Power and fear

19Jan11

Picture courtesy Abro Khuda Bux

Last night I went to an unusual event in Karachi. Some of the wealthiest people of Pakistan sat next to the poorest, and when I say that, I mean it literally. Leaders of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party were invited to speak at the same stage as those of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Labour Party to name just a few at the Pakistan Medical Association House where a couple of hundred sat in attendance. Till a day before, the event organisers, Citizens for Democracy were desperately searching for a venue as at the last minute, citing threats from clerics, the Arts Council withdrew the offer to host a remembrance of the assassinated Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer. I should point out that the Karachi Press Club also refused to allow the event at their premises. Knowing of these threats, there were not forty-thousand, but there were enough to fill the large hall and then some. It was an eclectic mix of human rights activists, independent journalists, politicians, doctors and trade unionists with one thing in common — the awareness that there needs to be a change, and their presence proved that while it may be improbable, it is not entirely impossible.

I am not saying that the place was teeming with fearless souls, but it seems to me that there is a direct correlation between power and fear. It appears that the most disempowered politicians are the most courageous. Fauzia Wahab, the Information Secretary of the present government failed to make a definitive statement citing the PPP’s stance on the Blasphemy laws. On the other hand, the representatives of the Awami Party, the Labour Party and the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz all condemned the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, labeled Mumtaz Qadri the murderer he is, and declared their unequivocal stand against Islamic ‘extremism.’ Of course it may be argued that as these parties do not have power, they have nothing to lose.

And yet, there still exists what I understand to be individual moral fibre, which I saw in another representative of the government, Dr Kaiser Bengali, the Advisor to the Chief Minister Sindh for Planning and Development. Dr Bengali, prior to the event stated to me that seeing the large turnout, thought there remained some hope for Pakistan. At the podium, he said the same, and added, “Salmaan Taseer is a great man. I say ‘is’ because a shaheed does not die.” These are mere words but we are not the ones who tote guns and blow ourselves up; words are what we have.

Perhaps Ms Wahab should have realised that before she talked at her audience, and maybe then she would have given us words of substance rather than empty rhetoric. Instead of giving us the befuddling advice to ‘unite for ourselves beyond the state, the government, the legislature,’ she should have told us to come together because she and her party were behind us — the party that I was raised to believe, and still hope is the one reliable progressive political force of this country. I have felt that we need to cut some slack to this democratic government elected after a decade of military rule, the prospect of which constantly looms. However, it is an unforgivable lack of governance that we have witnessed in the murder of Taseer and the refusal of the Badshahi Mosque imam to lead his funeral prayers.

Ms Wahab suggested that the documentary, Blind Faith, illustrating the abuse of the Blasphemy laws shown by the Citizens for Democracy should be broadcast by all channels. As many in the audience called out to her, I too would suggest to her that she, with all the power we do not have, should show the film on the state-owned Pakistan Television.

Or are we to believe what is becoming clear — power only extends to the ability to amass wealth, have noxious entourages and cultivate slobbering sycophants? Beyond that, she, her party and this government are just as powerless as we.

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10 Responses to “Power and fear”

  1. 1 wendeth

    I like your balance. Appreciative of the fact people showed
    up, but as you mentioned have politically nothing to lose. Perhaps
    they do. When Bush was up for re-election many of us thought there
    was no way he would be re-elected. We were tired of what he was
    pulling within national and international policies, his “approval
    rating” was quite low…Mickey Mouse should have won. And yet as we
    know Kerry couldn’t pull of the win. He made some serious blunders
    which “polls” showed was the downfall. People felt they were better
    off knowing what Bush would do even if they didn’t like it then
    unsure of what Kerry would. I say that to say perhaps these
    politicians COULD do something considering the “approval ratings”
    of the current administration (s) in the provinces….and perhaps
    they are making their political move? None the less….like the
    Ahmadies and Christians who pack their places of worship week after
    week knowing the danger that lurks for them. Keep up the good work,
    Naveen and those who wish to stand up for the humanity in
    Pakistan—that is the only way it will survive.

  2. 2 Ali Wahab

    Dear Ms. Naqvi,
    I think the attendance of Fauzia Wahab at the event itself was the necessary symbol of support to the civil society. Please note that the civil society cannot function without a strong, anchoring political party. Do you think it is easy to finish a legacy law, which no one is willing to even reason about? My mother has herself been a target of the the non-sense of this blabbering media. Last year she was accused to have committed blasphemy when she said that during Hazrat Umar’s time there was no constitution and on 7th of January, 2011, after the assassination of a very dear to us Salmaan Taseer, she said on the floor of the house that If Aafia is a daughter of the nation, then Aasia is also a daughter of this nation. Some elements in the media are out to make her life miserable too with headlines like “Salmaan Taseer kay baad, maloona Aasia kee himayat mayn fauzia maydan mayn aa gayeen”.

    One can have a personal definitive ideology but at a political party level, it is not possible. Everything takes time and with only time people realize the need for change.

    The PPP has been facing the brunt of the obscurantist forces for the last many years. In the very little pictures I saw of the event at the PMA House, I could see quite a few PPP workers in the audience. Amongst the speakers, I could Iqbal Haider as well as Taj Haider in the audience. These are all known PPP men.

    On the matter of Blind Faith, I personally saw the videos yeasterday on youtube and believe me, it is something that should be relayed on all channels. Let’s say the PTV doesn’t. Will the other channels that are there to talk of the civil society and human rights play it? No!

    Please give time to the matter. PPP has lost its people when in power and when not in power. The progressive population has to side with the PPP as it can help lead to our survival and then progress.

  3. 3 Farieha

    @Ali Wahab

    Thank you for articulating this, much of what was not known to many perhaps.

    Our grouse, as members of the civil society, is most definitely with the PPP government and its officials. It is true, that the PPP isolated Salmaan Taseer and Sherry Rehman. Rehman Malik and Babar Awan’s statements are proof of it. Nobody else came to their defense either or bothered to clarify Taseer’s stance. And now we see neither the government nor its official taking any kind of decisive action against those promoting vigilantism and hate, or even where Qadri’s punishment is concerned. Why?

    It is not the duty of the unprotected masses to take this matter up, but of those in government. But since they have not, civil society has been at the forefront, putting its neck on the line.

    What we would have liked at the reference was for the PPP to articulate a party position and government position, to tell us where it stands on the issue and what it intends to do about it. But that did not happen. We were hoping your mother would do that for us, as we thought she was there as a PPP representative.

    As for other PPP supporters present at the reference, Mr Iqbal Hadier does not Identify himself with the ruling PPP. He was there in an individual capacity.

  4. 4 Ali Wahab

    Ms. Frieha, On the matter of Mr. Iqbal Haider, I said he is
    a known PPP man. Yes, he is currently not active with the party,
    but that doesn’t mean he is with some other political ideology. I
    think you are a journalist yourself (assuming you are the same
    Frieha from Newsline), you should know who is with you and who is
    not. From the very outset, it is the PPP who has lost a charismatic
    worker and leader in the shape of Salmaan Taseer’s assassination.
    Can you please name one civil society member who is on the
    forefront and has lost his or her life? There is always a step by
    step move. Yes there are elements in the PPP who said something
    which was not appropriate. The party firstly has to build consensus
    and it will in due course. Just wait a little. Statements do not
    matter when there is a direction and policy. Policy making takes
    time. Have you ever heard the PPP saying that Jihadi forces are
    good for Pakistan or Pakistan needs to follow the taliban system of
    governance? If you recall, the Hudood Ordinance repeal took more
    than 3 years of discussion at various forums and yet there was no
    consensus on it. PPP was not in power yet it provided the necessary
    votes for the repeal. had it been one of those parties that oppose
    for the sake of opposition, then it could have chosen not to vote
    on the matter. On the Blasphemy Law, everyone is for sure against
    the procedure and misuse of the law. You need to see who your
    friends are and who your enemy is. One thing is for sure that the
    PPP is not your enemy.

    • 5 Sana Saleem

      @Ali Wahab: I fail to understand how asking our political
      parties to stand with us and to take a strong and clear stance at a
      point like this is a matter of confusion. I also do not understand
      why an appeal for PPP to take a strong stance needs to be
      scrutinized. You say that yourself, that civil society needs
      political backing in oorder to get things done. However, you also
      suggest that it is difficult for PPP to tackle a legacy law? If I’m
      not mistaken, we are talking about the legacy of Zia and his laws?
      After 31 years, and being in power three times the least PPP can do
      is take a strong stance against the legacy of a man that has done
      the worse possible things to this country and the Bhuttos. You talk
      about threats, and I understand and appreciate that, but let me
      inform you that she is not alone. In fact she is probably the most
      protected of us all. Who despite death threats have been talking,
      and taking to the streets to register our protest against the
      lawlessness. It’s really shameful that you keep pointing out at the
      loss of Blood by PPP and ask us if the civil society have lost any
      members. So let me ask you this: How many people died in the twin
      bombing on the 18th of October, when Bibi was attacked? How many
      were handicapped? How many died when Bibi was killed? How many died
      in the riots following her killing?! The loss of leadership isn’t
      just the loss of the party alone, but the country at large. By
      taking PPP as an entity separate to the civil society and the
      general public you are making a grave mistake. The fact is,
      reactions after Taseer’s death were a failure of Governance at all
      levels. At this point and time when the PPP has lost yet another
      leader, and civil society has been pushed back and forced to live
      in fear we must join forces towards better governance and rule of
      law.

      • 6 Ali Wahab

        Yes Sana, you are so right. PPP has done nothing and does
        nothing. Does the PPP have 2/3rd Majority to repeal a law on its
        own? Can you tell me when the PPP was given a 2/3rd Majority? It
        has always been forced to form a coalition. On the other hand, you
        know who has had 2/3rd majorities and the laws they formed. All I
        am saying is give the one in power the time to do things. Had doing
        things been so easy then Pervez Musharraf would have been a
        president for life. It’s not just the leadership but the workers
        have lost lives too. There are no two doubts about it. I dont see
        graffiti naming you, naveen or any other member in Karachi with
        dire consequences? I dont see news being planted in the instigating
        papers like Ummat? Come out of this point of protected and not
        protected. Each one of us is currently suffering from the
        situation. Also, please come out of this repeated mantra of failure
        of governance. Give me something solid. Governance needs
        improvement and improvment is an ongoing process. You may not see
        it because either you choose not to see or are not shown the same.
        I will not argue anymore on the topic. The only point I wanted to
        make was that change can only come through a political system. The
        political system has representation of political workers who get
        elected to the parliament. We can talk here and argue endlessly.
        Civil society has to partner with an anchoring political party. Who
        you want to partner is your own choice. You may like to find out
        that out of 500 attendees at the PMA house, how many were PPP
        workers who came out and also the first candlelight vigil that was
        organized in Lahore (around 1000 people were there), what was the
        proportion of PPP workers. Many thanks

  5. 7 Nassim Ally (Ali) Osman

    Get me the link to Blind Faith on Youtube

    The one in the blog gives an error msg

    Thk in anticipation

  6. – PPP has a long history of supporting right wing and do
    politics on it. Bhutto despite being socially liberal went out and
    out to support the radical islamist Hekmatyar and trained young
    agfhans to struggle against Kabul and Bibi actually patronize
    Talibans, is actually evident enough that PPP has always support
    right wings through back doors.


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