Democracy/Governance / 27.06.2016

By Anjum Altaf  Over two thousand years ago Plato was skeptical of democracy because he felt that voters, even those restricted to property-owning male citizens, were swayed too easily by the rhetoric of self-serving politicians. Democracy disappeared for over 1,500 years following its demise in Athens and it was only then that its slow evolution began in England and spread to other parts of the world. Doubts regarding its efficacy persisted but were countered by arguments that it was the worst form of government except for all others. Not that this was considered universally applicable – during colonialism it was openly asserted that natives were not ready for democracy. Similar reservations regarding the developing world persisted beyond the end of colonialism. In the 1990s the late Richard Holbrooke was reported to have said: “Suppose elections are free and fair and those elected are racists, fascists, separatists — that...

Miscellaneous / 15.08.2011

By Hasan Altaf There is, I imagine, no one on earth whose understanding of the past is completely without bias, but this problem must be particularly acute when it comes to those who, once upon a time, were responsible for creating that past: those who could change, in ways however small, the course of events, who could, or imagined they could, control whatever forces were in play, who could and did shape history. Maybe it would be best to take their versions of events with not just a grain of salt but also a pinch of pity, because for them, the stakes of this game must be higher than they are for the rest of us. They made the world we have today; all we have to do is live in it.
Democracy/Governance / 08.09.2010

By Anjum Altaf If there were a last few shreds of respect clinging to the body of the Pakistani state the floods have washed them away. The state stands naked and drenched in its helplessness. The real question, however, is the following: Why did we ever believe that there were some redeeming shreds in the first place? The state has been naked for a long time. Just put your ear to the ground – millions of echoes and re-echoes will reverberate and deliver the judgment without an iota of misgiving: “All our rulers are thieves.” If there has been any one overwhelming sentiment in Pakistan, it is this: its rulers, one and all, have been, and are, knaves and rascals who do not have the welfare of the citizens at heart.
Democracy/Governance / 11.08.2010

By Anjum Altaf One has to sympathize with Pakistan at this time beset as it is with problems from all sides. The focus ought to be on ensuring survival. But surely there must be some thought that extends beyond the sympathy, beyond the jaded expressions of shock and sorrow. Will Pakistan continue to lurch from crisis to crisis? Will this cycle of pray and beg, beg and pray, ever come to an end? It will, but perhaps not in the way we would like. There is no such thing as equilibrium; it exists only as an idealized state in textbooks of economics. In the real world, things either get better or they get worse. And who will now dispute that, in general, things have been trending down in Pakistan mostly as the result of self-inflicted wounds.
Ghalib / 20.03.2009

Last week’s selection is nicely followed up by the following couplet: baaziichah-e atfaal hai dunyaa mire aage hotaa hai shab-o-roz tamaashaa mire aage the world is a game/plaything of children, before me night and day, a spectacle occurs before me From resignation (ho rahega kuchh nah kuchh ghabraayeN kyaa) to equanimity (hotaa hai shab-o-roz tamaashaa mire aage) seems quite appropriate. After all, how seriously can one (or ought one) to take what goes on in the world? Take for example, the current events in Pakistan. Do they have any import? In its over 60 years of existence, how many leaders have come and gone whose names are virtually impossible to recall but who were so incredibly important in their own times? How well Ghalib fuses into Shakespeare: To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way...

Ghalib / 24.01.2009

How do we decide whom to follow? Ghalib has some advice: laazim nahiiN ke kih Khizr kii ham pairavii kareN jaanaa kih ek buzurg hameN ham-safar mile it is not necessary that we follow in the footsteps of Khizr we consider that we have a venerable-elder as a fellow-traveler Hazrat Khizr is the most revered guide to the lost in Islamic folk tradition and Ghalib is saying that we do not need to follow in the footsteps of Khizr. Why? Ghalib has faith in the individual; he wants every human being to use his or her mind first. Ghalib is not rejecting advice but he wishes the advice to be just another input into our decision-making as we proceed on our journey through life. A knowledgeable fellow traveler is fine, but a leader to be followed blindly is not recommended. What do you think of the advice of Ghalib? Well, it is clear...

Ghalib / 18.09.2008

With reference to the politics of Pakistan we had explored the topic of impeachment in an earlier verse. This week we lean on Ghalib to talk about the new leadership. chaltaa huuN thoRii duur har ik tez-rau ke saath pahchaantaa nahiiN huuN abhii raahbar ko maiN I go along a little way with every single swift walker I do not yet recognize the guide For our purpose, the interpretation of CM Naim is most appropriate: “The world is full of false leaders. I still do not know who the real leader is. I get deceived by every appearance of rapidity and movement. Every time I see someone proceeding with rapidity I think him to be the guide and walk after him a little way. But that little experience tells me that the man is not the guide I seek. Or is it that I am restless and get quickly drawn to...

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.