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May 19, 2015

Truer words not spoken

Opinion

May 19, 2015

Islamabad diary
"These universities of ignorance, to whom we give donations and hides, are giving an ideology of hatred and conservativeness to the society.” Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid
In this cabinet of all talents, the information minister is the undisputed lord of the repetitive cliché. Information ministers think it their privilege to speak all the time. There is thus no escaping them when it comes to watching that affliction of the modern age, television.
Of all the subjects under the sun Pervaiz Rashid has come to specialise in Imran Khan. Khan has only to say something – and he too is not overly modest when it comes to turning clichés – and as night follows day there is sure to be a Pervaiz Rashid rejoinder…delivered in a monotone which can drive the calmest person up the nearest wall.
But then when the same person gives voice to the thoughts of millions by characterising religious seminaries as centres of “ignorance and illiteracy”…it takes the breath away. Assorted clerics are outraged, calling for the information minister’s scalp. That in itself is refreshing…seeing clerics really angry. In a typical outburst, Mufti Muhammad Naeem of the Jamia Binoria, Karachi, has gone to the extent of saying that Pervaiz Rashid was no longer a Muslim. His remarks, he said, were “blasphemous” and he should be tried for them and punished. And banners were strung up in Islamabad calling for the “death” of the information minister.
Obviously, gentlemen of the cloth, guardians of the pulpit, believe not in half-measures. When someone incurs their wrath, which is easily aroused, nothing less than death will do. A police party which came across some bearded youngsters putting up these banners was assaulted by these spirited zealots. This is the state of law and order in the capital. These youngsters were traced to a seminary in F 6/4. But perish the thought that anyone will go after this factory of enlightenment.
The

master of law and order in the capital is the interior minister. He, alas, is only good for more press conferences, where he displays his penchant for brevity, his shortest statements averaging about an hour. The Islamabad administration could take no action against Maulana Abdul Aziz of Red Mosque fame for his incendiary speeches. The entire Islamabad administration, as we all saw on television, was helpless before that single gunman called Sikander, who seemed to hold the entire city hostage for well over 3-4 hours. It is too much to expect that the same administration would move against any of the holy warriors putting up death-warning banners against the information minister.
Before the much-touted National Action Plan against terrorism is implemented anywhere else, shouldn’t it start from the capital? When we read of gangs of dacoits kidnapping policemen in Rajanpur or Rahimyar Khan we say those are far-off places where the writ of the government is bound to be weak. But here we are talking of the capital, the very centre of power…or at least the supposed centre of power, for it is scarcely a revelation that the centre of power has shifted…slipped away from Islamabad. (A Google search would locate it somewhere in Rawalpindi.) Still, seminary students taking the law into their hands in the capital, this is a bit much. But who’ll go after them?
Anyway, time for making amends: Rise Sir Knight, thy sins are forgiven…by this one jewel of a statement thou makest up for everything. This by and large is a right-leaning government…public piety and Ramazan packages and the like. The seething rage of the holy fathers is all the greater because they could not have expected an attack from such a quarter.
The other reason for the outrage is the accuracy of the charge. Pervaiz Rashid could have gone into a long spin, beating around the bush, thereby losing impact and sting. But “factories of ignorance and illiteracy”…has a rich flavour to it. It fills the mouth and like any good whisky or claret its taste lingers. No wonder the holy fathers have taken to the warpath. The pithiness of the denunciation – those one or two deadly phrases – is what has shaken them up.
Can Nisar, the interior minister, learn something from his colleague? Bombast – and Nisar is an unrivalled purveyor of bombast – loses any point it may otherwise have when stretched interminably. When I had to listen to his speeches in the National Assembly I didn’t know what to do with myself. He would go on and on, repeating himself endlessly. What’s worse, in those long stretches of verbiage there would be not one sentence to remember.
But, wonder of wonders, the interior minister, who is supposed to be leading the federal government’s side of that impressive thing called the National Action Plan, is said to be not on speaking terms with the prime minister. If this is the case, and from high-level meetings he always seems to be missing, he should have self-respect enough to quit or he should be shown the door.
Daagh has it about right: “uzr aane mein bhi hai aur bulate bhi nahi, bais-i-tark-mulaqat batate bhi nahi…khoob parda hai ke chilman se lage baithen hain, saaf chupate bhi nahi saamne aate bhi nahi”. And the last lines are especially pertinent: “zeest se tang ho aye Daagh toh jite kyon ho, jan pyari bhi nahi jan se jaate bhi nahi”.
But we are good at some things. One aspect of the ‘liberal awakening’ under Musharraf was the freedom allowed guests in some upscale restaurants in Islamabad to bring their own spiritual sustenance with them. I used to frequent Luna Caprese right in front of Shaheen Chemists and Majlis – now sadly closed – run by Christina Afridi. It was a pleasant way to spend an evening.
But then came the revival of Islam under the PML-N. The Islamabad administration could do nothing about Sikander the gunman, just as it can do nothing about the zealots putting up the threatening banners. But it was quick to show a stricter side to these few watering holes. The promotion of virtue and the suppression of vice always end up in two things as far as Pakistan is concerned: liquor and women, our two perennial problems.
The Karachi corps commander’s remarks about the vacuum of authority in Sindh and the poor performance of institutions also attract Daagh’s ghazal. Fauj ki bhee kaifayat yahi hai…aana bhi chahti hai aur nahi bhi aana chahti.
The fauj could bear this in mind: civilians may not be just incompetent, they may be very incompetent. Key figures in politics may also have a reputation for corruption and looking out for their business interests and little else. But experience tells us that the fauj has never been good at running the country. If the army is so keen on assuming once more the mantle of messiah-ship then instead of any shortcuts let it take the de Gaulle route to power – a general first earning his spurs as a wartime leader and then entering the political fray to win the prize of national leadership.
Coups in our third world setting invariably end up with a Field Marshal El-Sisi or a Pervez Musharraf. We’ve had enough of those. De Gaulle we’ve never had; Ataturk we’ve never had…a strongman through the ballot box, which is probably what Pakistan needs. Otherwise, again in our setting, the exercise of the ballot box will keep churning out more of the same.
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