Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Guest contribution-Will Pakistan go the Middle East way?

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(The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK)

WILL PAKISTAN GO THE MIDDLE EAST WAY?

By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Some of our analysts are drawing a parallel between the ongoing wave for democracy across the Middle East and hoping that Pakistan might follow suit. In fact they are talking of an impending revolution in Pakistan as well.

In doing so, these doomsayers conveniently ignore differences between the political culture of Pakistan and the Middle East. They forget about the long struggle waged by our political forces against military dictators for decades which was missing in the Middle East. Similarly, the unprecedented role of the media and civil society in helping shape political life in Pakistan has not been taken into account.

Without being judgmental in drawing comparisons, we can safely say that today’s Pakistan is way ahead in political development than say during the past one decade or even the political culture which we followed during the nineties.

Pakistan and the taboo of secularism

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graveFor everyone trying to understand the implications of Salman Taseer’s assassination, this essay from 2007 is good place to start (h/t Abu Muqawama).  “The Politics of God” is about why Europe decided, after years of warfare over the correct interpretation of Christianity, to separate church and state.  But it is also relevant to Pakistan, where the killing of the Punjab governor over his opposition to the country’s blasphemy laws has shown that what was left of Pakistani secularism, is, if not dead, at least in intensive care.

Read the opening paragraph to understand why it resonates:

“For more than two centuries, from the American and French Revolutions to the collapse of Soviet Communism, world politics revolved around eminently political problems. War and revolution, class and social justice, race and national identity — these were the questions that divided us. Today, we have progressed to the point where our problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We in the West are disturbed and confused. Though we have our own fundamentalists, we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong.”

Claiming Jinnah’s mantle: Musharraf joins the queue

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jinnah flagThe minute I entered the elegant book-lined club in central London where Pervez Musharraf was about to launch his political career, it was clear who was to dominate the proceedings – Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Quaid-e-Azam, Founder of the Nation, Father of Pakistan. In his trademark peaked Jinnah cap, it was his photo alone which was hanging prominently on the platform where the former military ruler was to speak; and his photo on the little entrance ticket they gave you to get past security.

It was his spirit which was invoked even in the name of Musharraf’s political party — his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) was a deliberate echo of the pre-independence All India Muslim League, through which Jinnah created the state of Pakistan in 1947.

Guest contribution-Pakistan’s conspiracy theories

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floodphoto(The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK)

By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

The world is awash with conspiracy theories. A whole lot of them — some plausible and some implausible — have been listed by Jamie King in the book “Conspiracy Theories”. The book covers the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and a plot to bring down President Bill Clinton. Others refer to the murder of martyred Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto, the doubts about 9-11 as to who did it, and many more.

Fake degrees stir fear of ‘mini mid-term polls’ in Pakistan

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punjab universityPakistani education authorities are verifying university degrees of members of parliament amid fears that scores of them could be disqualified for holding “fake degrees”, leading to “mini mid-term elections” less than three years after general elections were held in the country.

Large scale by-elections could trigger political uncertainty in the country which is presently confronted with growing threat of Islamist militancy and is struggling to bolster a weak economy.

from India Insight:

From across the border, books and bats

This week, while one Pakistani was being questioned by the Indian police and hysterical reporters on an alleged marriage to an Indian, another Pakistani, composed and smiling, fielded questions from an admiring audience on dynasty and politics in the country that every Indian has an opinion on.

Pakistan cricket player Shoaib Malik (R) speaks to the media as tennis player Sania Mirza looks on, in Hyderabad April 5, 2010. REUTERS/Krishnendu HalderThe contrast between Shoaib Malik, who is all set to marry Indian tennis star Sania Mirza, and Fatima Bhutto, writer and niece of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, could not be more glaring. And that is reason to celebrate.

Pakistan’s Sharif seen isolated after ‘U-turn’

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Nawaz SharifFormer Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is used to being Pakistan’s most popular politician, but lately he has become the country’s most criticised.

The government had planned to push through the parliament this month a reform package that would have stripped President Asif Ali Zardari of his sweeping powers,  but that seems unlikely now after Sharif abruptly raised new objections on Thursday. Sharif was the one who loudly and actively campaigned against his arch-rival Zardari.

Punjab minister asks for mercy from Taliban, earns woman’s scorn

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After the chief minister of Pakistan’s biggest province reportedly asked the Taliban to spare his region from attacks, he kicked off an uproar and earned the scorn of a woman member of a provincial parliament, who sarcastically offered him her scarf and said “the women of the frontier province” would protect him.

Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab province, on Sunday said he didn’t understand why the Taliban were targeting the Punjab when his party — the PML-N — and militants alike opposed the policies of former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, who allied with the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Pakistan: Through the eye of a needle

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lawyers celebrateFor the first time in many months, the future of Pakistan is being determined not in the fight against Islamist militants, but within its institutions — its judiciary, its political parties, its government and its military.  Last week’s decision by the Supreme Court to strike down a 2007 amnesty given to politicians and bureaucrats has provided Pakistan with a rare opportunity to remodel itself as a civilian democracy based on the rule of law.  But the way forward is so fraught with difficulties that assessments of its chances of success are at best sober, at worst ominous.

The court decision to strike down the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) affects some 8,000 politicians and bureaucrats on a list of those who had been covered by the amnesty, including the defence and interior ministers.  President Asif Ali Zardari had also been covered by the amnesty, but remains protected by presidential immunity. Such was the upheaval created by the ruling that foreign exchange markets were briefly shaken last week by unfounded rumours of a military coup. The real impact is likely to be more slow-burning.

Pakistan’s political pandemonium

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sharifzardaridubaiA Supreme Court ruling striking down an amnesty given to politicians and officials by former president Pervez Musharraf has created havoc in Pakistani politics.  Among those affected on a list of 8,000 politicians and bureaucrats who were protected by the amnesty are the interior and defence ministers, who are now no longer allowed to leave the country until they clear their names in court.

“Pakistan’s interior minister today found himself in the unusual position of being asked to bar himself from leaving the country,” wrote Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

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