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In Pakistan-The end game begins

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By Wajahat S Khan

Hamza Shahbaz Sharif is looking good. Twenty-four hours before the verdict that will convict his three-time prime minister uncle Nawaz Sharif, and fiery first cousin Maryam, Hamza, 42, who works out every day and sports his standard issue Ferrogamos with a blue shalwar kameez, is about to give his first interview in eons.
With just over two weeks left before the July 25 election, and his party under constant fire, Hamza has been keeping a low profile. But now he emerges, as it is finally evident that he and his father, Shehbaz-the three-time chief minister of Punjab province, younger brother and able deputy to Nawaz-are largely in the clear in this land of judicial filibustering and camouflaged coups.
With the legal disabling of the ‘other’ Sharifs (who were still in London at the time this article went to print, tending to Nawaz’s wife but promising to return by Friday the 13th, just 12 days before the polls, and expected to be arrested upon arrival and helicoptered straight to jail), the political reality at 180-H Model Town, Lahore-the secretariat of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the only party in the country named after a living man-is clear: Hamza’s time has come. The obsequious army of valets, bureaucrats and advisors around him is definitely behaving like they believe it. But Hamza, a three-time member of the national assembly, and the chief electoral operator of the party, won’t actually admit it.
In the PMLN, not praising Nawaz-the 68-year-old who now faces 10 years of jail and another 10 years of political winter as he stands disqualified to run for public office after he’s completed his sentence for “living beyond means”-or elevating yourself is unwise. It’s also a breach of the rules.
The truth is, Nawaz is still a vote-getter. His absence from the rallies his party leaders have been holding has been felt. Shehbaz has been trying to keep up the momentum, with his dramatic speeches and rolled-up sleeves, but a recent Gallup poll placed the PMLN only marginally ahead of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), while other surveys upped Khan’s position, creating a lack of clarity, at least in Punjab-the bustling province of over a 100 million which must be taken for any kind of shot at the centre.
Importantly, senior PMLN leaders are standing by keenly for the moment when Nawaz will come to their constituencies, pump his fists and thumb his nose at the establishment. They are waiting for his exquisitely-timed salvos-about the enabling of the Mumbai attacks, about puppeteer space aliens (the new code word for the army in Pakistan) and about why he was removed in the first place (the over-memed “Mujhe Kyoon Nikala”)-a routine that has been swelling PMLN support for months, creating mammoth crowds at rallies and sympathetic editorials in the dailies.
But now, with the conviction of the two most powerful members of Pakistan’s longest-ruling political dynasty after a 10-month trial over the Sharifs’ Mayfair properties, that moment may never come. Nawaz has been removed from the election map, along with his heir apparent and PR chief, Maryam.
Ominously, after the convictions were handed out to Nawaz, Maryam and her estranged husband Safdar, the absence of any serious protests in favour of Nawaz, especially in his hometown of Lahore, while not reminiscent of the distribution of mithai (when he was removed by Pervez Musharraf in 1999), reflected a muted acceptance of a fait accompli: For now, Nawaz Sharif is history.
Still, Hamza puts up a brave face. In his interview, he borrows tactics from his father’s nuanced playbook, and drops his uncle’s aggressive dictionary-“governance through consultative process”, “the army’s great sacrifices”, etc.-but he doesn’t, can’t, disown his confrontational uncle and cousin, who’ve been creating havoc in national security and judicial circles for months, if not years. He thinks that he’s sharp enough to pull his voters past the post on election day, but he won’t utter the magic words that may get him the establishment’s blessings.
“We may have a difference of opinion with him, but Nawaz Sharif is still the Quaid [leader] of the party,” he says. And the feedback I get after the airing of the interview from a close watcher in Rawalpindi, the home of the army: “He’s a good lad. But it’s curtains for the Sharifs.”
After being disqualified from office in July 2017, Nawaz had almost a year to manoeuvre. Instead, he embarked on a self-immolating mission to settle scores, and that too with a slighted military. As he went on the warpath, installing a token PM instead of letting his efficient brother take over the reins, Nawaz-goaded on by Maryam and her media machine of trolls, spokespersons, anchors and ministers who reported to her, not the party-created the biggest victim of his own fall: Shehbaz.
Broadly tolerated by the military, genuinely respected by the bureaucracy, naturally more media savvy, a speaker of Mandarin, German and Turkish, the works-18-hour-days dynamo that is Shehbaz Sharif was edged out of succession by his brother. As 2017 became 2018, and a campaign of anti-military innuendo became a blazing, non-stop, social and mainstream media army-bashing fest-so much so that serving ISI generals and brigadiers are called out by name as political engineers by the Nawaz machine on prime-time TV-Shehbaz, the eternal good cop, kept apologising about his brother’s rants and his niece’s tirades, remained on the back foot about the spiralling tensions with the establishment, and increasingly lost his backdoor access to General Headquarters, the home of the army.
Even when Nawaz grudgingly installed him as party chief, Shehbaz remained powerless against the parallel headquarters run by Maryam. And then trusted aides were picked up on corruption charges; favoured journalists and bloggers disappeared; opposition leaders derided Shehbaz’s inability to stand up to the disgraced Nawaz. In Rawalpindi, Shehbaz was written off as an invertebrate, not ready for a bigger platform that was his to step up to and take. But, clearly, the traditions of the Sharif household came first for Shehbaz: “If I’m not loyal to my brother, who am I going to be loyal to?” he told me in an interview earlier this year.
Moreover, Nawaz’s longest-serving deputy and former interior minister Nisar Ali Khan, a pro-military member of the party who was close to Shehbaz, was also pushed out after tensions with Maryam, cutting off a vital link with Rawalpindi and creating a rupture of electoral defections, widening what I call Pakistan’s biggest divide: The Garrison Gap.
Duly assisted by his eldest, Hamza-though not the entire PMLN machine (half of which reports to Maryam)-Shehbaz’s only traction now, in a fractured party which is missing its primary weapon, Nawaz, is getting the actual vote.
But there is a 65-year-old rock in the way of 66-year-old Shehbaz. This summer, Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi celebrated 22 years of the founding of his PTI. Once termed as a vanity project, a gentlemen’s club, then a cult, and now scorned as the ‘King’s Party’-liberal code for being military-backed-the Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf, translated as Movement for Justice, has become that for its millions of followers. Today, Khan is polling higher than he’s ever polled in any surveys in the past, and given most of the credit for disabling Sharif. But he didn’t just get here on his own. The winds of change were with him.
Here’ a killer statistic, literally. Pakistan’s never voted an incumbent back to power. By hook or crook, by bombing or ballot, by coup or craft, Pakistan doesn’t vote, nor allows its leaders, back into consecutive terms.
But around early 2016, just before the Panama Leaks disclosed details about his offshore companies, Nawaz was looking like he was all set for a comeback. He was signing energy deals across the region; he was taking credit for anti-terror operations; he was crushing it with his Kashmir speeches at the UN; with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor in his sights, he had even managed to brush off the flak that came from the surprise birthday visit of Narendra Modi in late 2015, all the while his brother went into overdrive with vote-magnet projects in the Punjab.
Disavowed after a messy divorce and an anti-climatic months-long protest, Khan was lost in the wilderness in early 2016. But with the Leaks, Khan came back to life. He tweeted, rallied, protested and repeated his anti-corruption campaign against the Sharifs, swearing their London flats were from ill-gotten gains. First, nobody really got it. Offshore companies? Didn’t all rich folks have them? London apartments? Hadn’t the Sharifs lived there for ages? Soon, ‘Panama’ became ‘Pajama’, a meme for morons. But Khan didn’t relent.
Sharif overplayed his hand. After the heavy-handed crushing of a protest Khan had planned in Islamabad in 2016, coupled with a dangerously timed leak to an anti-establishment reporter about the military’s links with militant groups, the tide turned, and the establishment went to battle stations. Enter, the courts, which started the Panama proceedings in earnest. Throughout the first half of 2017, Khan was only to be found at the Supreme Court, scribbling notes, doing pressers, tweeting about the forensic details of the Sharifs’ alleged financial malfeasance. Again, it was a case nobody thought would go anywhere. But dozens of hearings down the road, at the last one, a year ago, I spoke to Khan during the court’s recess in one of the chambers he had set up as his headquarters. Picking on a mango with a fork, he was ambitious, as usual. “I will bet you my last shirt that Nawaz is going to go,” he told me, like it was gospel. His lawyer, Naeem Bokhari, chimed in for effect: “He’s gone! Nawaz is caught behind by a fair judiciary! Bowled by Imran from the pavilion end!”
They’re saying that if Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Sheikh Mujeeb broke Pakistan’s one-party system-and then Pakistan itself-in the 1970 polls, then this is the year that Khan-third-time husband, fourth-time contender, born-again-and-then-born-once-again Sufi-will break the two-party system dominated by the PMLN and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for decades. If politics is the art of the possible, then Khan is the only leader flirting with clear probabilities right now.
With federal investigators summoning former president Asif Zardari of the PPP last week (for money laundering), with the assassination of Khan rival Haroon Bilour (member of the Awami National Party) by the Taliban, with the expected arrest of arch-rival Nawaz, and with the army’s plan of deploying the largest-ever contingent of troops for a general election (an unprecedented 371,000 troops inside and outside 80,000 polling stations), even Machiavelli would admit this week is looking like Khan owns it.
But there is time, yet. And Khan has been blamed for misjudging before. Maybe that’s where the honourable judges will come to his aid, yet again. Or maybe, come election day, by the process of elimination, none of us will have much of a choice but to vote for Khan anyway.
(India Today)

 

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Opinion

Theology of Presence

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Amir Suhail Wani

“O you who believe! Remember Allah With much remembrance”: Al Quran

To believe is to be in a state of presence. Presence, though not the climax, but is, one of the most cherished states and authentic manifestations of belief. To let God stay far away in the realm of abstraction and beyond-ness not only dilutes the spirit of worship, but it brings under scrutiny the very notion of belief. Religion, in its finest form, aims at invoking in man the spirit of presence, so that the believer may feel and experience the himself in presence of divine and may thus be able to envision a living and existential relationship with his creator and his object of devotion. Religion, even in its basic etymological connotation invokes the sense of “connectedness and attachment” with the object of devotion. It is in the very essence of man that he wants to be greater than what he is and when submitting before the divine, the individual, finite and subjective ego undergoes an existential, psychological and spiritual transformation of unique nature which expands its contours beyond those of physical perimeters. In any act of worship, the subject envisages the object of devotion as infinite and it not only pays homage to that infinite by bowing to it, but it very much desires to expand its own finitude under the radiance of that eternal infinite. This is what is meant by the philosophical benediction that “make me Thou, not an it”.

 

This human urge of finding means of self expansion by submitting before the divine is the greatest expression of human will and self sacrifice. But this spirit is rendered meaningless and antithetical when religion, in its state of decline, reduces to mere theology. In this reductionism, God remains no longer a living reality in the life of believer. He is rather replaced by a set of axioms and statements which fail to stimulate and satisfy the deepest spiritual yearnings of man and this deepest spiritual yearning is nothing but an aspiration to come in living contact with the divine and transcendental. Islam and for that matter most of the religions strongly condemn the deistic notions about God for it leaves absolutely no scope for religious indoctrination and creates an unimaginable void in the realm of Transcendence. It is in response to nuances like these that the notion of presence assumes multifold importance. It is not only prayer but our entire life that demands, by virtue of its spiritual dimension, that we live perpetually under the spell of divine. Thus religions teach us not merely to pray and thus make prayer a part of our life, but they come to turn our entire life into a sort of prayer. This transformation of life itself into prayer is what has best been embodied by Islamic teachings which reiterate time and again that all acts shall be done according to the law/s prescribed by God and at the beginning and end of each of our activity, the name of God shall be invoked. Not only this, the orations we recite at various instances from entering a washroom to starting our prayer are nothing but a beautiful way of making God a perpetual and living presence in our lives. None of our activities shall be divorced from Transcendent and while we are bodily constantly engaged in acts of world and matter, our heads, hearts and souls shall be perpetually turned to the divine. This act of remembering God in world of forgetting paves the way for “discovering God through material representations”. The highest form of this discovery is prayer and within prayer itself it is dua that marks the height of living relationship between God and believer. The purpose of prayer, as has been narrowly appropriated lately is not merely to make God change his mind and to bring our naive desires to fruition. Prayer is in fact the testimony of our living and real time relationship of servitude and dependency on God. Thus when God asserts “If My servants ask you regarding Me, I am indeed Near. I answer the call of those who call upon Me when they call. So let them answer My call and let them believe in believe in Me–in order that they be truly guided.”, he makes us understand in most emphatic and explicit way that he is very much existentially related to us and responds to our prayers. This response to prayer shall not be seen as the fulfilment of our prayers in material realm (which is true on its own), but it shall invoke in us the existential quest and inspire us to awaken our slumbering spiritual sensibility so that we may truly feel that God is indeed responding to us as our creator and as an object truly worthy of our devotion and worship.

This notion of presence has been subjected to double irony. The religious centric people lost sight of this appeal and dedicated their energies in confining and codifying God in their formulae of logical atomism. They rigidly tried to fix God in their self made definitions made out of untenable language as if trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. While as the role of this intellectual cum theological process can’t be belittled, but their overemphasis on making God comply to their abstractions and creating an unsurpassable chasm between the creator and creation surely set them on too rigid a path. The aftermath of this theorization of God not only created uncompromising hostility among different religions, but within the same religion it gave birth to unending clashes, unforseen intolerance and created such shameful examples that served the purpose of latter day anti religious forces. The second threat, and that is more dangerous, to this “theology of presence” has come from movements like new age spirituality, occult practices and pseudo spiritual shopping malls. Whereas traditional religion and traditional metaphysics taught us to see this world as a reflection and reverberation of transcendental realm, the new age spirituality has tragically represented the divine realm as an “extended expression” of human realm and this immanent universe. This has been sort of shifting the frame of reference and with this shifting of frames, the meaning of spirituality and metaphysics is inverted on its head. This misplaced mysticism and consumerist spirituality is far dangerous than no spirituality at all. In absence of spirituality, one may set out to discover the genuine and true spiritual traditions, but the presence of fake and pseudo spirituality creates a halo effect around man and his genuine thirst and quest is buried under the garb of this “materialistic spirituality”.

There are no palatable solutions to this malice that has invaded our religious obligation of perpetual presence and taught us to be satisfied with rituals without knowing their meaning. What one can do is to read, if one can, the religious scriptures and try to get to the roots of these scriptures. Look out for commonalities among scriptures and try to make a sense out of these commonalities. Another suggestion is to read the authors like Rene Guneon, Frithjof Schoun, Martin Lings, William Chittick and others of their class. What is special about these authors is that they speak about traditional metaphysics in contemporary idiom with an insight that is both inspiring as well as awakening. Finally we must note and note it seriously that life is not a profane activity sprinkled with events of sacred prayers, rather life is sacred as a whole and the existential realisation of this axiom is fundamental postulate on which all religions stand.

(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: amirkas2016@gmail.com)

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Kathua verdict: fact, fable and fiction

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Shabbir Aariz                                   

Finally some relief has been accorded to the family of the victim, Asifa by the trial judge Mr Tejwinder Singh by convicting and punishing the guilty. But it is too little if not too late. The investigating agency has undoubtedly done a commendable job in piecing together the evidence against the odds and succeeded in obtaining conviction for criminal conspiracy, gang rape, poisoning and murder of 8year old Asifa on 17th of January 2018 in Rasana village near Kathua in Jammu. Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. The National Crime Records Bureau of India suggests a reported rape rate of 2 per 100,000 people, much lower than reported rape incidence rate in the local Indian media. However, Times of India reported the data by National Crime Records Bureau unveiling that 93 women are being raped in India every day. Every year 7,200 minors are raped as the statistics suggest without unreported ones. Rape is, surprisingly a weapon of punishment in India. In 2014, in Jharkhand village elders ordered the rape of a 14year old. The husband of the woman who was assaulted sexually was told to carry out the rape. As the woman’s husband dragged the girl to a nearby forest, villagers only looked on. Earlier West Bengal village reportedly ordered the gang rape of a 20 year old woman for falling in love with a man from another community. Even in case of Kathua, two BJP ministers stood in favor of the accused. Sexual crimes being committed with impunity not even sparing foreign tourists led to issuance of rape advisories like women travelling should exercise caution when travelling in India even if they are travelling in a group, avoid hailing taxis from streets or using public transport at night. India feels like it is going through an upsurge of sexual violence against children and after several incidents including Asifa’s, received widespread media attention and triggered public protest. The Prime Minister condemned it and UN Secretary General, Antonio Guiterres said “guilty must be held responsible” describing the incident “horrific”. This led the Government of India to reform its penal code for crimes of rape and sexual assault. As such India’s cabinet approved the introduction of death penalty for those who rape children. The executive order was cleared at a special cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Modi. It allowed capital punishment for anyone convicted of raping children under the age of 12. India’s poor record of dealing with sexual violence came to fore after 2012 gang rape and murder of a student on a Delhi bus. The four men involved were sentenced to death. The Supreme Court maintained the death sentence of the convicts; Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh. Rejecting their appeal Justice R Banumathi said the men committed “a barbaric crime” that had “shaken society’s conscience”. It is worthwhile to mention that the death penalty to the said persons was given in the year 2013 while as the executive ordinance came in April 2018 after Asifa’s incident and of a 16year old girl in northern Uttar Pradesh by a member of BJP, Kuldeep Sengar (ironically, victim’s father was arrested and thereafter killed by the Kuldeep’s supporters.) Prior to 2012, there was no single law specifically dealing with children as victims of sexual offences. Then came Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act in 2012, India’s first comprehensive law to deal specifically with child sex abuse and surprisingly the number of reported cases of child abuse rose by nearly 45% the next year.

The new amendments enable a court to hand out a death penalty to someone convicted of raping a child under 12, even if it does not result in death. In countries like China, Egypt, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, rape is punishable with nothing short of death by hanging, beheading or firing squad. Despite the changes to the law and arming Indian courts, there is reluctance to carry out the death penalty. Is there anything wrong with the collective Indian psyche that deters even courts from putting curbs on sexual crimes against even minors? One feels disgusted for the punishment not being exemplary in Asifa’s case when on trial crimes like gang rape and murder were proved. The court was saddled with the law and verdicts of Supreme Court where death penalty awarded was not interfered with and also its observations emphasizing the gravity of such crime with its impact on the society. Do the laws also have a fiction value? When do we really implement them? Is something more needed to shake society’s conscience? It is more likely that the convicts in this case will go in appeal to the higher court against the judgement. The verdict of the lower court also calls for a counter appeal by the prosecution seeking enhancement of punishment to death of the convicts.

 

(A leading lawyer and eminent poet, author contributes a weekly column. He can be reached at:  vaklishabir@gmail.com)     

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Let’s Become Environmental Protectionists!

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Dr. Shahid Amin Trali

It’s very alarming to find the unending disturbances to our environment. Man’s foul play with the nature is not going well with the present as well as our future. The environmental problems are mounting towards a bigger trouble in future but we are yet to recover from deep hibernation/sleep mode. This menace of pollution has existed for centuries but increased at an alarming rate after industrial revolution in the 19th century. Pollution is one of the biggest global killers, affecting over 100 million people. The world’s population is ever increasing and the treasures of the resources are getting overexploited.

 

There is greater need that we must promote better and efficient use of resources. Mass production of plastics, which began just six decades ago, has accelerated very rapidly—most of it in disposable products that end up as trash. If business goes on as usual, plastic pollution will double over the next thirty years. That would mean there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Plastics have several health hazards, both for humans and animals. Not just that, it is detrimental for the environment too. We must encourage the reduction, recycling and re-use of wastes as raw material for new products. Our younger generation is highly creative and all they must be given is ample support and opportunities. We must promote ‘Jugaad’ creation, the idea of using the waste to make something novel and save resources. We need to set examples from our home places and re-use what we would easily throw away and conserve for a future.  What we cannot recycle let us try not use them. Let’s promote paper products as they break down better in the environment and don’t affect our nature as much.

Learning to be more environmentally friendly is not that difficult task than we think. We must start by living with a greater awareness of the resources that we use in our daily life.  For example we must turn off the lights as soon as we leave a room in our homes and offices or even schools and colleges.  We must be environmental friendly when it comes to building our homes and buildings. Trees are necessary for us to survive. We must plant small trees around our home, don’t cut them unless it’s necessary, work with local environmental groups to plant more trees and educate others about the beauty and benefits of trees.

Water needs to be conserved. Few ways to conserve water are – take short showers, keep the running tap close while we brush our teeth, recycle water in our home, use water saving appliances etc. More good ways to contribute will be consume less energy, buy recycled products, and create less waste and many more. We must refrain from open burning as backyard trash and leaf burning releases high levels of toxic compounds. We must use public transit as much as possible. Let us walk more and drive less to conserve fuel and prevent auto-emission. Let’s use bicycles and scooters for shorter distances to save resources.

Cleanliness leads to cleanliness. We can easily find that a dirty place adds to its dirtiness. When we come across a fresh place, we think twice before turning it bad and dirty. It is sad when we think for our clean homes and hardly care for the roads, hospitals, educational institutions, offices, markets etc. Our mindset has to undergo a big overhaul that our public property is our own property.

India is one of the three worst offending countries when it comes to environmental performance. Corporate leaders have started joining the race to save the planet. Being environment-friendly, eco-friendly, going green are huge claims referring to goods and services, laws, guidelines and policies that inflict reduced, minimal, or no harm at all, upon ecosystems or the environment. But the attempts need to be strong and concrete. Small and medium sized companies in particular generate a lot of pollution and need awareness and support policies to safeguard the environment.

Individuals, organizations and governments need to join hands to protect our environment.  Let’s educate others about the significance of living an environmentally friendly life. The more we will share an awareness of the richness of the environment, the more we can do together to protect it. Environmental love and care must receive an all time attention and priority. Let’s go beyond the model building exercises for safer environment and turn them into reality. Organizations must appreciate and reward the employees for their environmental care.

The Philippines recently has taken a unique and wonderful initiative. The island country passed a law under which every student there has to mandatorily plant ten trees in order to get their graduation degree. The law if it is implemented properly will ensure that over 175 million trees will be planted every year. The law will be applicable for college, elementary, and high school students as well. Our education system must owe greater responsibility towards environment and find some unique strategies to safeguard it. Let’s go green and pledge to protect our environment. (The author is Assistant Professor, ITM University Gwalior, Youth Ambassador, International Youth Society. He can be mailed on: dr.shahidamin15@gmail.com)

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