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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Malik Riaz-the real power broker

Politically Incorrect 
by Amir Mateen

Malik Riaz may just be a new phenomenon in Pakistan. No private individual may ever have exercised as much leverage over the state as he does. Is it because the state institutions have become so weak that they can be manipulated easily or is he a very smart man. Either way, this Realtor-in-Chief has got his tentacles all over.

He has control right from the office of the President down to the SHO at Islamabad’s Kohsar Police Station. He can influence khakis from the level of Generals to an MES clerk, the lucrative post from where he took his start to stardom. The media is under control as Bahria Town is one of the biggest advertisement-throwers. Most owners take favours worth their value, while the journalists, particularly a whole generation of easily purchasable new TV anchors are sometimes available even for crumbs. This makes a perfect setting for the reincarnation of Mario Puzo’s Godfather, Malik Riaz, to take the lead role.

The hapless people who get robbed of their land in hundreds of cases have no place to go. The only forum available to them, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, has now been cowed down, thanks to the shenanigans of Arsalan Chaudhary. One must give credit that Malik had the chutzpah to attack the superior courts and then get away with it. Now, he sees no obstructions in converting huge swathes of cheap land, mostly acquired through dubious means, into golden retreats, safari villas and golf clubs. His posh houses are valued at as high as Rs 220 million. Of course, he spares lots of patches for the lower and middle classes to keep up the ‘Sultana Daku’ image that he loves so much. But this largely benefits a small elite club that will continue to grow richer and richer. On his back are the chosen members of that exclusive Club - the most prominent being the President of the Islamic republic.

It’s common knowledge that Malik Riaz is the most important person at the Presidency. The President used his constitutional power to pardon Malik Riaz’s personal guard. The guard was sentenced to life imprisonment after he confessed about killing a person in a shoot-out in an Islamabad market. Who cares that the Presidential discretion is supposed to be used in very special circumstances. This encourages Malik Riaz to brag that he could walk into the President’s bedroom any time. Such bravado keeps the subordinates in line. In most cases he does not need to bother the President. The ministers or anyone who matters —everybody knows how important he is for the President. President Zardari’s sister, Faryal Talpur or somebody from his family is seen photographed at almost every important function organized by Malik Riaz.

Bureaucrats remain as obliging as Alladin’sGenie, especially if they want to live a ‘respectable’ life in the Capital. But he is more interested in postings and officials that handle things related to real estate —actually land-grabbing. Revenue and Administration officials are crucial but the most important is police. It is widely known in Islamabad that nobody gets posted on crucial positions without Malik’s approval.

Hundreds of people have recorded statements before various courts complaining about the police torturing and harassing them “at the behest of Malik Riaz.” In a prominent case, two citizens, Raja Qayyum and Habibullah, complained before the Supreme Court that they were beaten and tortured by SHO Idrees Rathore and DSP Malik Mumtaz on the orders of Malik Riaz. They were allegedly kept locked-up for three months, forcing them to sell their properties to Bahria Town.

Sihala and Bhara Kahu is a Malik terrain and, says a published report, no police officer could be posted there without the approval of Malik Riaz. The report quotes an incident where a Sihala SHO, Haq Nawaz got changed just because he did not give “due protocol” to a person sent by Malik Riaz.

Islamabad’s top cop is known to be a henchman of Malik Riaz. Rumour has it that he was instrumental in getting Malik’s son escape to Dubai when the courts ordered his arrest on the charges of murder. He risked Cntempt of Court many times by dilly-dallying on Malik’s arrest in land-grabbing cases. He twisted facts to evade the registration of FIR against Malik recently.

Malik controls Islamabad’s Police that recently risked fighting a war with their uniformed colleagues when a Rawalpindi court ordered Malik’s arrest. The property Tsar travelled with fleets of Islamabad's heavily armed police commandoes with orders to shoot Rawalpindi police if they tried to arrest Malik. The police forces of the twin cities, playing a cat-and-mouse game, came close to mutual bloodshed many times because of him. At one stage, Malik had the muscle to have Rangers posted at his house. So who runs this country, one may ask.   

In his business, Malik needs official patronage. He was even more boundless during Musharraf’s time. The Chaudharies in Punjab loved to oblige and top civilian lackey, Tariq Aziz and his khaki counterpart, Lt. General (Retd) Hamid Javed delivered the rest of the country— of course on the basis of mutual reciprocity. The beauty of his model is that he gets all favours without spending much. In most cases he obliges them in kind by giving them plots that, interestingly, he acquires with their help. Smart, isn’t it?

The PML-N was opposed to Malik initially but then Shahbaz Sharif got his help in Ashiana Scheme. The extent of Malik's affection for Shahbaz Sharif’s son, Salman got disclosed in an off-camera shoot that somehow got leaked. Remember the ‘scrooing’ episode.

Malik Riaz is a fictional character. In real life the closest example one can think of is former Italian President Silvio Berlusconi. He bought media through his business empire and then used it for his political and business ends. Malik commands as much political control without coming into power directly. So far, that is. But we hear that he has invested huge investments on dozens of potential candidates. And this may be the reason for his recent friction with the Sharif Brother, besides the 25 acre villa that he allegedly built for the Man on the Hill. Who knows he might just take over this country at some stage. Who would not want that with half of the Parliament in his pocket? Imagine Malik Riaz as the PM.

Part II - Will the real Malik Riaz please stand up?

Politically Incorrect

Amir Mateen

Malik Riaz of Bahria Town may be the best prism through which one can understand today’s Pakistan. He personifies the potential that this ‘land of opportunities’ offers, provided you know how to go about it. Palm-greasing, he says, is an essential skill here and that he knows how to attach ‘wheels’ to his work files — a metaphor used for bribery. “Believe me, nothing moves in this country without wheels and my files, I tell you, never stop,” he said boldly in a TV interview, an impish smile on his face. That tells something about the man and the country where he, like it or not, happens to be the most powerful person.
His is a rags-to-riches story that should beat the Carnegies and Rockefellers hands down. The ‘robber barons,’ as the American Moguls were labeled a century ago, got their share of flak. But the biggest realtor baron of this country remains unscathed because he has got the media literally in his pocket. 
Not much is known about one of the richest man in Pakistan except for the bits that he has told about himself. Even Wikipedia says that the details are sketchy on how a small-time labourer climbed up the ladder to become the 10th richest man of Pakistan with assets worth $800 million. He may actually be worth much more if we take into account his ‘file-wheeling’ skills.
The information about him trickles down through carefully selected journalists who throw out carefully orchestrated images of his personality. A self-made man, he passed his secondary school exam by marginal numbers. Equally marginal were his skills as he could not even drive a car. He started off from petty chores, the first being a house whitewash. We are told that he walked for 10 kilometers just to save Rs 50. He had to sell household items, tears in his eyes, to get his daughter medical treatment. 
He is as somebody living next door with whom ordinary people could identify; somebody they could trust with their savings. He almost comes across as Amitabh Bachan, as in Bollywood movie Tirshol, though of course minus the superstar’s beauty, particularly his hair. Suddenly, the hero morphs into a dazzling rich person that the lay people aspire to be. A halo of glitz and glamour circles around his head. Malik Riaz travels in his private jet, lives in seven-star mansions, parks a Bentley in his porch and drives with a fleet of SUVs with a battalion of armed private commandoes that should match the prime minister’s protocol.
Malik Riaz is undoubtedly the most powerful person in Pakistan. He rubs shoulders with the high and mighty that seem to be at his beck and call. He calls former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani’s son, MNA Abdul Qadir Gilani, as Bunny, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s son, Salman, who takes care of the family business, as Sill. I suspect, in the same pattern, he calls President Asif Zardari and Benazir Bhutto’s son, Bilawal, as Billu. His favourite pass time, we are told, is to order senior functionaries on transfer and postings using some real rough language. This happens on a speaker phone while the worthy guests get amused and awed by his audacity. The treatment was recently meted out to another Malik with an ‘R’ who, outraged at one stage, suspended the officers who had gone to Riaz for a prized posting. The matter got resolved by the Man on the Hill later.
On a typical day, he starts his day with a working breakfast with rich Arab Sheikhs; lunch at the Presidency — with aalu shora he says; evening tea with the Punjab Chief Minister; dinner with top generals and late coffee with the biggest industrialists of this country. But he does not sleep before giving ‘tweets’ to his favourite journalists on how and what to say in the media. If he does not run Pakistan, who does?
Malik remains the biggest paradox. He has got more faces than that Hindu mythological figure from Lanka. Is he the saviour who gives jobs to 20,000 people who in turn cater to a work force of 17000 ancillary industries? Bahria Town brochure boasts that 100,000 households are dependent on them. He goes on to claim, almost in the same hyperbole that he used in the $ 45 billion fiasco, that Bahria Town workers might stretch from Lahore to Rawalpindi if  they are lined up with their arms stretched wide open.
But the questions remain: Is he the great visionary who changed the housing concept in Pakistan, providing the middle and lower classes high quality residential facilities at a much lower cost?
 Is he the messiah who is seen feeding hundreds of people, helping the sick, needy and the handicapped? Bahria Town sponsors many schools, hospitals and charity organizations.
Is he the trouble shooter who somehow emerges as a referee in every political wrestling match. He played a role in Musharraf’s deal with Benazir Bhutto. He was again involved in the Bhurban meeting that led to an agreement between Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. He was instrumental in arranging a patch-up between Asif Zardari and the Chaudharies of Gujrat. Only recently, he popped up out of nowhere to play a role in Tahirul Qadri’s long march.
 Is he the hero of the poor who, as Amitabh Bachan, made it big in the cruel world of the rich. He likes to compare himself with ‘Sultana Daku,’ a local version of Robinhood who looted the rich to distribute among the poor. There are more shades of his personality in real life than the roles that Amitabh may have played in films.
For many, he is worse than Prem Chopra. All that glitz about good work is just a smoke screen that he maintains to hide a sinister villain that comes across in dozens of cases that he attends in various courts and police stations all over the country. The crimes that he is accused of include murder, kidnapping, forgery, fraud, extortion and many other evil things that all Bollywood villains put-together could not have done. These cases run into hundreds, mostly involving land-grabbing where his goons forcibly took away land from poor people to sell houses, some of which cost as high as Rs 220 million—the Sultana Daku in reverse here. Just to explain the extent of accusations against him, he has still got at least three dozen cases before the Supreme Court, despite the disposal of double the number of cases. In one day last year, the Supreme Court issued 44 orders against Bahria Town in various cases.
So how do we judge him. Will the real Malik Riaz please stand up? It is all the more important to understand him as he enjoys the power in this country as nobody else. Whatever the case, he is surely a movie character who got stuck with ordinary mortals.

Part I - $45bn fiasco exposes Malik Riaz

Politically Incorrect 

Amir Mateen 

The biggest-ever media con

Is this funny, sad or simply stupid. The clarification by Abu Dhabi Group about their alleged $45 billion investment in Pakistan may have exposed lots of things — and lots of people. One Malik Riaz of Bahria Town for sure.
He virtually conned the Abu Dhabi Group, Pakistani media and the public. We already knew about his hold on the Pakistani media. And it is not just about that one incident where he was caught red-handed with two TV anchors engineering news. The Bahria advertisements worth billions of rupees have simply blinded media owners who ensure that nothing is published against Bahria Town. News against Malik Riaz comes out only when he is summoned in the courts for the cases of murder, fraud, forgery, assassination attempts, blackmailing, to name some of the ‘virtues’ that he is regularly accused of.
But a more classic example of Pakistani media’s incompetence-actually capitulation-could not be given. Here is why.
The announcement of a whopping $45 billion investment in Pakistan was a dream-come-true story. This too at a time when nobody wants to invest a penny in Pakistan, and half of my foreign friends want to send their mothers-in-law for ‘sight-seeing’ in FATA.
It was simply mind-blowing. The UAE sacrificed its pride for having the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa. And because Malik charmed them so well, they let Karachi have the honour. Apart from building the world's tallest building in Karachi, the other attractions included a financial hub, sports city, international city, media city, educational and medical City, miniatures of the world’s seven wonders. It was amply flashed that “these projects would employ more than 2.5 million people and boost more than 55 industries like cement, bricks, iron, steel and glass.”
Malik Riaz came across as the Messiah who had bailed out Pakistan from its financial mess. Abu Dhabi Group Chairman Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan was quoted as describing Malik as a “visionary,” adding that this guaranteed that “we will Inshallah be welcoming first residents in next 3-4 years.” As if he was not a ruler but a real estate agent.
Media outlets competed with each other in flashing the news amidst incessant advertisements from Bahria Town. Newspapers were also found outdoing each other. Most newspapers, English and vernacular, presented what was basically a press statement by Bahria Town as “independent news.” Nobody checked whether the Abu Dhabi Group, the UAE government or even the international wire services issued any news about an investment that was worth, no less, than $ 45 billion. Not a single journalist bothered to even check if there was any news of this sort on any website of the UAE companies or whether Sheikh Nahayan had actually said those words. The half-page advertisement on newspapers' front pages, showing Malik shaking hands with the Sheikh seem to have blinded everything. Or perhaps they were told not to test their editorial discretion.
The so-called most credible English newspaper went a step ahead by giving a joint dateline of Karachi and Islamabad instead of Dubai. It added colour to the story by quoting a Karachi magnate, of course on the condition of anonymity, that the construction site would be “Kutta Island,” which is 3 to 4-km off the coast of Karachi. It went a step further than what Malik Riaz had claimed, informing readers that “the Abu Dhabi Group-Malik Riaz would, apart from the above mentioned projects, also launch into building of 125,000 houses on the island.” (sic) 
The reporters also made sure to confirm it from the source of the press release, Malik’s son Ali Riaz, instead of checking from the Abu Dhabi Group or even their local counterparts here in Warid, Wateen or Bank Alfalah.
Imagine an investment of $ 45 billion takes place in a place as Pakistan and the news is not on CNN, BBC, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times or even Reuters and AFP. Fellows — where was the common sense.
Last time, the UAE committed half the amount for construction on the same Kutta island (known as such because people dump stray dogs there) but the Monarch, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum himself arrived for such a big announcement. However, not a penny came as the UAE was eyeing for Gwadar Port as compensation.
It is actually funny how the media got duped. And that is exactly how they took it in Dubai. A friend who works for The Gulf News shared that journalists there could not believe it in their morning meeting. Everybody laughed as the entire Pakistani media was conned so easily. The Gulf News did not carry the story as there had been no announcement from anywhere. Internationalist journalists saw this “stupid news” on the web and just ignored it. 
My Dubai friend, knowing Bahria’s leverage on Pakistani media, could understand that the news got carried on the first day. “But how about the five days after that,” he asked, confused. “Why nobody followed-up on the story that was supposed to be the biggest investment in the country’s history.”
It turns out that the Abu Dhabi Group and the UAE government was aghast at the development. But since they have lots of investment here they did not want to embarrass Pakistanis. A small news was leaked through Reuters wherein Sheikh Nahayan, while talking to a reporter in a Dubai exhibition, clarified that the investment might materialize in 15 years. He also dispelled the impression about building the tallest building in Karachi, saying that the business plans were “at a very early stage.” 
No paper except The Spokesman carried the story. Sheikh Nahayan also explained that the MOU was signed in his capacity as the owner of his private company, Dhabi Contracting and not as the chairman of the conglomerate, Abu Dhabi Group. He could not have been more specific when he said that it would materialize in phases, adding, “every phase will be studied by itself... It depends on the situation when we decide to go ahead with the projects."
This was to clarify the wrong impression given here by Bahria Town that it was Abu Dhabi Group and not Dhabi Contracting that signed an MOU that only showed minor interest in business here. Still, nobody took the hint here as advertisements kept coming. Nobody questioned that how could a private company in Pakistan commit a $45 billion investment without the government being in the loop. Imagine the world’s biggest building and residential quarters for millions being constructed without any representative from the provincial and federal governments. In Sheikh Nahayan’s case, the assumption of the UAE government could be forgiven as he is a minister and Chairman of Abu Dhabi Group. 
A whole bandwagon of Urdu columnists and TV anchors was found eulogizing Malik Riaz as the savior of the country. After five days, it just became too much for the UAE rulers and they had to issue the clarification that everybody read in newspapers on Friday.
Obviously, the Dubai rulers knew they were duped into that photo-up and their reputation was being used for petty benefits. It is easy to understand the benefits. This kind of news changed the scenario for Malik Riaz. He was being hounded by the courts in numerous cases, some of them seriously heinous. He was in conflict with LDA over opening new housing schemes in Lahore without permission. He was also in conflict with the army for land dispute with DHA that affects thousands of former army officers and jawans. All of this may have shaken the public confidence in his housing projects. In monetary terms this could mean a loss of billions of rupees for him. Such news about building the tallest building in Karachi is worth a lot though. Even if it had not materialized, the impression of a partnership with the Dubai rulers would have rewarded him billions of rupees in terms of public confidence. Elementary, isn’t it.
But the question remains: Was our media (of which I am a part by the way) stupid, incompetent or simply capitulated before the owners. A little bit of everything I think. I was dared by a colleague on twitter that we shall see some expose` when I get up on Saturday. I hope so but am not sure about it.
More: CAPITALISM’S ACHILLES HEEL: Dirty Money and How to Renew the Free-Market System RAYMOND W. BAKER ; Page 76-85 on Pakistan: Bhuttos & Sharif's
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Saturday, February 23, 2013

When a state is dysfunctional

WHO knows what a failed state is? Such definitions are for the academics and experts. But what one can easily ascertain is a state that is dysfunctional.

For what would you call a state that has neither the power to generate resources and tax those who need to be taxed, nor the system or even the need to ensure that it accounts for what it spends? It can keep piling up a huge deficit without question and have nothing to show for it.

What would you call a state that cannot deliver the very least: the safety of life and limb to its citizens? Where if you particularly happened to be in the smaller provinces the only thing you could get by on is your faith. Yes, God remains the only recourse.

It has to be a dysfunctional state where those who call for their legitimate inalienable rights can be picked up in the dead of night and be found weeks or months later in a ditch with telltale signs of what happens if you take your fundamental rights too seriously; where in one part of the country police officers such as Malik Saad, Sifwat Ghayur and hundreds of nameless others whose sacrifices are as worthy as those named, write a final, valiant chapter in their blood.

At the same time an ‘anti-terror’ police boss in another part of the country cuts deals with sectarian murderers to leave his jurisdiction alone reportedly in exchange for safe passage for operations elsewhere and is rewarded with promotions. The sectarian groups are much stronger as a result.

Take Benazir Bhutto, Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and more recently Bashir Bilour. All these politicians stood like a rock in defying the terrorists, bigots and intolerant ideologies — until they were cut down by the terrorists.

Have you ever seen a person with greater courage than that Pakhtunkhwa minister Mian Iftikhar whose son was mowed down in a hail of Taliban bullets? Neither his grief nor personal loss forced him to bend his resolve.

These are high-profile figures. Can we look at those they left behind in the eye and assure them that the sacrifices of their loved ones were not in vain? Go ahead if you can but I, for one, will be too ashamed to even contemplate doing any such thing.

Is there a point in trying to remember Asiya Bibi? Well done, we can say to ourselves for at least we recall her name.

Do we recall a single name of the many, many Christians who died when their entire neighbourhood was torched in that Punjab village? Gojra, was it?

Surely, we have expressed such outrage over the mass murder of Shia-Hazaras in recent days that we’d be able to think of the victims in terms other than mere statistics. But we can’t. If it was 200 Shia Hazaras killed last year, a greater number has fallen in the first two months of 2013 alone.

We are not supposed to have photographic memories so how can we name a single Hindu woman converted forcibly to Islam. Of course, if (yes, if) the state was not dysfunctional such incidents would be the exception, not the norm. We’d remember the one or two victims.

Now that the state has stood by, paralysed by fear or expediency, we have let armed zealots show all minorities their place. Christians and Hindus couldn’t be more marginalised. The Ahmadi community has been taught how safe it is for them to bow before their God in their place of worship.

Yes, now it is the turn of the ‘minority’ Muslim sect, the Shias, they consider an ‘arrogant’ lot who openly exercise their religious freedom. This too must end. Bomb their congregations; shoot their community notables and who knows they’ll also be subdued into abandoning their faith.

What next? Oh yes plenty left. There are many whose Islamic rituals and practices differ from ours. And religion must not have room for diversity. We must find and exterminate all who don’t agree with what we believe Islam to be.

Next it’ll be women. Lock them up for they aren’t equal citizens of the country; shameless that we have women working side by side with men in most urban centres. They even go to schools, colleges and universities and aspire for careers! Do they think they live in the 21st century?

Surely, they don’t. We’ll make them see their reality. What else will be our fate when we await an ever-elusive consensus while an existential threat snowballs? You and I can simmer and explode all we want.

The vision and the wisdom of the decision-makers can hardly be expected to deliver in such ‘unimportant’ areas. When the Kerry-Lugar legislation was passed, nobody needed a consensus to oppose the principle of civilian supremacy in matters of the state.

When memogate surfaced whatever its merits, extremely dodgy to the naked eye, neither the politicians nor the defenders of our territorial and ideological frontiers needed a consensus. And the courts to this day believe none is needed. Those were bigger threats to our integrity.

We have lost more of our brave sons, soldiers including officers of both regular and paramilitary forces, over the past five years than perhaps in any war that we have fought. And yet we await a consensus to establish whether the state or armed terrorists will rule over swathes of our territory.

An elected government came into being five years ago. It says its unprecedented achievement is completing its term; its unparalleled legislative record which will provide the glue to hold the federation together. All we can count is our dead. Men, women and children.

Now we are told a huge percentage of new young voters have been added to the electoral rolls. Youth represent a hope for tomorrow. Let’s hope that over the next five years we have to count fewer dead. Anything more will be too ambitious an ask.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.  abbas.nasir@hotmail.com
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Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Justice of Injustice Indian style: Judicial murder of Afzal Guru

Contrary to the lies that have been put about by some senior journalists who would have known better, Afzal Guru was not one of `the terrorists who stormed Parliament House on December 13th 2001` nor was he among SITUATIONER those who `opened fire on security personnel, apparently killing three of the six who died.` (That was Chandan Mitra, now a BJP Rajya Sabha MP, in The Pioneer, October 7th 2006). Even the police charge sheet does not accuse him of that. The Supreme Court judgment says the evidence is circumstantial: `As is the case with most conspiracies, there is and could be no direct evidence amounting to criminal conspiracy. Keep reading >>>>

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Tahir Qadri - Latest Interview 8 Feb 2013




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Intellectual blockage

Ideas are an integral part of a society. They enable human beings to tackle the challenges of time and accommodate differences within a social whole. At the social level ideas and their materialisation in the form of institutions and norms help societies understand change and make new social arrangements accordingly. At different points in history, societies face situations where a problem becomes insoluble through the available conceptual assemblage of the prevalent paradigm. In philosophy this problem is called ‘aporia,’ which can be translated in simple English as impasse, obstacle or blockage.

The intellectual landscape in Pakistan has all the telltale signs of intellectual aporia. Today Pakistan is facing an existential threat because of various internal and external factors. Such a situation demands introspection in its society. However, the prevalent ideas of Islamism and secularism have failed to provide an alternative vision. In the war of ideas, the intelligentsia of both secular and religious persuasions stay in their ideological trenches and stick to their ideological guns. Therefore, no dialogue takes place between the two and discussions taking place within the respective schools of thought are monologues.

The failure of our minds to take us out of the current morass is the result of an intellectual blockage in Pakistani society. This blockage creates immense existential tension within the society. The killing of innocent people across the country is just a tip of the iceberg. The malaise within the social body can be diagnosed, and can even be cured, if the blockage in thinking is removed. Despite the gravity of the situation, the secular and religious minds are not prepared to break the boundaries of their dogmatic enclosures because they fear they will become irrelevant if the configuration of ideas is changed.

Ironically, it is the intellectual blockage that provides an opportunity to iconoclasts to break the status quo and paves the way for an alternative society. In his book Time for Revolution, Antonio Negri writes: “...after blockage, there is an epoch. And it is within this epoch that we must move and consciously construct the new temporality. The tension of the blockage is broken and reveals the force blockage held back.”

The intellectual blockage in Pakistan can be broken by every aspect of self, society and state being questioned anew. Only after the blockage is broken can we open new avenues and come up with imaginative answers. Another element contributing to the intellectual stagnation in Pakistan is the lack of radical questioning in our society. What is missing in the post-9/11 intellectual discourse in Pakistan is criticism of secularism from within. Our secular class has adopted the global vogue of religion being used as a scapegoat for everything evil on earth. Secularists uncritically accept whatever is available in the supermarket of ideas. It is important to criticise the version of religion we follow, but by solely focusing on this single factor, we miss the bigger picture: that various socio-psychological, political and economic factors intersect to form a new reality and consciousness, of which religion is a part.

For change to occur in Pakistani society, a critique of both religious and secular reason is indispensible. It is wrong to assume that secularism and religion are mutually exclusive. Rather, in the ideological battle in Pakistan, secular and religious forces derive their reason of existence from the very presence of the other force, because, in existing in the same time and space, they reinforce each other. Secularists tend to essentialise modern religious forces by attributing an immutable essence to them. However, the reality is that Islamism is as much a product of modernity as modern seculars are. On the other hand, religious ideologues wrongly equate secularism with atheism.

Although it is important for secular discourse to address the issue of religion in modern times, it should not make religion its obsession. The existing economic and political structure of the world is here to stay as a powerful factor affecting our lives today. It is social and economic transformations that are determining modern contours of religion, and not vice versa. For instance, Islam did not create cyberspace, but cyberspace has definitely created what can be described as a cyber-ummah. Religion is not strong enough to withstand the onslaught of modernity in the long run. It will eventually adopt, or co-opt into, modern systems, albeit not in their pure forms.

Second, the aporia is caused by knowledge being made subservient to the interests of power. In our media-dominated world, the discourse generated by power is internalised by people because of the media. As a result we tend to see and define everything through the vocabulary concocted by those with the power to manufacture consent. Once we imbibe this vocabulary as normative indicators in our discourse, we tend to reject alternative voices and their narratives. To overcome the intellectual crisis in Pakistan, religious and secular scholars have to heed each other in order to move beyond the self-righteous frame of mind and binary thinking.

We come to an intellectual impasse when we try to preach to the converted, and refuse to listen to the ‘infidels’. We can understand the ‘other’ and our own existential situation when we derive language from our existential experience. War on the military front can be fought with borrowed weapons, but the war of ideas can only be won through rational exchange of ideas within Pakistani society.

Aziz Ali Dad: A freelance columnist based in Islamabad. Email: azizalidad@gmail.com
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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Kashmir & Peace ?

Back channel diplomacy: With the objective of normalising relations between India and Pakistan, back channel diplomacy has once again been underway for the last few months. Islamabad is being represented by former foreign secretary, Riaz Ahmad Khan while New Delhi side is headed by special emissary to the Indian Prime Minister, Satandra Lamba. This exercise has tacit approval of Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart, Dr Manmohan Singh. An Indian newspaper report expressed New Delhi's scepticism over the support of the Pakistan Army of the backdoor diplomatic effort, while Mr Gilani has taken the leadership of second largest political party, Pakistan Muslim Leagues (Nawaz) on board in this connection. This understanding was fully reflected during a reception hosted by Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif in Lahore given in honour of visiting Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar. The sentiments expressed by Mr Shahbaz regarding Indo-Pak bilateral relations were a clear indicator that PML-N was on the side of the government in this endeavour. The focal point between the two sides, however, remains the issue of Kashmir.
It was due to back channel diplomacy that Nawaz Sharif and Atal Bihari Vajpai agreed on the Lahore Declaration that was expected to lead to some amicable solution of long-standing Kashmir conflict. But this effort was jeopardised by the Kargil adventure by then army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf. Back channel diplomacy resumed during later part of Musharraf regime and according to then Foreign Minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, a 15-point formula was almost agreed between the two sides. But before it could be signed, the lawyers' movement started against military dictator Musharraf that led to his ouster from power. Diplomatic sources in Islamabad are of the view that if India sticks to its old rhetoric, no progress will be made in the unconventional parleys. The negotiators must also keep in mind that without taking the Kashmiri leadership on board, no solution would be acceptable to the Kashmiri people on both sides of the LoC. Pakistan must raise the Kashmir issue at all international forums including the UN without any further delay. At the same time it must explore all options to persuade New Delhi to sit across the table and settle all outstanding issues so that people of the two countries could live in peace and harmony.
February 28, 2012 

Pakistan, India Had Agreed On Demilitarization Of Kashmir:
Mr Khursheed Mahmood Kasuri, ex-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, in a TV interview with Karan Thapar on Thursday evening disclosed that as a consequence of back channel diplomacy both Pakistan and India had agreed on demilitarization, regionalization, self-governance and joint mechanism in Jammu and Kashmir with the involvement of Kashmiris from both sides. Mr Kasuri who is on a private visit to India said that almost a near-clear outline of Kashmir solution had been worked out including demilitarization of Siachin heights also. Asked then what happened that no solution came out of the basket after all exercise, the former Foreign Minister said “it was sheer bad luck”. “On Kashmir there was a broad understanding on joint mechanism with a space for representatives of Kashmiris,” he claimed. ‘Pakistan wanted full participation of Kashmiris. But India was reluctant and did not show commensurate keenness. The idea was that Kashmiris from India-held Kashmir meet us in Islamabad and Kashmiris from Azad Kashmir travel to India to meet Indian leadership apart from Kashmiris holding mutual meetings. This was thought out a way forward’, he added. Both Pakistan and India were locked in serious discussion over demilitarization of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, he added. Referring to the back channel discourse on Kashmir, Kasuri said that the former President Pervez Musharraf’s National Security Advisor Mr Tariq Aziz had intense rounds of discussions with his Indian counterpart Mr Brajesh Mishra continuing with India’s former ambassadors to Islamabad Messrs S K Lambah and J N Dixit and there was “almost agreement on four issues: demilitarization, regionalization, self-governance and joint mechanism in Jammu and Kashmir”. Asked that meant complete demilitarisation, Kasuri replied: “Propriety stops me from going into such details.” ‘It is for the first time that the former Foreign Minister of Pakistan Mr Kasuri, who remained intricately insider in Kashmir talks scenario, spoke very openly, almost “disclosing” the broader contours of  Pakistan-India Kashmir rounds of talks held during Pervez Musharraf’s regime in Pakistan, India, Dubai, USA and Goa.
Pakistan Observer: http://www.jammu-kashmir.com/archives/archives2009/kashmir20090220c.html

More: http://pakistan-posts.blogspot.com/p/kashmir.html

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