Archive | June, 2014

Fasting, Patience & the Spirit of Ramazan

30 Jun

Ramazan Mubarak to all. I write this post, as i make these comments every Ramazan but have never made the effort to put them into an entire blog post. I realized it may actually make a difference if i tried so here goes. Every Ramazan, we talk about religion and tolerance and all the great things associated with this Holy month. The operative word here is: “talk.” We, as a society, love talking big whether it concerns religion or any other flavour of the month. This Ramazan, however, i think its important to focus on what we can do to make a difference. I pray that we develop some resemblance to a civilized society, even if it is just for 30 days. I pray that we develop tolerance though from the very onset, the fact that eating and drinking in public is prohibited demonstrates otherwise. We conveniently forget that we have minorities and that Islam does not impose – it is far from a religion of compulsion and yet we construe it to be as such, repeatedly. The entire purpose behind fasting is to develop sabr (patience, strength). We eat infront of the poor on a daily basis so how are we supposed to understand the concept of sabr in an unrealistic environment where we don’t understand that sense of deprivation that is so prevalent? I recently kept a ‘mannat ka roza’ (prior to the beginning of this Holy month) and went about my normal routine; going to the gym, going out with my friends and so forth. I saw people eating and drinking and it didn’t bother me one bit: in fact, it gave me strength to make it till iftaari (breaking of the fast). Looking at other people eating and drinking made me realize how much patience and strength God gives the poor who see us doing this on a daily basis – and how much strength He gave me to not only continue on strong with my fast, but also to understand the purpose behind it.

Whenever i hear someone say “roza lag raha hai” (i.e. that their fast is getting to them), it makes me wonder how disconnected they are from the on-ground realities prevalent in our country. People often blame their “roza” (fast) for their incompetence, laziness and unacceptable bouts of anger. Bear in mind that if the starving population had the luxury to do so, we’d be living in an even worse off society. This Ramazan, instead of following the same sickening traditions of hypocrisy (that are actually the opposite of Islam and the concept of fasting), please look inwards and make that little change that makes such a huge difference.

Everytime you think of breaking a traffic light to make it in time for Iftaari, try and understand that the law does not cease to be the law because you are hungry. Everytime you yell at someone around you because you’re hungry, imagine tens of thousands of your fellow country-men constantly screaming in your face because they barely have one meal to eat per day. Everytime you have your lavish iftaaris with ten different kinds of food that you have to eat because you’ve ‘starved’ the whole day, bear in mind that gluttony is not the expected outcome of Ramazan. If we want to respect Ramazan and celebrate this Holy month as it is meant to be celebrated, let’s be fair to ourselves, our religion and our society. 



We do NOT live in a democracy

15 Jun

Who doesn’t love freedom of the people, by the people, for the people? Why wouldn’t you love democracy? We keep hearing how Pakistan has experienced its first smooth transfer of power between two democratically elected governments. Our definitions of ‘democracy’, ‘elections’ and ‘smooth’ are clearly questionable. Here’s the problem i have with something we’ve labelled ‘democracy’ in Pakistan. We are far from a democracy and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can actually reform to achieve that goal. Countries where there are strong democratic traditions have struggled for decades before achieving what can honestly be called “democracy.” And here’s the irony: the French and American revolutionaries were those that opposed what was then their embedded “constitutional” system. They were the flag-bearers for radical reforms which eventually led to the consolidation of democracy. My point being simply that, often we misrepresent systems as being democratic when they are actually the opposite of that. How Pakistan can call itself a democracy or how our politicians can keep referring to our system as ‘democratic’ is beyond me. Yes, democracy takes years of struggle to consolidate but we’re not even on the right track for that struggle to ensue. We’re on a track so far off from democracy, we wouldn’t be able to recognize it if it hit us in the face. 

In Pakistan, we suffer from constant military coups which have greatly hampered the development of the system. There is no denying that the role of the army in politics has greatly damaged the system from day one. However, the role of politicians in that system hasn’t been any better. It is indisputable that the Army has no place in politics but it is equally incontestable that politicians rely on the army to hold onto their vested interests for a little longer. Our army is made a constant scapegoat (and here i’m not saying our Army is innocent – by no means is it blameless) but we seem to blindly accept anti-army propaganda implicitly and explicitly ingrained in our brains by our politicians, media houses and so forth. The army has become the easiest institution in Pakistan to selectively endorse and abuse, depending on our vested interests. When the army doesn’t launch a military operation (to give the ‘democratically elected’ leadership a chance to develop some kind of policy to deal with the threat of terrorism), they’re accused of sleeping with the enemy. How conveniently we shift blame from those that the blame is rightfully supposed to be attributed to: our incompetent politicians and bureaucracy. We ignore that PMLN allows LeJ’s offices to flourish in Punjab. We ignore that Rana Sanaullah went around campaigning for elections with a bunch of terrorists and thugs. We forget that PMLN and PTI supported these failed peace talks and kept pushing against military action. Our politicians are confused: they have to protect themselves (and look towards thugs and terrorists for the security of their lives rather than relying on state machinery which they have never even tried to develop to deal with the threat of terrorism) but they also have to perpetuate the image that they’re “giving peace a chance.” Our military has always done its job – it has been our politicians that are unable to take political ownership which has consistently created a vacuum of political power that terrorists capitalize on. Military operations, in which we lose our most vital assets (our brave jawaans), have proved to be successful, for instance, in Swat. However, it is not the job of the military to establish political presence in an area where there has been an operation. It is the responsibility of politicians to consolidate a system of representation in these areas to ensure terrorists cannot regain their support. So what democracy are we talking about in a system where there is zero political ownership and responsibility? We still have an Interior Minister who refuses to resign despite an embarrassing, dangerous security breach at Karachi Airport which is, again, something our politicians are refusing to take responsibility for. 

The biggest failure of a civilian government is when they have to call in the Army to carry out the basic responsibilities of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) that are the direct responsibility of the Interior Ministry. The Interior Division refuses to provide adequate training and equipment to our LEAs due to which they are thrown into situations where they can’t even defend themselves, let alone defend the civilian population. So what does the Government do, instead of reforming and addressing this failure? They call in the Army (after allowing GEO to hurl accusations at it for 8 hours with no interruptions): proving my point of selective endorsement and abuse. Similarly, Imran Khan at a recent jalsa said “we stand by our army.” Were you standing by the army when your jawaans were dying and you were opposing military operations? How can we allow our politicians to get away with insulting a state institution the way they have consistently done?

Like i mentioned earlier, the Army is not blameless. But let’s be fair when we attribute blame. And let’s recognize that we do not live in a democratic society. What democracy can exist or develop if there are no policies? And building a Metro Bus is not the kind of ‘policy’ i’m referring to. Without a counter-terrorism strategy, securing basic constitutional rights (like the right to life, the most fundamental of all human rights), and political ownership, we’re only fooling ourselves by calling this a ‘democracy.’