Thursday, June 21, 2012

Best of Both Worlds

Now no one can say that our government is not sincere in its efforts to solve the problem of Swat? Keeping in mind some English proverbs regarding best possible means of catching the thieves, the government has requested the favorite Mualna of the nation to help in solving the   issue of Swat. What’s the big deal if the government has to appoint his brother as a minster on his request in return of this favour?  Where we already have eighty ministers, addition of just one will not make any big difference.  We can also say that it is a step towards reducing un employment. Now we have just hundred million minus one unemployed people in Pakistan.

I am always surprised when some columnists and reports make a lot of hue and cry whenever an incident of the political prudence of our one and only favorite maulana is reported. By now we should have become accustomed to such reports. We should only be surprised if there is a report that unexpectedly maulana made an error of judgment and entered into a deal that promised no political or monitory gains.

Maulana is from the breed of those politicians who have made amends for the blunders of ‘political integrity’ and ‘principled stances’ committed by their elders in the political arena.  Maulana’s father was also a known politician and a great religious scholar but could not bring himself to use his name, knowledge and political clout to get a single kanal of land or even a small permit of kerosene oil for his family from his political counterparts. Now tell me, what is the use of having so many followers or a lot of religious knowledge if that can not be used for benefit of family and relatives. Late Nawabzada was another such politician. When he died, he had sold more than half of his ancestral land. But thank God, all that land (and some more) has been regained by his hardworking and industrious offspring by adopting correct political strategies.  If maulana has also taken some steps to rectify the errors of past, we should not raise unnecessary objections to that. Rather, he should be praised for that.

If some friends offer you permits of few million barrels of diesel, how can you break their heart by saying no.  When you also know that the diesel can be used to support the shattered economy of the brotherly neighboring Muslim country by sending it to them in such a way that they don’t have to pay the unnecessary custom duties and taxes, accepting such offers becomes your obligation. Also keep in mind that fact that such offers help in reducing unemployment. Many of the unemployed friends and members of the family get jobs and business opportunities as results of such acts of gallant sacrifice.   In another such incident, maulana kindly consented to bring a piece of land under his use, which had hitherto been lying unattended under the control of Pakistan army. He knew that army had many other very important things to do and it was unwise to let that piece of land go waste. So being a brave and selfless person, he accepted the repeated requests of the then army chief and even agreed to pay hefty amounts of hundreds of rupees per kanal. But unfortunately, our reports and columnists have started making a noise without looking at the noble motives behind the move.

Maulana believes in making hay while the sun shines and has the ability to do so in style. Maulana also has the rare skill of successfully riding two boats at the same time. He got a unique opportunity of exhibiting his talents in the previous regime when he was the leader of the opposition and general secretary of the now almost defunct MMA. We all remember with admiration that how skillfully he managed to keep the opposition and the government satisfied with his performance. Though I have to admit that some of his somersaults left his allies exasperated and frustrated, yet I have to point out that such maneuvers contributed significantly in brining stability to the ‘real democracy’ introduced by another gem of our shining history; Gen Pervaiz Musharaf. If Maulna had not been there to play his role, the ‘real democracy’ would have received a great setback when majority of the members of NWFP assembly would have resigned and made it difficult for the General to get re-elected and serve the country further. But thank God, maulana once again single handedly stopped that tragedy from happening.

Before that he and his allied parties had already left their golden mark in the constitutional history of Pakistan by supporting the 17th amendment which is best amendment ever to have been introduced in the constitution of Pakistan. Only the 8th amendment introduced by another faithful servant of the country Gen Zia can match 17th amendment in its far reaching consequences.  But unfortunately some shortsighted politicians had managed the get that great piece removed from constitution. As always, it was maulana who helped in making amends for the past mistakes and brought back the 8th amendment in the form 17th amendment albeit in more refined form. In fact the passing of 17th amendment is a diamond in the crown of political achievements of maulana and his allies of MMA.

There are some cynics, who claim that such moves by maulana damaged the credibility of the religious parties in Pakistan and also blame him for the early demise of MMA. But I must tell them that great vision and political wisdom of Qazi Hussain is also to be appreciated along with the political pragmatism of maulana for expediting the journey of MMA towards extinction. As far as the credibility of religious parties is concerned, what credibility they had before maulana that he damaged. In fact if this was the case, the party of maulana would not have once again won so many seats. On the contrary those parties and leaders, who were safeguarding their credibility, are once again on the streets waiting for the next elections. In the coming months all of us would see the efforts of maulana for the liberation of Kashmir as Chairman Kashmir Committee. This portfolio has once again been given to maulana because of his great understanding of Kashmir issue and the support which he always extended to Kashmiris and not as a result of any bargain.

In my opinion, we should all request the maulana to open an institute of politics and to give lectures to all budding leaders on ways and means of enjoying both the worlds. After all he is the only person, who has the ability to lead the opposition and court the government at the same time. If we want to remain where we are now, we are going to need more people like him.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

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.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why Don’t I leave this country and Who is stopping me!

My Prime Minister has asked me to leave the country and has informed me that nobody will stop me. Mr. prime Minister I want to tell you that:
One, I am not leaving this country and I am not going anywhere, because it belongs to me not to you. I am not a new comer in the area. I have been living her for thousands of years. My Father, grandfather and ancestors are buried here. And nobody has the right to tell me to leave this area. God forbid even if Pakistan disintegrates and disappears, I shall still be living here after hundreds of years in the form of my offspring. I am a son of this soil. Me elders have cultivated this land for thousands of years and we have developed a bond and relationship with the land, We were bonded with this land when it was called India, we are bonded to this land when this is being called Pakistan and we shall be bonded with this land when God forbid it will be called by some other name. It is a relationship beyond arbitrary names and slogans. And since I am living here, I have all the rights to demand that I should be given all the facilities which all the human beings are entitled to. Even if this area was included in India, I would have demanded the same. Because this is my human right which all the states need to respect, protect and fulfill.
Secondly, I can’t leave because thanks to your rotten and corrupt governance and policies, the green passport is hated and ridiculed all over the world. I am not welcome anywhere. You have deprived me of all my respect and honor which I previously enjoyed. People of the world used to treat me as one of them, but now they look upon me as some monster and alien. I am hated Mr. Prime Minster because of you and your policies. I am isolated in this world. Not to talk of my going anywhere, nobody is willing to come here to play a cricket match with me. How do you expect me to go away?
So Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much for your advice, but I would appreciate if you could do the same yourself and yes, I assure you that nobody will stop you. In fact we shall distribute sweets when we shall see your ass going way from here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Making Family Planning Work in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a country ravaged by decades of war, internal conflict and strife. It is only in the last few years that a democratically elected government has been able to bring some semblance of stability in the different part of the country, though the situation still remains highly volatile.  The country is getting a lot of support from international community for the rebuilding of the infrastructure and systems which have been almost wiped out by continuous war like situation.
Though Afghanistan is going through a phase of rebuilding and restructuring, yet she still faces huge challenges in providing essential services to its citizens. These difficulties are caused by factors such as geographical remoteness, civil instability, the over-centralization of government, a lack of infrastructure such as transportation systems, and a lack of government resources, among others[1].
All the above mentioned problems have severely hampered the development process which almost stood still form many years in the past and started afresh only recently. The effects are manifest in the population statistics which are a real cause of concern for the development planners in Afghanistan. Using estimates derived from a number of recent surveys, the UN estimates the current Total Fertility Rate (TFR) at 6.6 children per woman and the U.S. Census Bureau estimates 5.7. Not only do these TFRs, as high as they are, represent quite a decline from the past, but the onset of decline has been quite recent. The real question now is: what about the country's demographic future? The UN has quantified the effect of such high TFRs in its constant-fertility projection. If the TFR remains at 6.6, by 2050 the country's population would reach 111 million and be growing at 3.6 percent per year, a rate that would double a population in 19 years[2].
Keeping in view the scarce resources and not so good economic condition, the Afghan government needs to strengthen the family planning and population planning programs in the country in order to check the alarming trends in population increase. However this a challenge as there are many obstacles in way of population planning programs because of typical socio-cultural and traditional tribal set up in Afghanistan. These challenges can only be overcome by bringing together all stakeholders on single platform.
Afghanistan can learn a lot from the other Muslims countries of Asia like Iran, Indonesia and Malaysia who have highly successful FP programs and have succeeded in overcoming the challenges caused by traditional and conservative interpretation of religion. In all these countries governments  initiated dialogues with religious scholars and convince them to look for reinterpretation of religion in the light of the changing requirements of modern times. Regular interaction of Afghan religious scholars with religious scholars of the above mentioned countries can be a right step in this direction. This interaction can be very helpful Afghan religious scholars and would help in overcoming the resistance which is mostly caused by narrow and traditional interpretation.
NGOs are also an important stakeholder and can play a very important role increasing effectiveness and efficiency of the family planning programs in the country due to their unique advantages. In all South Asian countries and similarly in neighboring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and India, NGOs have emerged as alternate providers of public services, particularly within poor and rural communities.
Many lessons can be learnt from the neighboring country of Pakistan, which has successfully involved NGOs in the family programs to enhance the reach, quality and effectiveness of the service delivery. Pakistan is also similar to Afghanistan in many respects as both countries share similar socio-cultural background, traditions and the recent history of conflict. Though Pakistan has an area slightly bigger that Afghanistan and contains a population nearly six times the size Afghan population yet the challenges faced by both the countries are very similar. Many Pakistanis do not have access to government services, due different factors including geographical remoteness, lack of resources, lack of capacity in public sector and an ongoing conflict situation in northern areas of Pakistan. So the role of NGOs has increased manifold which have stepped up to fill the gap. NGOs have emerged as alternate providers of public services, particularly within poor, rural and hard to reach communities. The role of NGOs in provision of family planning services is even more prominent as NGOs have been involved in the family planning program since the beginning.
In Pakistan the early programs on family planning were started in late 1950s and early 60s. Provision of family planning services was started through setting up of FPAP which today in one of the largest organizations working in the sector of family planning[3]. NGOs have played a pioneering role in establishing family planning in all countries of South Asia and in setting the reproductive health agenda. NGOs have provided important clinical services, including contraceptive surgery. Apart from service delivery, there has been a considerable role for NGOs and CBOs in advocacy, BCC and community mobilization, where they have advantages. They have also been used as agents of information and advocacy to support the national program.  Some other roles of NGOs also include: ensuring quality of services being delivered, community mobilization, social Marketing and facilitators of Family planning education, training and linkages development.  
NGOs and civil society organizations have many advantages over the public and private sector which can contribute in enhancing effectiveness, efficiency and reach of the FP program. The foremost advantage which the NGOs and CSOs enjoy is their capacity to work at the grassroots level at very low costs. Since most of the NGOs have strong community linkages and presence, therefore they find it much easier to work at the community level and to overcome barriers and resistance which is often faced by public or private sector. Moreover, they often operate without a lot of overheads which keeps their cost very low which is a very important factor in resource constraint situations.
The slightly informal structure of NGOs gives them a flexibility which the public sector often lacks and which is of utmost importance in socially and culturally sensitive programs. They can adopt and review their program according to the changing ground realities. They do not have to go through the bureaucratic channels to review and redesign their program to meet the needs of community. This reduces the time required for taking necessary decisions and for taking prompt actions when required. Since most of the NGOs have to report back to donors and government and go through the rigorous audits conducted by donors and governments, they have to maintain high levels of transparency and accountability which is another argument for employing NGOs in FP programs. Of course, there have been studies and researches which prove that NGOs have proved more effective in implementing FP program because of higher quality of services, high rates of success, better outcomes, presence of more female workers and their capacity to scale up when pilots have proved successful[4].
However this does not mean that there are no disadvantages or challenges while working with NGO. There are several challenges which should be considered before going ahead with the decision. It is a common issue that most CSOs and NGOs have limited resources and sustainability problems, and do not have the capacity to locally raise funds for themselves. There exists a certain amount of distrust for NGOs among stakeholders due to the religious and cultural norms and they are often seen as working on foreign agenda which leads to unfavorable working environment for NGOs. NGO have also been criticized for their heavy reliance upon donors and sustainability issues of the projects. NGOs have also suffered in recent times because of the shifting trends of donor funding and lack of focus on FP. In the last decade or so the funding for FP program has declined considerably which has adversely affected the effectiveness or FP program and has resulted in stagnant indicators like unmet need and CPR.
Despite the above mentioned disadvantages and drawbacks, NGO remain the most important stakeholders in FP and population planning programs. No FP program can succeed without active and meaningful participation and support of NGOs in Afghanistan or for that matter anywhere else. This fact has been proven time and again through many studies. Learning from the experience of Paksitan with similar challenges and factors can be very helpful for the success of FP program in Afghanistan. This can be done through exchange visits, brining technical expertise from region or through involving NGOs from other countries of the region for capacity building of NGOs and civil society organizations in Afghanistan. 

[1] (Evaluating NGO Service Delivery in South Asia: Lessons for Afghanistan: Laura Antuono, Chris Meeks Melissa Kay Miller, Jean Rene Watchou, Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2006)
[4] Evaluating NGO Service Delivery in South Asia: Lessons for Afghanistan; Laura Antuono, Chris Meeks, Melissa Kay Miller, Jean Rene Watchou, Prepared for Workshop in Public Affairs, International Issues Public Affairs, 2006

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dark Ages of Islam

There is nothing of interest on political scene to discuss today. So let’s discuss some matters of far more importance than these trivial routine matters. Instead of discussing what, let me focus today on why.  Why are we averse to listening, let alone tolerating, any voice of reason today? Why are such brutalities being committed and endorsed in the name of a religion which once proclaimed to be the religion of peace and harmony? Anybody with a different view is either eliminated like Taseer or is forced to run away like Ghamdi. People are beheaded and the acts are videotaped and widely circulated. Religious scholars endorse suicide attacks through their abject silence and common people glorify terrorists like Usma and Fazal Ullah.
When you look closely, you will find uncanny similarities in what is being done today in the name of Islam and what was once done during Inquisition in the name of Christianity. The term Inquisition refers to a number of historical expurgation movements against heresy (orchestrated by some groups/individuals within the Catholic Church or within a Catholic state). This period also coincides somewhat with the dark ages. Heresy was suppressed by Catholic Church even before 12th century but the use of torture and executions was not common. But around 12 century the trend changed and due to some decrees of Church. It started and era or utter brutalities, which continued for many centuries and cost numerous innocent peoples their lives. This went on for three centuries till 15th century. By the end of period, only thing which had been achieved by the church was to considerably weaken the grip of religion on the lives of people. People had got so fed up with religion that Christianity could never gain the same hold on the lives of people again and religion become almost a non operative part of the lives of the people.
The same is happening today in Pakistan in the name of Islam. Every effort is being made to curb the fresh ideas and thoughts in the name of fighting heresy. Anyone with different opinion or thought is either eliminated or harassed. And all is being done to maintain the sanctity and purity of original Islam thought. I am afraid that results are also going to be the same. If we continue in this vain, after some time, I am afraid, we will also succeed in making Islam irrelevant for modern world. Another stark reality is that Islam today is more or less of the same age as Christianity during age of inquisition. Does it mean that religions also go through the same life cycles? The are born, rise, decline and in the become irrelevant? 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Diary of a disgruntled Pakistani

19th January 2012
Media had gone berserk over the appearance of Prime Minister in the Supreme Court in contempt case.  Some had great hopes that PM will be dislodged through disqualification and government will plunge into crises. But the hopes begin to dampen when Barrister Aitizaz was requested to represent PM in the court. In desperation some even started blaming Aitizaz for doing a double face and changing his earlier stance. Well today PM with his advocate appeared in the court. Couldn’t have asked for a better anticlimax! The defendants reiterated their commitment to respecting the decisions of the court. The judges appreciated the act of PM in appearing before the court and after some time next date for hearing was given and all the buzz fizzled out.
Hardly has anyone paid attention to the fact that case has nothing to do with upholding the principle of supremacy of law in the country. It can better be viewed as a turf war. Another institution is trying to assert that it is also a stakeholder in the power game. Once that is established, all will be well in the country.
Another thing getting lost in the chaos is the fact that how successfully PPP government has diverted the discussion from the tales of its corruption to the civil military relationship and the supremacy in the parliament.
Now that Supreme Court has asserted itself and its authority and PM has humbly presented himself to the court, be rest assured that matter will slowly dissipate like many others or buried under thousands of other cases awaiting attention from the honorable court.