Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pakistan Watch

In some ways, we are holding a begging bowl in one hand, and a raised middle finger in the other. If we had a third hand, it would be holding a gun to our head. In fact, this is now our preferred negotiation mode.
Irfan Husain (Mazdak) in Dawn.

Noting that so far there has not been a popular revolt against feudalism in Pakistan, this opinion in The News continues:
The sophistication of the Taliban strategy is becoming clearer. They were unlikely ever to come to national power via the ballot box, but they may come to it via popular revolution.

Examining the way in which they took hold of Swat tells us that they targeted a group of key landowners and landlords, as well as several local politicians who were also landowners or landlords. Disaffected peasants were organised into armed groups, pressure was applied either through direct intimidation or indirectly by the publication of 'the list' of people disapproved of by the Taliban. 'The masses' were promised swift transparent justice for their grievances, a redistribution of wealth – the landlords and landowners having fled – and an end to corrupt and inefficient governance. To a landless peasant or daily-wager this was an attractive proposition; even if it did come loaded with a different version of tyranny. The result is what we see today with Swat existing as a state outside of Pakistan and ruled by the Taliban. Swat is the prototypical model, the 'proof of concept' that the Taliban needed in order to replicate their success outside of their Pashtun homelands. They are now self-sustaining, less reliant on foreign aid, and have the rudiments of governance at their fingertips. They also make plain that the conquest of the rest of the country is their end-goal.

As recently as two years ago we might have laughed this off such is its improbability. Not today. Today there is no shortage of Doomsday scenarios for Pakistan emerging from various think-tanks and commentators. Some of them are far-fetched – the suggestion that the state will collapse in six months for instance - but others less so and we have to consider them as a possibility. There is a ring of credibility about the New York Times analysis that should give us pause for thought, and it cannot be dismissed as the musings of a crackpot. The state is extremely vulnerable not only because of the ramshackle politics and corruption, but also at the hitherto untouchable feudal end of the spectrum. And where is the great stronghold of feudalism? Punjab. Punjab is populous, wealthy and provides most of the power-elites that have run the country since partition – periodically aided and abetted by Sindhi feudals. Punjab is clearly in the sights of the Taliban. They have power-bases in all the major cities and the conscientisation and mobilization of a disaffected peasantry, albeit on a far larger scale than in Swat valley, is possible. They are tilling fertile ground – the peasantry sees a dwindling income from the land and endless years of bonded labour ahead, and in the cities the pool of uneducated or ill-educated and unemployed urban youth is an unruly character in search of an author. Punjab will be the Swat model writ large; and it may be that the failure to implement land reform from the outset of the state, choosing instead to perpetuate feudalism, will be its downfall.

Dr. Farrukh Saleem laments the fate of Swat, in The News
Which one of the 192 member-states of the UN would Swat be like? Which one of the 57 OIC countries would Swat be like? Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan?

Would the 'Switzerland of Pakistan' now be like Saudi Arabia? Saudi Arabia's per capita book readership is one of the lowest on the face of the planet. Saudi Arabia is yet to produce a Nobel prize winner (Israel has produced eight). Saudi Arabia has no more than 5,000 scientists (200 per million) while the US has 1.5 million (4,000 per million). Saudi Arabia hasn't invented anything of consequence for the human civilisation in its 77 years of existence. Saudi Arabia officially practises a comprehensive gender-based apartheid system whereby 14 million Saudi women have different legal rights than Saudi men, an "unequal access to property and jobs, and restrictions on freedom of movement… (Saudi women were not allowed to vote in the municipal elections of 2005)." Would the 'Switzerland of Pakistan' now be like the 'Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan' (as Afghanistan was from 1996 to 2001)? No political parties, no politics, no elections -- and absolutely dictatorial. No TV, no chess, no kites. For women -- restricted employment, no education, no sports, no nail-polish. For everyone else -- no videos, no music, no dancing, no clapping during sports events -- and a beard "extending farther than a fist clamped at the base of the chin." No paintings, no photographs, no stuffed animals -- and no dolls.

Letter published in The News:
Doctor or death?
Sunday, April 19, 2009
I am a girl who lives in Swat -- and I have a question for the Taliban. Will I be allowed to become a doctor? If not tell me now -- so I can commit suicide.