Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Change Can Happen... just need Photoshop. Or, in the case of the esteemed Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), just Microsoft Paint.

Now, in case you've grown tired of tire-burning lawyers and haven't been keeping up with developments in the legal world, let me give you the background: polling for the SCBA executive council elections are today, which is particularly interesting since it pits human rights activist Asma Jehangir against the right-wing 'Professional Group.'

But the elections themselves aren't as fascinating as the election poster they've put up on the website (

Why does it look familiar?

Is it:
(1) the red-and-white stripes of the American flag in the top-right corner?
(2) the all-too-familiar and hopeful message of "change"?
(3) the African-American man raising a hand to acknowledge the struggle of lawyers?
(4) The Caucasian dude pointing out the failures of the PPP government?

Now let's look at another picture:

Indeed, sir, change can happen.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Help Me Help Fatima Bhutto!

There was a time when a lot of people thought that Fatima Bhutto was the future of the Bhutto dynasty and, by extension, the future of Pakistan itself. After all, she was smart, articulate, popular, pretty (hey, just saying) and mercifully lacked the ego-maniacal gene of her family. Did I mention she was critical of Pervez Musharraf when most of us were in a love affair with him? That she wrote a beautiful collection of poetry about the 2005 earthquake? Clearly an ideal future leader, right? Well, not quite.

This story starts the day Asif Zardari became Pakistan's President and Fatima's world (and some say her brain) turned upside down. Zardari is the man she blames for her father's assasination; Mir Murtaza was tragically killed in a  'police-encounter' during Benazir Bhutto's second reign. Despite sufficient evidence, the allegations were never proven in court and as Fatima's half of the family watched in anguish, Zardari not only found himself out of bars, but then miraculously traded prison for presidential palace.

Not suprisingly this did not sit well with dear ol' Fatima. But few would have imagined how her immaculate public composure would plummet. Her incisive columns in The News turned into meaningless rants against a toothless and rather new government. The fact that she did it from the platform of a staunch PPP opponent made the critique biased and ruthless. Everything from the lack of public schools to the proliferation of mosquitoes in the country was blamed on the Presidency. Interview conversation switched from her knowledge of the country's problems to her childhood trauma. Loyal followers (and there were many) grew tired, some started turning away and others (me) started complaining.

So like every self-respecting journalist (which is what she calls herself) faced with an objective dilemma, she did the obvious. She decided to write a book! Now I didn't read the book myself, but based on her last few columns, I have a very strong hunch that it is more or less composed of three lines:

Benazir and Zardari had my father killed.
Benazir and Zardari really had my father killed. 
Benazir and Zardari actually had my father killed.

The cover of Fatima's book. Kidding!

Suffice to say, few read the book. Most domestic reviewers gave it scathing reviews. To make matters worse, the West had an opposite view, devouring it as a heroic tale. The global feting and book signings convinced Fatima of a pre-conceived conspiracy against her back home. Hence, she stopped talking to Pakistani journalists or writing in Pakistani publications altogether. The News was out, The Daily Beast was in. When that didn't sit well, she went on to claim that everyone in Pakistan criticising her was actually a PPP agent. When Declan Walsh, the Guardian's Afghanistan- Pakistan editor, joined the chorus, Fatima called him a PPP agent too. At this point, no one seemed immune from being labelled an agent of the country's largest political party. Many wondered who'd be next to receive the treatment from Fatima's famous Twitter account.

Three names came to mind:

1. Cafe Pyala, a blog that called out Fatima for getting her anthropology wrong. They are anonymous too, a hallmark of PPP supporters and of course agents too.
2. Mohammad Asif, a man who brought shame to Pakistan via his corruption. Just like another guy. Who also shares his name, starting with an A? Get it? Good.
3. Five Rupees, who admitted to being on the PPP payroll, and once even put it on top of their blog! Jeez. Also, switched from a popular, easy-to-access blog to an ugly, impossible-to-comment-on blog. Much like what Zardari did to the PPP.

But then somewhere along the line I also feel sorry for Fatima. I mean, what is she supposed to do? As a journalist people question her objectivity. As an author, they question her creativity. As a politician, they question...wait what she's a politician too?! Well, she's a Bhutto so you cannot not be a politician, and despite poor Fatima's dreams of being an apolitical crusader, by her own admission she was campaigning for her mother's party when Benazir was assasinated.

So readers, the question is what should Fatima do now? I don't want her to be irrelevant and a laughing stock. She's too good (and pretty) for that. Plus, the other Bhutto kids are kind of uncool, and not fun to talk about. So it really would be a tragedy if she just fell flat. I suggest a career change. On top of my head I could think of three possible ones: 

1. She should become a full-fledged politician ala Sassi Palejo or Marvi Memon. Both of them make a lot of noise, and in the grand scheme of things are rather irrelevant, but they're still important. If that makes sense.
2. She should join the ISI's Zardari Defamation League. She'll have friends there too! i.e: the entire staff of her former employer, The News.
3. If all else fails, she could ask Shoaib Mansoor to replace Iman Ali with herself. She looks like her, and could have pulled off Iman's hilariously bad British accent in Khuda Kay Liye better than her. Fact.

There's still hope Fatima. Atleast, I'm pulling for you!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Change Pakistan Needs...Now!

So while I have been lazy and not writing anything, my cousin has been at it and came up with this interesting article about the need for more competence in the civilian government:

Pakistan is at a very crucial junction in her short and warped history. With the annual monsoon rains wreaking havoc and the armed forces stretched thin from providing relief to citizens from floods and militants, we are at our wits end. The irony here is that the political elite ceases to wake up and smell the rotten political air that has clouded Pakistan. Bickering over whether the Army should take over or how corrupt the current crop of politicians are, seems to have become a permanent feature in our national discourse. But the real question to be asked is – how do we pick ourselves up once our political elite has pounded us into the ground?

Why are 180 million held hostage to our politicians? With the National Reconciliation Ordinance hovering in the background in 2008, mixed with the unfortunate assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the PPP managed to garner enough votes to form the Federal government. They started of by installing the largest cabinet in history with tens of Federal Ministers, along with granting Minister-at-large status to many PPP stalwarts. I believe that although these Ministers carried with them a vote from the people, their appointment to some of the crucial Ministries is questionable, and detrimental.

In a Parliamentary form of democracy, the Prime Minister enjoys the right to appoint any elected politician to a particular ministry. Why does our democratic system – which should epitomize transparency and accountability – not have a vetting process for those members nominated to take charge of critical ministries? Why has such a process been absent from our political discourse when appointing Federal Ministers?

What needs to be condemned is the lack of professionals taking part in the political process. There are over 60 members of Parliament who enjoy the status of a Federal Minister within Pakistan today. Unfortunately, only a few are technocrats who have secured a portfolio to bring back Pakistan from the abyss. Information and Technology, Commerce, Industries & Production, Law, Education are only a few Ministries that require the need for adept candidates. These Ministries need to be taken over by qualified, skilled professionals who know the intricacies of such dense portfolios. Leaving them to be looked after by shrewd politicians will only confine us to the black hole we are stuck in today.

The question then arises, how should professionals be incorporated into the political system where they match the legitimacy of those who have secured a mandate from the electorate? A few options come to the forefront. First, technocrats become part of the ballot and seek votes to become a Member of Parliament. The second option is to enhance the capabilities of the Civil Service, which has brutally been ignored over the years and is currently being left to rot. Such an institution would groom competent and proficient individuals who would have the capacity to run the affairs of Ministries that require delicate attention. The third alternative is an amendment to our Constitution that would empower the Parliamentary Committees. This would allow elected officials to thoroughly scrutinize a nominee for a Federal Minister. Such individuals could be political or apolitical, but will gain legitimacy after having being vetted by those representing the electorate. Introducing this clause can provide specialization of labor, demand for greater qualifications and increase the quality of those seeking to be Ministers.

The above-mentioned solutions to our fractured Parliamentary system are farsighted but not out of reach. However, with the current state of affairs, we need to achieve a more viable resolution that would reform the current battered methodology of appointing Ministers.

Pakistan is not deficient in professionals. For the fiscal year 2010, Pakistan received $8.906 billion in the form of remittances. In order to bring about a game-changing solution – by addressing issues of the middle class – the Federal government (political parties) needs to seek out professionals. The Senate could be used to elect certain professionals in order to allow them to become part of the Cabinet. Thus, political parties need to utilize their political capital and assist proficient individuals in securing votes.

By bringing professionals into the arena, the Federal government can create efficiency within the Cabinet, free itself from big governance, empower the middle-class, gain public support and have a better chance of getting re-elected in the general elections. Such a move would allow elected members to devote greater time in their constituents (the reason for their election) by addressing social issues, while not having to delve on the intricacies of running critical Ministries.

The practice of placing subordinates to essential Ministries – who will toe the party line and uphold the status quo – can only cause more damage to a weakened nation. Our feeble and fragile democratic system needs to be challenged, but challenged through the political system. The Army is not a solution – and those with ranks on their shoulders need to be kept at bay. It is due to the incompetence of many Ministries across the board that has increased the call for a change in government. I am not endorsing such a policy, as it would be detrimental for the country - at this point in time. What Pakistan requires is a change within the political set-up that would cater to public sentiment and give power to an evaporated middle-class.