Monday, November 26, 2007
Mishra continues to be one of the most thoughtful literary and journalistic voices in contemporary India. I enjoyed reading a detailed interview with him in "The Believer" magazine. (Thanks to Amitava Kumar's blog).
"--- but I think the reporter or journalist is well served by having a responsibility to the powerless, to use a much-abused cliché. The voice of the powerless is in some danger of not being heard in the elite discourses we now have in the mainstream media. This is something that I’ve learned late. Obviously, I write for a very elite audience, but is there something else that I’m also responsible to? People who write about issues like poverty or terrorism are a part of the elite, and the distance between the elite and nonelite is growing very fast. You can move around the world but meet only people who speak your language, who share the same ideas, the same beliefs, and in doing so you can lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of the world does not think or believe in or speak the everyday discourse of the elite. Yet their lives are being shaped by these elites, by people like us. I don’t mean this in a pompous way, but we have a responsibility to articulate their sense of suffering."
"--- some of my students seem to want to be able to write without actually reading, which seems utterly bizarre. When I assign certain readings, they often say, “I can’t relate to this,” which means whatever story we’re reading is so far outside of their experience—which tends to be limited—that they will not make the effort to understand what it is about. I find this a crippling attitude to have toward literature, toward history, toward all sorts of things.
Some of my students don’t have a sense of whether their writing is any good or not. They think it’s good just because it comes out of them and it’s a part of their being. To criticize their writing is to criticize them in some profound way. It’s as if they’ve been taught far too much self-confidence—and maybe not much else."
Sunday, November 25, 2007
As he fights to hold on to power, General Musharraf finds himself opposed by the expanded middle class that is among his greatest achievements, and using his emergency powers to rein in another major advance he set in motion, a vibrant, independent news media.
Since he took power, Pakistan’s gross domestic product has doubled. The number of cellphones has soared to 50 million, from 600,000 six years ago. The privatization of banks has led to a huge increase in the sales of cars, motorcycles and, perhaps most important, television sets. Globalization has taken hold, as it has in other countries.
That spreading economic success — and exposure to the outside world — has filled Pakistan’s white collar office workers, stockbrokers and small-business operators with a belief that their country can be more than the backward fief of a few generals, many said in interviews.
For decades, Pakistan’s moderate elite has been dismissed as “the chattering classes,” who have shied away from the political arena and rarely voted.
Instead the political system has been dominated by feudal landlords who could deliver huge blocks of votes from poor tenant farmers. The key to winning elections was striking the right alliances and spreading graft, not developing a coherent political platform or putting in place broadly beneficial social policies.
Yet the country is slowly changing, in ways that have left a growing number arguing that Pakistan is more prepared than ever for democratic rule.
This spring, the middle class vigorously supported a successful campaign by the country’s lawyers to reverse an attempt by General Musharraf to dismiss the country’s chief justice.
For now, greater mobilization is hobbled by a deep distrust of their political leaders and the United States. A perception is growing that the United States will betray middle-class Pakistanis — Washington’s greatest long-term ally in the fight against terrorism — and continue backing an unpopular military ruler who refuses to give up power.
Many said they believed that General Musharraf had tried to contain — but not eliminate — a dangerous rise in militancy in the country because it allowed him to garner billions in American military aid for Pakistan’s army.
Friday, November 23, 2007
I finally responded to a friend on why this view is wrong-headed and an incorrect framing of the issues. I have decided to share that response more widely given its potential relevance to a broader group(purging any personal details and after minor editing).
An Open e-mail:
The question of "sincerity" is wholly irrelevant to any discussion of Pakistan's political crisis. I have no idea whether Musharraf, Nawaz, Benazir, Imran or anyone else is sincere or genuinely cares about a better Pakistan. I can claim no special insight for looking into people's hearts to divine their 'true' intentions. The only things that I am able to base my judgments on are observable actions and outcomes geared towards the goals that I embrace. If the actions further these goals then I am supportive of those actions, if not I oppose them. If on balance individual leaders do more to advance these goals than to retard them compared with other political actors then they have my support.
Based on my view above, the fundamental question therefore is this: What are the goals and principles that we support and how is any individual leader measuring up in helping achieve these goals? The goals we should support include first and foremost, the strengthening of civilian state institutions and clear progress toward a rule of law based constitutional democracy ( i.e. an independent judiciary, right of people to elect and throw out their governments via a constitutional process, civilian supremacy over the armed forces and intelligence agencies), growth oriented economic policies with sustained social investments in basic education and health and a free and independent media.
How do I judge Musharraf on performing to these goals? A C- before November 3rd and an F after the second Martial Law. Since November 3rd, Musharraf has showed complete willingness to destroy every last vestige of independent Pakistani institutions for perpetuation of personal power, backed by the barrel of the gun. Even actions he was given credit for prior to November 3rd, such as support of a free media, have seen a complete reversal now when the media has refused to play his tune. Macroeconomic growth (without much trickle down, however) is the only silver lining of his 8 year autocracy but it has come at the price of institutional destruction, deep internal political instability, alarming rise in extremism and persistent US interference in all facets of Pakistan's governance to the point where the US Ambassador is a virtual Viceroy meeting government officials, political leaders, election commission officials and media organizations in trying to rescue a "failed state with nukes".
Musharraf equates his own personal interest with the national interest. National interest cannot be determined by an individual or the military. It can only be arrived at with the people's consent and with institutional checks and balances on the behavior of all political actors, including the military. He has been solely incharge for 8 years as a COAS and President with a rubber stamp parliament since 2002 but what greater measure of his failure to build any stable institutional structure that he still had to decapitate his own system by overthrowing the independent judiciary, shutting down the electronic media and locking up most of moderate civil society all while falsely claiming to have done this in the name of fighting terrorism. Are we supposed to take his word that he is sincere after his rigging a referendum, rigging 2002 elections, breaking promises to take his uniform off twice, letting the most corrupt politicians and feudals off the hook as long as they joined PMLQ or were willing to support him (BB recently, MQM since the beginning) and now unleashing despotic and illegal acts since November 3rd? How is this persistent pattern of tyrannical actions and political corruption consistent with the advance of institutions and a "true democracy"? After eight years of misrule, should we continue to wait for General Musharraf indefinitely to prove his sincerity despite accumulated piles of evidence to the contrary.
As part of Pakistan's educated class, I urge you to support principled positions rooted in institutions not individual saviors however well meaning. Choose long term goals over short termism and don't be easily seduced by facile arguments in favor of the rotten status quo in the name of pragmatism. Join the forces and build the capabilities of the developing Pakistani civil society that will provide a more robust check in the future to all errant rulers. You will see me advocating for the same positions when hopefully the constitution and democracy are restored and military is sent back to the barracks because the long term fight in Pakistan is for institutions and a rule of law based democracy not for individuals, whatever guise they come in. Whoever plays by the rules of the law and constitution deserves support, anybody who doesn't should be opposed. The heroes to look up to in this long term fight are people like Asma Jahangir, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Justice (r) Wajihuddin, Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim, Saeeduzaman Siddiqui and others in civil society who have always been in the forefront of this struggle and who have always paid a steep price for standing up for institutions and principle. This is the only way in which Pakistan has a hope of moving forward and overtime evolving a stable and democratically accountable polity.
Here are some selections:
"Eleven hundred years of history have taught us only two possible relationships to authority, submission and revolt. The idea of peacefully replacing our ruler through a legal process is still a wild, alien thought for us. The powers-that-be are above the law and they're unchangeable by law. Overthrowing them is something we understand. But at the moment, we don't want to. We've had quite enough revolution."
"The members of the political elite are even more profoundly attached than the masses to the idea of the immutable dominance of the powers-that-be, because it is their own position that is in question. But infusing the values of the imperial state into the public mind is only an intermediate goal for the Russian political establishment. The main goal is to entirely eradicate European mechanisms of power transfer in Russia and to consolidate the Byzantine model of succession."
"What should be done if one cannot accept the Byzantine system of power? Retreat into the catacombs? Wait until enough energy for another revolt has been accumulated? Try to hurry along revolt, thereby posing another "orange threat," which Putin and his allies have used, since the 2004 Ukrainian elections, to frighten the people and themselves? Attempt to focus on the demand for honest elections? Carry on painstaking educational work, in order to gradually change citizens' views?
Each person will have to decide in his or her own way. I imagine—with both sorrow and certainty—that the Byzantine system of power has triumphed for the foreseeable future in Russia."
Sunday, November 18, 2007
With that, here are some verses of Faiz's ghazal mentioned above from "Sham-e-Shehr-e-YaaraN" that precipitated this reverie:
Yeh mausam-e-gul garche tarab khez bohat hai
Sunday, November 11, 2007
"Citizens of Islamabad gathered outside Civil Junction to celebrate DIWALI in solidarity with the Honourable Justice Rana Bhagwandas, our courageous 'Prisoner of Conscience' who was forced to celebrate this significant event at home. Thank you, honourable Bhagwandas and the 6 other honourable judges for giving 'hope' to our children. We will always be grateful to you and you will live forever in history."
Friday, November 09, 2007
Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.
Photo Credit: Protest at LUMS(from the NY Times)
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions(Since August 1998)