Democracy/Governance / 01.01.2008

These notes are intended to record our thoughts about two aspects of governance that, in our view, need serious reflection by analysts of developing societies in general and of South Asia in particular. We intend, with the help of contributors, to build on these notes throughout the year. First, we have been reiterating our view that the ethos of South Asian societies is still monarchical. By this we mean that both the rulers and the majority of the ruled continue to view the world in a monarchical perspective and act in accordance with it. The latest dynastic succession in Pakistan provides proof of this assertion yet again and does not need elaboration at this point. But even a cursory examination of the situations in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will bear out our point. What we intend to do is to examine the implications of this reality for...

Miscellaneous / 27.12.2007

By Samia Altaf  In two recent articles, I was pleading for a deeper understanding of Pakistan, an understanding based on the emerging realities in the country, an understanding that would give us half a chance of avoiding the kind of immense tragedy we are confronted with today. Helping Pakistan began with the following paragraph: “Pakistan, labeled the most dangerous country in the world, with loose nukes and angry jihadis, is unraveling. It needs help. To be helped it needs to be understood. Urging a transition to “true democracy,” after the fourth military dictator has suspended the constitution for the second time and sacked a judiciary that dared to question his legitimacy, betrays either naiveté or disinterest. Both will hurt in the long run, if there is a long run.” And Cricket in the Jungle started with the following lines: “While everyone is focused on what will happen,...

Politics / 16.12.2007

By Ahmed Kamran  Curiously, Pakistan passes through a cycle of political tumult and unrest after about every ten years that somehow leads to a change of the ‘faces’. After the political upheavals of 1958, 1968, 1977-78, 1988, and 1998-99 we are about to enter into 2008 with yet another ‘middle class revolution’ brewing in some urban areas.  Politics is much like Plato’s allegory of a cave where we do not see the real world but only the images of the people outside the cave being formed on the wall. Likewise, on the Pakistan political stage, we do not see the ‘reality’ but only the ‘images’ that are being projected onto the screen, now immensely powerful images with global satellite TV. Sentimental viewers of mostly middle classes tend to get so much emotionally involved in the play that they start ascribing their own latent ‘dreams’ and memories of their...

Miscellaneous / 09.12.2007

By Samia Altaf  While everyone is focused on what will happen, the much more profound impact will be of what is happening before it happens. Something will happen after all, it always does— when the dust settles there will be a deal: it will be Him, or him, or her in the driver’s seat; or Him and her, or Him and him; rather less likely it would be him and her. It will matter a lot to the bunch of ladies and gentlemen, honorable individuals all, who want an office, a chair, a flag at any price and who need to bet right on who will be left standing when the music stops. But what will it matter to us? We have seen them all, individually and in pairs, we have seen them all. And we know that nothing much will change when the dust settles...

Aid / 09.12.2007

By Samia Altaf 

Pakistan, labeled the most dangerous country in the world, with loose nukes and angry jihadis, is unraveling. It needs help. To be helped it needs to be understood. Urging a transition to “true democracy,” after the fourth military dictator has suspended the constitution for the second time and sacked a judiciary that dared to question his legitimacy, betrays either naiveté or disinterest. Both will hurt in the long run, if there is a long run. 

Understand that there has not been much difference between military and civilian rule in Pakistan. When unreal hopes are betrayed by one, the other is accorded a relieved welcome. Four painful cycles ought to be enough to make that clear. The pundits wringing their hands at the ills of dictatorship today are the same who saw huge silver linings when the fourth dictator, the “enlightened moderate,” came along to clean the democratic mess.