost Muslims not hundreds, not thousands but millions of lives. Even than, today it is as far away from achieving its objectives as it was one hundred and fifty years ago, when Jamaludin Afghani was traveling to different countries, trying to develop a sense of Pan Islamism to bring Muslims together and over throw the yoke of foreign slavery.

The Muslims revolutionary movements adopted different means in different times. People like Syed Ahmed Shaheed thought that by establishing a rule in a far flung area inhabited by die hard Muslim traditionalists would provide them a platform. He intended to use that platform for operating and driving the foreigners and non believers out form his homeland and thus bring back the glory of Islam. Jamaludin Afghani was of the opinion that that Pan Islamism was the answer to this riddle. Intellectuals like Syed Qutab and Maulana Moudodi thought that by developing a cadre of righteous and trained Muslims, they would be able to get the political power. They believed that only by getting hold of political power they would be able to bring about that long awaited revolution. With advent of Alqaida and Taliban it seems that wheel has completed the full circle and came back from where it all started. In Osama, Mullah Omer and their allies, we see the re-incarnation of the thought of Syed Ahmed Shaheed. I.e. if an Islamic sanctuary can be established in a far off place where local inhabitants are die hard Muslims, it can be used as a launching pad for Islamic revolution throughout the world. What a coincidence it is, that the area chosen by Alqaida and Taliban is the same, which was chosen by Syed Ahmed Shaheed.

All these movements and efforts of the past have one common feature i.e. failure and the fate of the present movement is going to be no different. All these movements of past and present operate on the premise that revolution is the only way to bring an end to woes faced by Muslims. But by now, they should have realized one simple truth, ‘By and large revolutions and revolutionaries don’t work’. The world has progressed this far on the basis of evolution and it is the only course of action which nature and history accept.

Islam itself, though revolutionary in spirit, nature and concepts, is very evolutionary in its approach. It is a religion which always emphasizes a practical and gradual approach. Instead of revealing the whole Holy Quran at once, God deemed it appropriate to reveal it small peaces over a period of twenty three years, preparing the people step by step for what was to come next. Many things were not decreed Haram immediately, but were gradually declared Haram. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) himself preferred to suffer the arrows and slings of outrageous fortune for thirteen years before deciding to take up arms against the sea of troubles. The approach of Holy Prophet, which should be a guiding principle for all of us to follow, shows that he did not attempt a sudden revolution and change of system. Rather, he adopted a very practical and guarded approach very similar to the evolutionary process. The revolution came by itself when the time was ripe.

The history of sub-continent also bears testimony to the same fact. When the British established their rule here, the response of the Muslim leaders reflected two different approaches. On one side, we see the struggle of heroes like Syed Ahmed Shaeed, Prisoner of Malta Maulna Mehmood ul Hassan and Obaidallah Sindhi. All of them refused to accept the foreign occupation and tried different methods for bringing an Islamic revolution and restore the days of Muslim glory. On the other side we see leaders like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who knew that no revolutionary movement would be able to do what an institution like Aligarh University could. The results are there for every one of us to see as who was right and who adopted the wrong path in spite of all the sincerity of purpose and commitment and whose efforts in the end bore fruit. Revolutionary leaders and activists like Subhash Chandra Boss, Maulana Qasim Nanotavi, Maulana Mehmoodul Hassan and Bhagat Singh won the praise of the people but freedom was won by visionaries like Iqbal, Jinnah and Gandhi.

If we leave Islamic history and history of sub-continent aside and take examples from the recent world history, we would not come across different results. The 20th century saw many revolutions and revolutionary leaders. The revolutions usually fizzled out like the Russian revolution or had to change course dramatically like the Chinese revolution to stay alive. Revolutionary leaders like Nehru, Jamal Abdul Nasir, Mao and Lenin left their people with their ears full but stomachs empty, because rhetoric has never proved as effective tool for fulfilling the basic needs of people. On the other hand some very non charismatic, non revolutionary rather traditional leaders like Menzies of Australia, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Deng Xiaoping of China spoke little, pursued practical and pragmatic policies and left their nations in a state where they could hold their head high in the comity of nations. They also had one thing in common, they were visionary leaders no revolutionaries.

When Lee took over Singapore in June 1959, it was still suffering from the after effects of the 2nd world war. When he left in 1990, despite being very small in size, Singapore had attained the status of an Asian Tiger. Its economy had grown bigger than accumulative economy of many bigger Asian countries. All this was done very quietly and without any rhetoric. When Deng Xiaoping was finally able to wrestle complete control in 1979, the devastating effecting of the Cultural Revolution introduced by Chairman Mao had brought China to its knees. Chairman Mao was no doubt a great leader who had led a gigantic struggle to bring about a revolution. But his efforts to keep the revolutionary spirit alive through experiments like Cultural Revolution had shattered the Chinese economy. Had Deng not entered the scene at that juncture with his visionary approach, the fate of China might not have very different from the fate of Russia.

In the world of today, the only Muslim country enjoying international respect, political stability and economic strength is Malaysia. The leader who did all this was no revolutionary but a visionary. Mahathir bin Muhammad held the post of Prime Minster for 22 years from 1981 to 2003 and is credited for engineering Malaysia's rapid modernization and progress. Despite being highly critical of American polices and western civilization, he did not advocate a policy of conflict and collision. The United States was the biggest source of foreign investment, and was Malaysia's biggest customer during Mahathir's rule. On the other hand, loud speaking leaders like Qaddafi who claimed to be revolutionaries are nobodies in today’s world. Despite having the immense wealth of oil at their disposal, they have not been able to elevate the status of their country and their people.

If we continue our search, we can find hundreds of such examples both from history and present day world. But all that would only prove the point which I have already made. All efforts for restoring the lost Muslim glory through revolutions, either armed or political, have proved futile in the past and have no hope of succeeding in future as well. Muslims have already lost countless precious lives and wasted immense resources in these misdirected endeavors. We can not afford to continue following this dream which is never going to materialize. We don’t need Osmas and Mullah Umers. We need people like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Mahathir bin Muhammad who can guide the Muslims on the path of evolution. Indeed it would be a very slow journey of progress which would require continued commitment and devotion. This journey is usually so long that those who start it are often not being able to taste the fruit of success. That is why revolutions are sought by those who want shortcuts and want to enjoy the fruits of success and credit in their life time. Vision and Evolution require patience and self sacrifice. Sir Syed founded Aligarh but was not around when the students of his university were leading the Pakistan movement from forefront. But this by no means mitigates his contribution in Pakistan movement which has been acknowledged by history. We need movements for improving and developing systems of education, governance system and systems of accountability. We need people who can guide us on the path of science and technology. We need leaders who can understand the requirements of changing times and help us change accordingly, not the leaders who refuse to change and want to keep us that way as well. This is the only sure shot way of restoring the lost glory of Muslim ummah, albeit a long one, and only by trading the path of evolution we shall be able to achieve which Islamic revolutions will never be able to do.

To be or not to be

I have always been perplexed by the intentions of the media in Pakistan. One day it is shouting one thing and on the next it demands something totally different. It urges the government and politicians to take some steps and when those steps are taken; our media starts vehemently and whole heartedly criticizing them for taking those steps or for taking them too late.

The case of a poor MNA from Rawalpindi is a case in example. We often hear from our scholarly anchorpersons hosting numerous talk shows, that our politicians are uneducated and not qualified enough to run the affairs of state. The conscientious leader from Rawalpindi took this criticism to heart and decided that come what may, he will improve his qualification. He wanted to show to the world that there is no age limit for getting education and for improving qualification. When he started taking practical steps for improving his qualification, the media people created unnecessary fuss and starting blaming him of cheating and using unfair means. Ultimately the unfortunate MNA had to announce his resignation from the national assembly seat.

All this hue and cry of the media was over a very trivial matter. Unfortunately on the day of examination, the said MNA was a little busy and requested his nephew to go to the examination hall in his place to appear in the paper. This great gesture of dutifulness and integrity from the local leader should have been appreciated by the media. It showed that how much importance he gave to education and how much respect he bestowed on the examination system. Despite all his political and business commitments, he did not want to waste a single day of his educational career and he did not want to disturb the examination date sheet. Being a sitting MNA, he could have easily pressurized the board of education to modify the date according to his convenience. But instead of doing all this, he showed how a model politician should behave. He requested his nephew to appear in the exam so that other students did not face disturbance.

Here we should remember one thing. The paper was of Pakistan Studies. He being an active politician and sitting member of national assembly knew everything about Pakistan Studies. It was a chance for young people to learn about the history of the great home land which had been won by the struggle of the students from great educational institutions of sub-continent. Here I must not forget to mention the greatness of the young lad as well. He too had many promises to keep and dates to meet, but he let go of all those commitments and went to the examination hall so that he could give this ungrateful nation the gift of an educated politician.

What did the two get in return of their dutifulness and zest of education? A self proclaimed torch bearer of morality raided the examination hall and got the young man arrested and accused our leader of cheating and dishonesty. Didn’t he have something better to do like staying at home and marking papers and earning an honest living instead of raiding the examination halls and harassing young people . Or he could have contacted the MNA beforehand and asked him for clarifications. I am sure he would have received a satisfactory explanation and along with the explanation he would have got some token of the generosity of our leader which would have enabled him to live a peaceful live for a very long time. But it was not to be. He started this trouble and now he is crying himself hoarse that he is being threatened and his life is in danger. If the followers of the MNA are enraged at the disrespect shown to their leader and want to give that raiding inspector a massage and some bone re-settling exercises, what the MNA has got to do with it. It only shows the love and respect which he enjoys in his constituency.

The inspector should have thought of consequences before committing such foolish acts. He knew that our policemen are too busy nowadays in protecting themselves from the Taliban, who are bent on sending as many policemen to paradise as possible in shortest possible time. Now nobody minds going to paradise but is the early departure to the destination which bothers all. In such circumstances it is not possible for the police to arrange for the protection of all and sundry. In fact I think Taliban are also victims of negative media coverage like our respected MNA. Instead of appreciating their sincere funded efforts, we keep on criticizing them unnecessarily. They are only trying to rid us of the worries of the troubled life in this material world and provide us lasting peace in the world hereafter on voluntary basis. Half a million rupees which our relatives get afterwards is an added advantage. How many of us are able to get half a million rupees for our families even if we keep on striving for a very long time. So it is two benefits in one blast, oh sorry, in one ticket. But ungrateful people of Pakistan insist on living in this world and toiling day and night for earning bread for the families. The media also terms Taliban terrorists and killers. So unfortunate, isn’t it?

Well coming back to our discussion, I am sure if our MNA had not been discouraged by the negative attitude of the media and educational authorities, he would have gone on to conquer many other educational fronts. Subsequently, he would have got an MBA degree or even a PhD in the similar manner. How proud we all would have felt on having such qualified people representing us in the national assembly. We would have told the world that we and our leaders know the importance of education and we have a highly qualified legislature. Our media did not let this happen. This sad and unfortunate incident must have discouraged many other respected members of our national assembly who were planning similar educational ventures. Now if they want to improve their qualification, they will have to sit in the exams themselves, which might not be possible due to their numerous commitments. How will they get education now?

I suggest that all aspiring members of national assembly who want to get further education and improve their qualifications should be provided facilities by the government. Government and educational institutions should hire individuals who appear in the exams on the behalf of the politicians and separate examination centers should also be allocated for their exams. The entry of all nosy and interfering inspectors like the one mentioned above should be banned in the examination halls. Only then, will our leaders be able to get quality education in peace.