For most of the world’s media, Pakistan’s general election was about terrorism. Candidates were identified according to their attitude towards the Taliban, and labelled as ‘secular’ or ‘conservative’. Little was said about party platforms. Circumstances appeared to justify the focus. There was a savage campaign of intimidation by domestic extremists in the run-up to the vote. More than a hundred people died, most of them members of the outgoing ruling coalition parties. The Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said they were targeted because of their uncompromising attitude towards the Taliban and avowedly secular views. There is some truth to this; but their enthusiastic embrace of the ‘global war on terror’ was a more immediate cause.
Despite the violence, turnout was nearly 60 per cent, the highest in Pakistan’s history. Youth participation was unprecedented. Critics of the ‘war on terror’ roundly defeated its supporters. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which has taken a consistent antiwar position, crushed the ANP in the north-west. The PTI did particularly well in Swat, Dir and the Federally Adminstered Tribal Areas, where most of Pakistan’s counterinsurgency operations and US drone attacks are carried out. Also leery of the war, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) evicted the PPP from Punjab, Pakistan’s richest, most populous and developed province.
Terrorism may be foremost in the minds of Western observers; Pakistanis are more worried about the economy, education and corruption. Opinion polls showed that people’s biggest concerns are inflation and unemployment, as well as power outages and high energy costs, which have stunted economic growth and caused much misery: 20-hour blackouts are not unknown. Not all Pakistanis are exposed to terrorist violence; everyone has to buy bread.
No country has ever been bombed by its own ally, like Pakistan has been bombed by the US, Pakistani politician Imran Khan tells Julian Assange. He says it is time to put an end to the US-Pakistani ‘client-master’ relationship. In the ninth episode of his show, Julian Assange talks to Imran Khan, whose political party was ignored for years and which US State Department cables called “Pakistan’s one-man party.”
Pakistanis are understandably cynical about politics. But during my recent visit I was surprised to find people invigorated with a new found idealism which is enabling a break with politics as usual. At the centre of all these expectations is the person Imran Khan who has been riding on the crest of a human tsunami. In this episode of Al Jazeera’s People & Power, you get to witness some of this new found energy.
Once an international cricket star, Pakistan’s Imran Khan is now playing for a greater prize – to be his country’s next prime minister. But can he upset the political status quo? People & Power has hit the campaign trail to find out.
Returning last week from an instructive three weeks in Pakistan, I was detained briefly at Islamabad’s chaotic airport after an X-ray machine showed two highly suspicious music CDs and a USB memory stick in my check- in bag.
The music was of Mehdi Hassan, my favorite singer in South Asia, and the USB was part of a PR packet given to me by a Bangkok hotelier. It didn’t matter. For nearly three hours, two men in shalwar kameez — members of one of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies — supervised customs and immigration officials, and even the staff of my Middle Eastern airline, through an extensive scrutiny of my bags and the many visas in my passport.
These plainclothed, thuggish-looking men seemed to confirm the popular Western stereotype of Pakistan’s “deep state,” a vast subterranean network of soldiers, spies, and militants-for- hire that actually runs the country while the state fails to provide health care and education to a largely poor and illiterate population of nearly 190 million. Continue reading “Pakistan’s Unplanned Revolution Rewrites Its Future”
I have never had the patience for long-winded novels, and much less for memoirs, but I am glad I persuaded myself to read Imran Khan’s Pakistan: A Personal History. Now that Tehreek-e-Insaaf , the political party founded and led by Imran Khan, gathers momentum – after many years in the political wilderness – and may yet grow to challenge the established political parties in the next elections, it is time to take a closer look at the man who leads this party, and promises to restore justice and dignity to Pakistan’s long-suffering but mostly passive population.
Once I had gotten past the Prologue – which I thought did not belong at the beginning of the book – Khan’s narrative never lost its power to sustain my interest. The book takes the reader through many unexpected shifts in the protagonist’s life – from cricket to charity work, from charity work to politics, from the life of a celebrity to a life of piety, from disdain for Islam to a deepening respect for its richness and depth, from contempt (a colonial legacy common to Pakistan’s elites) for ordinary Pakistanis to a growing concern for their tormented lives, from wilting shyness before audiences to a determination to face the glare of public life, from growing anxiety about Pakistan’s problems to an unshakable resolve to do something about them; etc. In short, the book takes the reader through the life of an extraordinary man, at first fully immersed in the privileges of his class and his cricket celebrity but slowly turning inwards, questioning the colonial mindset of his own privileged class, angry at the limitless corruption of Pakistan’s rulers, and, finally, reaching resolution in his commitment to take Pakistan back from its corrupt elites. A politician with Imran Khan’s record would be rare in Western ‘democracies.’ In a country like Pakistan, mired for decades in the corruption of rapacious elites, he is an anomaly – an outlier. Should the Pakistanis embrace Imran Khan, should they give him the chance to pick and lead the nation’s political team, this could be a game-changer for their country.
Anatol Lieven is explaining how the so-called allies in the so-called War on Terror have come to pot-shotting each other on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan. In the Financial Times last May (“How American folly could destroy Pakistan“) Lieven was warning of the perverse logic of confrontation in US policy. The killing last weekend of 24 Pakistani soldiersin a NATO air strike for which President Obama is refusing to apologize can be taken as confirmation of the hazard. Ever since the US Navy swoop on OBL early in May, the risk in Lieven’s eyes was that the US would overplay its hand with demands on the thoroughly alienated Pakistani Army. The American demand-too-far (Lieven is saying emphatically today) is that the Pakistani Army go to war on the Taliban home bases in the Pashtun tribal wilderness. That demand cannot, will not, be met: (a) because the Taliban is a big part of the network that Pakistan counts on to protect and project its interest in Afghanistan when the US forces shrivel, then leave; and (b) because the big majority of Pakistanis — army, elite and masses — see the Taliban in Afghanistan as a legitimate resistance force fighting foreign occupation, like the mujahedeen who fought the Soviets, or Communist guerillas who fought Nazis in Europe. When Pakistan under Pres / Gen Musharraf undertook a half-way offensive against the Taliban in the border wilderness, “they set off an Islamist rebellion inside Pakistan which continues to this day… The Pakistanis do have a case: thanks to the U.S., they have a civil war inside Pakistan which has claimed far more Pakistani lives than Americans killed on 9.11. … We keep talking about wanting to support democracy. Well, the democratic majority in Pakistan wants us to go to hell.”
In the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination as violent attacks ripple throughout Pakistan and tensions escalate with the West, WITHOUT SHEPHERDS offers a rare glimpse into real life in the shadow of the war on terror. From the streets of Karachi to the Afghan border, the film crosscuts between six people wrestling with a country in turmoil and defiantly standing for change: a cricket star building a new political party, a trucker crossing dangerous territory to feed his family, a supermodel pushing feminism through fashion, a subversive Sufi rocker using music to heal, a female journalist working behind Taliban lines, and an ex-mujahid seeking redemption. Together their stories give context to a crisis that has dangerous consequences for the region and the world and unveil the progressive face of this misunderstood country.