Friday, July 15, 2011

Pakistan - A demo-dictocracy

I am a staunch supporter of democracy as it is about giving role to everybody and making everyone responsible in a society. Democracy is not about going to electorate and making passionate speeches calling for insaaf or playing victim and making pledges which any sane mind would rubbish. It is about bringing everybody to a common ground and letting everyone play a role, share responsibility and be accountable for it. Briefly, its about involving the masses in decision making, and leading from the front by being sensitive to the needs of society.

Democracy and progress become inter-related when the system becomes efficient enough to give everyone the room to march forward, not just select few. When individuals are held accountable for their actions, culture of self-correction in the system reigns, only then do we call it a 'Positive Democracy'.

To define a not so positive democracy is far more easier. A democracy which is to consolidate power, to create obstacles for the sake of being populist. When actors, and the people who are to keep a check are no more responsible in delivering, that is called a not so positive democracy.

I believe it was important to explain my ideas so that the readers to be cognizant of my faith in jamhooriat.

As I've laid down my barometer for making a judgement about the system, lets test our own country's politics first.

  • Is the democracy practised in our country enabling the civil society to come forward and take ownership and be responsible for their actions? Is it about delegating or consolidating the powers?
  • Are the political actors in our country democratic themselves?
  • Do the political actors have any vision to educate, and make the masses aware of our problems?
  • Are the political actors not part of the government, but in parliament doing anything positive or contributing positively to make the system efficient other than delivering fiery speeches and make hue and cry over same old corruption, bad governance, mud-slinging etcetra ?
  • Is the media acting responsibly as it is now a pillar of the state? Is it educating people or it is busy earning revenue by sensationalism? Is it playing any role in integrating the country or disintegrating the country? Is it telling us the facts?

I leave it to your judgement to decide whether we're living in a positive democracy. Another way that I put not so positive democracy is demo-dictocracy. However, in the end I'd say that best dictatorship is worse than worst democracy.

We want democracy, not demo-dictocracy!

Friday, April 29, 2011

To k na waqif-e-Adab-e-gulami hai abhee

To k na waqif-e-Adab-e-gulami hai abhee
raqs zanjeer pahin kar bhee kia jata hai

Aaj qatil ki yeh marzi hai k sirkash larki
sir-e-qatil tujhay koroon se nachaya jay
maut ka raqs zamanay ko dikhaya jay
is tarahan zulm ko zazarana dia ja sakta hai
raqs zanjeer pahin kar bhee kia ja sakta hai

daikh friad na kar ,sir na jhoka paoon utha
kal k Jo loog karain gay to abhee se kar ja
nachtay nachtay aazadi ki khatir mar ja
manzil-e-ishq main mar mar k jiya jata hai
raqs zanjeer pahin kar bhee kia jata hai

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Karachi and Broken Windows Theory

Karachi, once the capital, and still perhaps THE most important city in Pakistan because of the economic activity it generates followed by Lahore. Most of the tax in country comes from this mega-city owing to its two ports and being the business hub. I don't know if we subtract Karachi from Pakistan, or somehow try to eliminate it from the picture, how things will be. Too difficult to imagine.

It has over 15 million residents, making it 3rd most populous city on planet after Shanghai and Mumbai. One may define mega-city in anyway, and Karachi would fit the definition easily. Being a mega-city, it has mega problems!

Being the hub of economic activity and a major population center with a relatively lower cost of living, it is still a major attraction for many of the countrymen living in rural areas for migration.

But there is one sad fact, it hardly ever gets a positive news coverage. For most of people, Karachi is a dangerous place to live. They view it as an threat to their lives, families, properties etc everything.

Recently, I came across 'Broken Windows Theory'. It was proposed by criminologists and has been successfully applied in past for similar problems in other mega cities around the world. Let's first look at what Broken Windows Theory is.

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.
Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.

Now, if you've ever had the experience of coming out of Jinnah Terminal and then the moment, you get on to Shahra-e-Faisal, it is like a moment of truth. I remember, after having seen coverage of US invasion in Iraq and then into Baghdad, the images I used to watch on tely were pretty similar what you get to see on roads. Everything seems broken, out of shape, out of vogue, as if nobody has bothered about spending money on roads, lights, it is as if walking in a battle-torn city. Of course, I am not feeling good while writing this, but believe me, this is how it feels.

If you're not that lucky, you might have witnessed a couple of incidents with shootings, firings; everyone running around chaotically to save one's life. Its just amazing.

What is most striking is that dynamics of every neighborhood is unique depending on its geography, where it is situated, how large is it, its demography as the kind of people who inhabit it. Since I moved here, every now and then when something happens, for a moment or two, I do give it a thought as how things can be solved. Above all, from where to start!

We've had military operations in Karachi, more than once but to no avail. I believe its time to try something new. De-politicization of metropolis better be looked at as not an option as that gives rise to another problem, victimization.

I think Broken Windows Theory gives us an opportunity to think and look at the problem from a very very different perspective. By taking care of things, which generally mean nothing or hardly carry any value, maybe it'll be fruitful.

My appeal to masses! and civil society leadership is to seriously consider this theory, and start a new 'I love Karachi' campaign with youth actively participating and making it it a better place to live.

It's tough for me to give this post a better closing, but I believe anyone who reads has got the message.

Monday, February 28, 2011

US doesn’t want another Iran

Recent developments in Middle East have been too big to have gone unnoticed. To me and many of my generation, they carry certain significance. Nobody has ever witnessed an uprising of this magnitude, and then above all, for it to have a domino effect across multiple countries in the sands of Arabia.

Middle East, as the history tells us, has always been a place of political calm on the outside. There indeed have been many conspiracies, power struggles within the aristocracy, and the ruling families to be precise. However, nobody among the general public has bothered about why X is in power, and why not Y – or what kind of regime do they want, what sort of foreign policy do they want, what sort of economy do they want etc. They have opinions, and as per my perception, opinions are very strong, and there are concerns among the subjects in some of the states on how things are being managed, but the maximum would be a protest rally. It never goes beyond that. This is also because many of people from Arab countries have gone to west, and they see a stark difference in the rights of a common man. Tribal culture is dominant even in the most developed Arab states to date, and the societies draw their values from it, which defines the rights of commoner very differently to what we see in west.

For centuries, there has been a silent contract between the rulers and subjects. State gives a certain level of freedom which allows the people to carry on their lives without any apparent interference, and the public doesn’t mind who is at the throne. Democracy – a phenomenon which lets a commoner have a say – stands to be the most alien concept in the tribal Arab. And to my understanding, and perception as long as the status quo works for them, there is no point hassling for democracy and reshaping the whole society, doesn’t work that way. You can select a political system for your country, but can only do so by taking social structure into account. Monarchy suits them and its working – so let them enjoy.

Above two paragraphs might have sounded boring or not something related to the topic, but I wanted to do a ‘Mideast 101’ before moving onto my views on Regime Change Domino.

I witnessed all these events, but could never agree to the idea of this change coming out of public i.e. common people. People who know they will never be in power, people who have never been in power, people who don’t even dream of it, people who are so used to maintaining distance from the government – I don’t understand what changed them? It’s so characteristic of them to be loyal to the throne or at least never to worry about the rulers. The change seems so fundamental in nature, that it either is a sign of change in attitude of society or something else.
After a bit of analysis, here are my thoughts. We’ve all read about French Revolution, we’ve read about Bolshevik Revolution, we know of Iranian Revolution of 1979, but this is not even a revolution. They got rid of Ben Ali, they got rid of Hosni Mobarak and now they’re after Gaddafi. Ben Ali had crossed that fine line and had literally taken away most of his countrymen’s rights, Hosni Mobarak had become increasingly unpopular for various reasons, Gaddafi is unpopular for so many reasons. Many of us would believe that with Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak off the picture, US is going to have difficulties dealing with these countries as these two were faithfully serving Uncle Sam’s agenda in the region.

Now, if we shift our focus for a moment to another part of the globe, we had a regime change in Washington about 2 years back. Obama pledged to bring about a Change. He was against going into Iraq, and wanted a change in US’ Mideast policy. Now keeping that thing in view, they cannot change the policy to make Israel insignificant. Israel remains US’ most trusted partner in the region. However, they have paid a huge cost of keeping the anger and frustration among masses to build on by keeping Hosni Mobarak and Ben Ali in power. This could result in a bloody revolution just like Iran in 1979. They don’t want another Iran strictly speaking. That has left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, and nobody wants a replay.

Therefore, they had only one option, change the faces and change the state’s structures in a way that it continues to serve their interests and includes the people. Egyptian, Tunisian people are not demanding when it comes to their participation in governance. All they want is their voices be heard. Now, by having support of US in uprisings against the state, US has tacitly conveyed the people that it is with them. This resultantly improves perception among general public of US. Before, anti-Hosni/Ben Ali was anti-US, but now they can understand that US is there to respect them. US did this in Pakistan in 2007, we shouldn’t forget. People were getting tired of Musharraf, they stopped supporting him, and brought about a change which to a great extent left the public something to cheer about and be proud of.

Structure of state doesn’t change, but a change of faces and a bit participation from public keeps the public happy. Revolutions result in new structures of state. They undergo a revolutionary change, and that change in turn changes everything. I don’t see that happening, not at least for the moment. By supporting the uprising, US has at least pushed that Iranian Revolution in these countries at least a decade away.

Having said all this, I don’t see any such thing happening in Saudia or Bahrain at least for now. There is no reason absolutely to convince us of any such need there. They are formal monarchies and people also enjoy opportunities, and do get part of the petro-dollars to enjoy their lives. King keeps the subjects happy, and life goes on.