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Archive for August, 2011

Prayers for Shahbaz Taseer

Image via Express

This morning I woke up to news that Shahbaz Taseer, son of Salmaan Taseer, the Punjab Governor who was assassinated back in January, was kidnapped in Lahore. According to the Guardian,

Taseer, 27, was on his way to work at around 10.30am (0630 BST) when he was taken at a busy junction in Gulberg, the most upmarket part of the city. The kidnappers have not been identified but there are fears that jihadists are involved.

Eyewitnesses told media outlets that four men on motorbikes reportedly intercepted Taseer while he was in his car, “and took him to a nearby street before kidnapping him.” Dawn cited Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, who said he had been provided an official security detail in addition to the private guards he kept, but that he was without security at the time of the incident. As police are reviewing any CCTV footage, the Express Tribune reported, “One of the guards posted with Shahbaz Taseer was taken into custody and had his weapon seized when police questioned him and he revealed another guard was on leave. He had not left the house with Taseer but had later been told to go to the office.”

After reading the news and seeing numerous Facebook updates from friends who know Shahbaz and his family more closely than I do, it would be an understatement to say I feel sick to my stomach. My prayers go out for Shahbaz’s safe return and for the safety of his entire family. The Taseer family, first with the late Salmaan Taseer, and now his children (Shehrbano especially) are symbols and role models of the bravery and courage that this country should display in the face of those who wish to do it harm. I read a brilliant blog post by Acumen Fellow Bryan Ferris yesterday, who, after spending the past 10 months in Lahore working for Acumen investee Ansaar Management Company, wrote,

Pakistan is not a country of terrorists, but rather a country afflicted by terrorists.

Although the perpetrators of today’s kidnapping have not yet been confirmed, we know that whoever committed this act are not Pakistanis. They are not Muslims. They are not human beings. They reek of the rot and decay that plague this society, that people like the Taseers have had the courage to challenge and stand against. I’ll update this space as news comes in and send thoughts and prayers to his family for Shahbaz’s safe return.

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Source: Associated Press

In India, Anna Hazare has sparked a movement. The 74 year old who the NY Times noted evokes a Gandhian simplicity, “has emerged as the unlikely face of an impassioned people’s movement in India, a public outpouring that has coalesced around fighting corruption but has also tapped into deeper anxieties in a society buffeted by change.” This past Tuesday, Hazare was arrested while he was on his way to a New Delhi park to begin a hunger strike to protest corruption in the country. The arrest drove hundreds of people to the streets, and though government officials moved to release him hours later, Hazare refused to leave until they agreed to release him unconditionally.

The Times quoted one rally attendee, who said, “It is the middle class who is worst affected by corruption. The upper class is not affected. The upper classes can get what they need by paying money.”

Hazare’s hunger strike hasn’t just inspired Indians, though. According to news agencies on Thursday, a Pakistani activist has decided to launch his own hunger strike against corruption in Pakistan. However, since the whole country is in fact hungry (*cough* fasting *cough*), Jahangir Akhtar has stated he will wait until the end of Ramazan to launch this protest. Good thinking, Akhtar. The political activist also emphasized that he wasn’t “inspired” by his Indian counterpart. Oh no. He decided to launch the strike first. Hazare just stole the spotlight. Akhtar told media outlets, “I announced my hunger strike before Anna Hazare, but due to Ramazan I postponed it, because our custom in Pakistan is that I cannot take water during Ramazan.” Ok.

I do not mean to be facetious. I actually admire people who use hunger strikes for the greater good. When I am hungry, I turn into a terrible, mean person. In fact, Hungry Kalsoom would actually scare any government official into throwing scraps of food in my direction, fearful of the monster that was unleashed. But as I read news of Akhtar taking up the hunger-strike-against-corruption banner Thursday, I question whether such a cause would resonate in Pakistan, at least to the extent that we saw with Hazare in India. Tom Wright noted in the Wall Street Journal,

Many Pakistanis, like their Indian neighbors, are tired of financial malfeasance from their politicians, armed forces and others. Yet civil society is much weaker over the border, and street protests other than those organized by Islamist parties are relatively rare. Mr. Akhtar’s quixotic campaign for now appears unlikely to garner much support.

While I disagree that civil society is necessarily weaker, (you have to spend a day in the same room with some of Pakistan’s most vibrant female activists to get my drift), I do think that issues in Pakistan are much deeper and bigger than corruption, at least for right now. Fatigue has seeped into the very fabric of our society. It’s not a question of Pakistanis protesting, but what they should be protesting first.

Via Twitter, a really interesting conversation developed on this very topic. @umairjav (who blogs at Recycled Thought) noted, “I still hold that it’s NOT as big an issue as the media makes it out to be…The world is full of examples of countries that experienced high rates of economic growth despite rampant corruption.” @FiveRupees (who blogs at…Five Rupees) further emphasized, “Overblown issue IMO[in my opinion]. Much bigger issues out there…When people look at “Asian tigers” (Korea, Taiwan, SE Asia etc) — they all went from poor to rich despite corruption.” @vijaygk made an important point when he tweeted, “Major difference is that hunger strikes, reminiscent of Gandhi/Satyagraha are not respected/invoke no memories in Pakistan…” Finally, @laalshah, countered, “I saw data collected by a friend recently; [Pakistan's] middle-class is as agitated as India’s by corruption issues…[the] corruption debate is basically disguised form of social inequality fears/concerns.”

The issue of perception is key here. Last year, Transparency International released their 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the degree to which public sector corruption is perceived to exist in 178 countries around the world. Corruption, according to TI, is defined “as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain,” encompassing practices in both the public and private sectors. The CPI scores countries on a scale from 10 (very clean) to 0 (highly corrupt). On the 2010 index, India ranked 87 out of 178 surveyed countries (the higher the number, the more corrupt you are). Pakistan ranked 143rd.

Last year I wrote about the perceptions behind the Perceptions Index, noting: The interesting part of the index is that it quantifies perceived corruption rather than the tangible occurrence of corrupt practices. According to Transparency International, this is “because corruption – whether frequency or amount – is to a great extent a hidden activity that is difficult to measure.” The organization added in its report, “Measuring scandals, investigations or prosecutions, while offering ‘non-perception’ data, reflect less on the prevalence of corruption in a country and more on other  factors, such as freedom of the press or the efficiency of the judicial system.”

Although the CPI doesn’t measure citizen perceptions of corruption, TI’s Robin Hodess noted there is a close correlation between public attitudes (measured by their Global Corruption Barometer) and the index. For the purpose of Pakistan, I went back to the most recent Pew poll released in July [it should be noted that this wasn't some scientific comparison]. According to the poll, 74% of Pakistanis polled say corrupt political leaders “are a very big problem,” compared to 71% last year, 64% in 2007, and 58% in 2002.

This past year, I participated in a working group on Entrepreneurship in the “Islamic World” during the U.S.-Islamic World Forum. One attendee, a Tanzanian businessman, discussed how the issue of corruption – specifically petty corruption (low-level, small-scale practices), was so intrinsically part of these societies that organizations incorporate them into the realities of doing business – terming them “transaction costs.” This is obviously unfortunate, but that reality will not change until the attitudes associated with corruption are addressed. And there have been concerted attempts – the Punjab Model for Proactive Governance is a recent initiative by the Punjab Chief Minister’s Secretariat “to fight petty corruption, improve service delivery, and facilitate citizen engagement by proactively seeking through SMS and calls feedback of citizens who receive day-to-day government services.” Introducing accountability is key; but corruption is not just a low-level phenomenon. But as the aforementioned Twitter people noted, is corruption itself a hindrance to the progress of this society, or do we have much bigger issues to tackle first? And, as a result, will that be why we will not see a Hazare movement in Pakistan?

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Via mydiaryblogsite.blogpost.com

Happy Independence Day, Pakistan! 64 years after this country was born, and we face numerous obstacles & challenges (understatement of the year?). And yet, for those of us who continue to work tirelessly for the betterment of Pakistan, hope has waned but it is not lost. At least, anyway, for me. Below, Aamer Arshad, who works in energy finance in the U.S. but was born-and-raised in Karachi, shares his thoughts on this day:

This past Sunday marked 64 years since the creation of Pakistan through the vision and dedication of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Having lived in America for over a decade now and visiting Pakistan regularly, I find myself drawing parallels between my two nations. I was born and raised in Pakistan, but I married and settled in America. Living in relative calm here in my new nation, I ache for those left behind in the panic-stricken being that is life in Pakistan. Reading the news of both countries each morning, I find both disheartening. But the stark parallel is ‘to what extreme?’

A word that has become mantra in Pakistan is “desensitized”. Apparently, we are no longer sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. I am told we do not feel any remorse when we see carnage ripping through our cities. They say we are accustomed to the blood that spatters our paths. Some blame the media for lambasting us with horrific scenes of butchery. Others say we are ravenous for the macabre. A guilty pleasure?

I disagree. I have spent time with Pakistanis from all walks of life. There are the haves and the have-nots, those that have-way-too-much, and those who have-nothing-at-all. These people walk very different paths and their paths drift further by the day. They are on opposite sides of the ideological divide that rips Jinnah’s Pakistan apart. But they have in common their propensity to feel. We need to show that we feel. We need outrage to engulf us every time we see the innocent massacred. We need our voices to become the wrath against this sadistic pastime. If, in fact, we are desensitized to everything that is transpiring around us, we need to change this now.

In America, seldom do we see grisly images on T.V. without a disclaimer advising viewer discretion. It is no surprise that Americans seem to be deeply affected by tragedy or misfortune. Memorials abound of calamity that happened eons ago. Vigils take place on the anniversary of each life lost. Moments of silence occur often enough to make it a quiet day. It is this remembrance of what is wrong that gives Americans the will to make it right. We need the same in Pakistan.

It is this rejection of injustice that will be our shield. It is the memory of bloodshed- that will be our sword. And it is the intolerance of brutality that will be our mandate to act against the senseless butchery that plagues our nation. We need to keep ourselves and our youth from being inundated with the godless mess that flashes across our screens every day. Those who say this is how we face reality – tell them that they are desensitizing themselves and their future generations. Pakistanis to come should be outraged by the mere mention of injustice; our memories should serve as their barrier against wrong; and they should be riled by abuse, as their American cousins will be.

I hear that Pakistan will never change. The ordinary wisdom is that our leaders will remain of the same cadre and demographic for ever. People say a common man can never be at the helm of Pakistan. This may be true today. But one of our strengths as Pakistanis is fast becoming our weakness; our capacity to endure calamity and persevere; our nonchalance towards the injustice that we face. We must not turn the other cheek. We must learn to feel cheated, robbed and raped. We must stand against the violation of our human and civic rights. And we must bring about change.

Just over 70 years after American Independence, this nation fought a bloody civil war that changed its face forever. Pakistan is still a very young nation. Let us change our posture before we instigate a war that will bring about our ruin. There are very few people who can single-handedly change the course of a nation. Let us focus our efforts to the future and give rise to a generation that will remember our struggles and never bow in the face of oppression.

Yom-e-Istaqlal Mubarak!

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Via AfPak/FP

For those of us on the outside looking in, Karachi’s violence seems exceedingly complex. I’m often left perpetually confused. But last October, journalist Huma Yusuf told me that the mechanics of the conflict are often the same - ethnically driven conflict over turf and power in the city. As we continue to delve into the underlying causes of each upsurge in violence, we observe this same pattern in different iterations. In a modest effort to break down the most recent conflict, in which more than 700 have been killed so far, 200 in the last month alone, I give you Karachi Violence FAQs Part III (Click here to see Part I, and here to see Part II).

FAQ: Who are the main parties in this conflict and how did it escalate out of control?

In Karachi Violence 101, which I wrote back in January 2010 [Note: this is by no means a comprehensive treatment of the violence over the past year, just a summary of what we've covered on CHUP], the main players in the conflict were workers or gang members associated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the political party which controls Karachi, and the Pakistan People’s Party, (PPP), who were then vying for control over land. Violence at the time was concentrated in Lyari Town in Karachi.

In October 2010, (see Karachi Violence 102) – tensions between the MQM and the Awami National Party (ANP) had spilled over in part because of the assassination of MQM’s Raza Haider and the subsequent by-election to replace his then-vacant seat. Violence and tensions were then concentrated in Orangi Town, one of Karachi’s largest and poorest slums, where the MQM had held the provincial seat since 1988 but where it was also considered the “tensest district divided between Mohajirs and Pathans,” noted Yusuf. So, again. Turf/Power = Violence [simplistic version].

In the most recent conflict, violence erupted after the murder of an ANP activist triggered an all-out war between the party and the MQM, noted Shaheryar Mirza in Caravan Magazine‘s “Karachi’s Turf Wars” (a must-read). The killings were once again first concentrated in Orangi, and became so escalated that media outlets called July, “the deadliest month in almost two decades.” (Although some sources claim the number was more than 200 killed, other outlets say it was upwards of 300.) On Tuesday, news agencies reported that in 24 hours, 26 people were killed, of which 18 were victims of targeted killings.

FAQ: So the violence this time around is between the MQM and the ANP, but where does the PPP stand in the conflict?

As with many of Karachi’s past escalations in violence, all three parties in the PPP-MQM-ANP trifecta appear to have some role in each iteration of the cycle. Last month, Sindh Minster and PPP member Zulfiqar Mirza caused an uproar after he made provocative remarks against the MQM’s Altaf Hussain, calling the leader of a breakaway MQM [MQM(H)], “the true leader of the Muhajirs” while accusing the main MQM of trying to divide Sindh. He further stated, “I call upon the people of Karachi and Hyderabad to get rid of these lowlifes.” The Express Tribune reported, “Mirza’s rant sparked an almost instant outburst of violent protests throughout Karachi, with aerial gunfire heard in nearly every part of the city.”

But wait. There’s more on the PPP dynamic in this conflict.

During a brief period between June and July, Sindh’s “longest-serving” Governor Ishratul Ibad resigned from office, after the MQM pulled out of the ruling coalition in protest over the postponement of elections of two Karachi seats in the Azad Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly.  In the Friday Times, Ali K. Chishti wrote,

During the brief period in which the Sindh governor was away, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) undid the Local Governments Ordinance of 2001 and revived the 1979 Local Bodies Ordinance, restoring the magistrate system to manage the districts through commissioners and deputy commissioners.

Chishti added, “The PPP, which represents rural Sindh, wants to consolidate its position in the cities against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which represents urban Sindh.” Fellow blogger Umair Javed, on the tense MQM-PPP dynamic, wrote, “Those of you who’ve been following PPP-MQM relations over the last few years would know that agreeing on a time line for local government elections has remained a major thorn for the coalition,” [read the rest of his post to learn more].

So, incendiary remarks by a PPP member (though other party members distanced themselves immediately), and tensions surrounding the local government issue – both factors that make the conflict all the more exacerbated and intense. In regard to the current violence, the ruling party – the PPP – have  been watching from the sidelines this increasing breakdown of law and order. Bilal Baloch wrote last month for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel,

The dilemma is thus: How should the government respond effectively and objectively to the violence when it is the very political actors tasked with governing and solving Karachi’s problems that are themselves protagonists of the quagmire? When the workers and supporters of the MQM and ANP… are slaughtering one another, who should the ruling partner PPP, crack down on? They could move against the ANP, but this would effectively lead their government to collapse. Perhaps the government could use their iron fists against the MQM, but battering this powerful party, long the overlords of Karachi, traditionally results in political suicide.

Just this past week, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters, “We will take every possible action to restore peace in Karachi,” adding that results of the government’s action will be visible soon. In the meantime, calls for peace by the government and political parties have so far fallen on deaf ears. Finally, on Tuesday, the Pakistani government “authorized paramilitary forces to conduct raids in some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods to try to restore order,” reported the NY Times.

FAQ: Calling in the [paramilitary] troops? What does that mean, exactly?

This is not the first time the government has called in the Rangers to curb the violence, nor is it the first time that the political parties involved in the conflict have asked for these forces to be deployed, [Ahsan from Five Rupees questions how the MQM could even do that in this post]. Back in January 2010, a journalist source told me, “The rangers that have been sent in with the police won’t make much of a difference, particularly since the police is politicized and doesn’t come under the jurisdiction of the city government. Dawn‘s Huma Yusuf noted last year, “…the MQM’s request for the Rangers, the army and intelligence agencies to maintain law and order in the city is akin to slapping a band-aid on a deep, infected wound.”

Interesting how history repeats itself, don’t you think? Or how I can cite analysis and statements made a year and a half ago during a different iteration of the violence and it still holds true today?

In terms of the role of the police in the situation, Baloch wrote in another AfPak piece this week, “Yet it is not the police themselves who are entirely to blame for the breakdown of law and order, but rather a system whereby politicians are able to use the police according to their whims…A revolution in police affairs needs to take place with regards to the relationship between the police and the province’s politicians.”

All of this further emphasizes how violence continues to be used as a political tool for intimidation and power. Mirza noted in the aforementioned Caravan piece how both parties take advantage of this, but the MQM tends to have the upper hand, particularly since they are more media savvy than their counterparts and can therefore demonize the other side more aptly.

FAQ: Amid the escalating violence, is there a potential solution?

So far, we have seen temporary solutions to a very endemic problem, a problem that is far too complex to be linear, far too brutal to be easily forgotten. The call for the Army and Rangers may quell the violence temporarily, but it is only a matter of time before Karachi erupts once again. A truce among the parties may also soon occur, but this also appears to be a short-term concession rather than a long-term solution.

On Monday, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan urged in a statement, “While gangs of land-grabbers and mafias have tried to exploit the breakdown of law and order…they do not appear to be the main directors of the horrible game of death and destruction; that distinction belongs to more powerful political groups, and it is they who hold the key to peace.”

As Karachi continues to burn, Shaheryar Mirza noted poignantly, “Land is priceless in this growing metropolis, but lives have become increasingly worthless.”

Here’s praying for you, Karachi. 

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