Quotation of the Day

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Deluge

The time is for solutions. We have heard the media, the critics, the volunteers, as well as the politicians and the controversies. What our country needs is support from its people, its youth, us. Pakistan has been hit by a number of calamities in the past few years. Recently, I visited Swat for a relief effort, and even though as per government, rescue and relief operations have been underway, the situation in the North of Pakistan is still one that speaks of misery and tragedy; helplessness among the people, and indifference of the top leadership. Pakistaniat failed to spring from the corridors of power; however, the average Pakistanis took the responsibility in their own hands.

Many local organizations and youth activists have been fund-raising for the victims of monsoon floods, and donations have been, as always, generous. Just to cite a few examples, the Future Leaders of Pakistan have made relief efforts at a village called Fazil Korana, while, Pakistan Youth Alliance has distributed aid to Nowshera – areas with most affected people. More recently, Islamabad’s civil society collected and donated food packets for a hundred families in Swat and Kalam.

alg_resize_flood_pakistan

Flood has passed from Swat, and went southwards to Kot Adu and Sindh. So, people are now shifting focus from areas like Swat, Madian-Bahrain and Kalam to Southern Punjab and Sindh. However, the relief effort to Swat on 9th and 10th August showed that there has been no electricity in the whole city since over two weeks and the local population has been forced to use generators to survive. In the case of Swat, local residents reported that there has been absolutely no sign of any government assistance, and people have been trying to help each other themselves. Even though the water, which reached four feet in the streets of Swat, has receded back, it has left a number of bridges destroyed, some partially, others completely.

Upon talking to a teacher in a local school in Swat, who hailed from Madian Bahrain, it was learnt that his village was completely cut off from the rest of the country as a result of roads being submerged into water, and the only assistance that has reached these people is from the army. The response has been very lukewarm in places where youth organizations fail to reach; army that came to the rescue has been airlifting mainly people with either hard cash, or influential links, leaving others on their own. On the other hand, there have been similar stories from the residents and relatives of people in Kalam.

In a similar heart-wrenching incident, young people swam to safety in Kalam, while the elderly, women, and children managed to get on the rooftop of a mosque. Upon requesting authorities to airlift the stranded helpless people, it was reported that the helicopters were not available and could not operate in the given situation. Such a response unsurprisingly is creating disappointment, sadness, and desolation among the inhabitants of these areas. No one, among all the people interviewed had seen any reasonable response from the government, and as a result, felt dejected.

The destruction has been colossal. One resident complained that the government found it reasonable to put a ban on Geo, which was at least covering the damage, and now they were unable to tell the world about the difficulties and hardships they faced. Left on their own, the people of Madian Bahrian, Kalam, and Kabal are starving amidst water that they cannot drink. Their houses, cattle, crops, and even children have been swept away by a deluge that has no precedent in history. Further to the misfortune of these people, water that has accumulated is becoming a reason for widespread diseases. Although, water-purification tablets are the top priority among relief teams that are visiting the area, many people are still in dire need of assistance. According to the Principal of Khushal School Systems in Swat, it was learnt that people are coughing blood after drinking contaminated water in Kalam, which has been calamitously hit by the floods.

Most of the people that I managed to talk to were complaining about the apathetic response by the government agencies, and the grim need of food and clean drinking water. As the holy month of Ramadan starts, the hardships of flood-stricken families will only increase, due to lack of eatables, extremely high prices, and the difficultly in delivering and disbursing aid by local youth bodies. Over 100,000 acres of agricultural land flooded in the neighboring areas of Swat and Kalam, not only the present, but the future looks bleak. The floods that have affected 14 million people have caused damage and destruction in so many parts of the country to such a degree, that the relief and rehabilitation efforts will continue for a long time. What people in these calamity-hit areas need, besides the obvious and immediate distribution of food and clean water, is the support, even if symbolic, of their leadership – to make them feel at home in a country they love and call their own.

(First published in The Frontier Post)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

With Your Hand In Mine

With your hand in mine,
Did I once walk,
Through Eden's gleanings,
Cheerful and carefree

With the winds of eternity,
Did We once saunter,
Through trees of grandeur beauty,
All, in the confines of our mind

The semblance of the seventh heaven,
Lugubrious to this day, as the first,
Through a kaleidoscope of misery,
An impeccable orchard of Hades

The bare reality of civilization,
Of society and of culture,
Shackled with sinister customs and traditions,
The ravenings and the words, becometh aghast,

Disillusioned and solitary,
Without a voice of reason,
Gazing together into eternity,
With your hand in mine, towards an ethereal desolation

Forever lost, in an oblivious mirage,
Alone and unaware, still as One,
Where the caverns of death shall freeze,
Let the wings unfurl..

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Masquerade of Democracy

The Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah has labeled 5th July as the “darkest day in the history of Pakistan”. For General Zia-ul-Haq’s coup-de-tat left the Pakistan People’s Party in ruins, only to rise again from the ashes a decade later. And so, by 1988, Benazir Bhutto, the charismatic daughter of the East, became the first woman Prime Minister of a Muslim state; only to be the first one to be thrown out on corruption charges. The decade of 90s saw a successive shift of power between the two leading parties of Pakistan, a tug of war to reclaim the seat of power. Here, the Pakistani nation showed an attitude that is best termed in the words of Kahlil Gibran, who said, and I quote; “Pity the nation... that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting, farewells him with hooting, only to welcome another with trumpeting again.”, and we have doing that since the day of our birth.

So, why is 5th of July the darkest day of our history? Are there not better contenders in the lugubrious past of Pakistan then a coup-de-tat that is not even the only one? How about 16th December, when this country, did not lose a government, but East Pakistan? Perhaps, September 11, 1948, when the Father of the Nation died? But no, the darkest day was when the government led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, which had lost much of its popularity by then, was toppled by a military dictator. That way, Pakistan has had many a dark days. Under the veil of democracy, our government has guilefully managed to rewrite history. For it is no longer that we hear the National Anthem, no longer is it that our newspapers and television channels talk about the Father of the Nation, or Pakistan in itself.

It is either 5th July, or 27th December. Either Benazir, or President Zardari, and either Pakistan People’s Party, or the Pakistan People’s Party. The capital has been decorated by not Pakistani flags, but by Pakistan People’s Party flags. The real Bhuttos have been lost in history, while the new ones reign. Instead of building cities and airports in remembrance of the assassinated leader, we have renamed whole cities, roads, and airports, things that were here before the martyr was even born. In an attempt to mould the past, our future has been put at stake, in the hands of the architects of this masquerade of democracy.

The Grand Monarch, Louis XIV, known as an absolute sovereign in France, was much more accessible to his subjects, than the democratic leaders of this country. At the grand palace of Versailles, anyone could just come in and not only move around the palace, but actually go inside the King’s Chamber and meet the King himself. And that was absolute monarchy. Here in Islamabad, we see the opposite. Let alone being inside the President House, it has become impossible to be on the President Road. The democratic leaders have turned the Capital of Pakistan into a land divided; one for the rulers, one for the ruled. Is this what democracy stands for? If the answer is yes, I will gladly say I have nothing to do with such democracy. Fortunately, however, this is not the real democracy, this is a false pretense, which was welcomed by trumpeting, and will be given a farewell of hooting. But perhaps, we still have time, maybe..; just maybe, we are still building our democratic foundations. And like a poor man who cannot get enough of money, we are a country, a nation long ravaged by dictators and military takeovers that is unable to understand what to do with the new found freedom. However, the question that arises in the mind of the average Pakistani citizen is that, whether this freedom is for all, or freedom for the elite?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A geo-strategic shift?

Since the earlier days of Liaqat Ali Khan, Pakistan has looked towards the prospering west for support on all grounds. However, it has paid heavily for the blind-love of the Western democracies in the form of sanctions from the 70s, to an exodus of Afghan refugees in the 80s that continued in the 90s and continues to this day, and more recently, in the form of domestic instability that has wrecked havoc around the cities of this, once peaceful nation. Road-side killings, suicide bombers, and the largest internal displacement of people in the history of mankind, combined with an eroding sovereignty is not something that we planned for. Is it fair to blame the past for the future? Should we agonize ourselves that had we aligned ourselves to powers that in addition to being sincere with their allies were also closer in proximity to Pakistan, we might have been in a better condition today? The Iron-Curtain fell in 1991, but for Pakistan, as the Soviet Union had been, Russia too, remained a mystery, until perhaps, recently. If we, as any economist would put it, let the bygones be bygones, we see a future.., a future that is promising, a future that does not have a crumbling Pakistan with charlatans occupying the highest echelons of the government, and a future that might conclude the geo-strategic shift of Pakistan’s foreign policy towards the Russian bear from the not-so-soaring American Eagle, that has been broken, beaten, and scarred by its extravagant adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since the late 2008, there has been an inclination towards Russia, from as minor steps as providing Russian news on local television, to as important as state visits. More recently, Pakistani Army Chief, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani paid an official visit to his counter-part in Moscow. They did not only discuss the need of establishing a better collaboration between the two countries, but discussed a military cooperation and the desire of a “strategic partnership”; something, which Pakistan has desired in the tactical and sporadic relationship with Washington until now. So what do we do? Where are we heading? Will there be a geo-strategic shift? Perhaps, a powerful regional alliance, or a demonizing Western backed war on terrorism, which might lead to ever-deteriorating social, economic, and political condition of the South-Asian region? Fareed Zakria once suggested that, “America has tended to make its strategic missteps by exaggerating dangers”, we on the other hand; however, have tended to make our strategic missteps by confirming those exaggerated dangers in the form of pursuing the Holy Grail of democracy and fighting terrorism with guns and tanks. It is true, as Madge Micheels Cyrus said, “Nonviolence doesn't always work - but violence never does.” It is perhaps about time that Pakistan focuses on regional alliances, as much as, if not more than it focuses on the importance of its partnership with the declining super-power of our day. It is also true, that keeping America at an arm’s length is not realistic, nor desirable. What Pakistan needs today, is austerity in its domestic issues, a top-down policy instead of a bottom-up is the way it works. And a foreign policy that understands the importance of regional powers as much as it does of the global power. Perhaps, the first step has been taken, and maybe in the coming few years, with the prospering future of Russia and China, Pakistan might be a strategic partner of the two, like today, Israel is of America, something we could never become.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

“Preconceived notions are the locks on the doors to wisdom”

We learn while we grow, yet some resist change. Where some are always aware of their ignorance, others are ignorant of their ignorance. And so, I was blasted by a kid on how my views are contradictory. For, in his case I listen to “LAAL” a music group that supports socialist, at times, communist ideologies; however, according to him, I support “aristocracy” (which I do) as the best form of government. Impeded by delusions of preconceived notions, many people pounce on the very names of communism and aristocracy. My point here, however, is not to indulge in discussions about these people but rather explain the difference between a “form of government” and an “ideology”, perhaps, as human nature it is, clarify my perspective.

Aristocracy has been in practice since at least the 5th Century BC, nurturing in Athens, to the magnificent empire that encircled the Mediterranean; Communism, on the other hand, remains an ideology that came as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Was communism against aristocracy? Or was it a political movement that sought to overthrow the capitalist society that spurred the conflict between the different classes of society, to a point of no return? My take on this? It was the later. Had I been in favor of communist ideas and stood for capitalism on the other hand, I would have been contradicting myself, something which seems too hard to be understood by the bigotry critics of modern times. Someone once said that “Democracy has become the Holy Grail of Western culture”, and I say, we are following suit. I support Aristocracy against democracy, and communism against capitalism. Now, someone will pounce on me saying that the “aristocrats will never support a communist system over a capitalist one!” – Before you lose your breath, let me assure you, whether aristocrats will or will not support communism as an ideology, is not the point of debate. If aristocracy is against communist ideas, so is democracy. Where communism strives to end the class “conflict”, aristocracy remains a form of government by the “best”. They are entities that are a world apart. I do not favor a comparison between oranges and sofas.

How do we define who is the most able, or the “best” is certainly not possible with a universal suffrage that brings forth people, who, even though are on a higher platform of comfort, are on a higher platform of ignorance as well. Again, before I drift into an endless debate between democracy and its rival forms of government, that rarely are understood in our times, I will remind myself, that the point of this discussion was to explain how someone can support communist ideas on one hand, and stand for aristocracy on the other, without contradicting himself. If the most able rule, and if those who do not seek power, are vested with power, maybe, if they see it fit for the society, a socialist ideology, if not strictly a communist one, might flourish under them. For this, however, one should know the difference between an aristocracy and an oligarchy. I shall end this with a note that, not ignorance, but the ignorance of ignorance is the death of knowledge.

PS: the coming years might change my take on many a thing, for learning is a lifelong process – but this is how they stand today; might not a few years from now, however.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Democracy

“DÄ“mokratia”, now known to the world as “Democracy” is a form of government, or the “rule of the people”. The most important question that arise out from this is a simple one, is the government “by the people” is also a government “for the people”? A clear analogy exists here, that calls democracy “rule of the people, by the people, for the people”. What is not so clear, however, is that if this form of government is the “best” for a country in particular, or the world at large. For this, one shall not only glance at the humble beginnings of the much celebrated mechanism of democracy, but perhaps, take into consideration the definitions of Aristotle’s views on the best form of government, and Plato’s immortal words – “democracy passes into despotism”. One may wonder if there a misconception of equality that is being used against the people for the hunger of the seat of power. Maybe, this flaunt of democracy of the modern world not only acts to promote itself, but serves as a shroud on the alternatives to democracy; monarchy, aristocracy, and in Aristotle’s words, Polity.

In the city states of Ancient Greece, Athens progressed much in its social, political, and cultural field. It was a nurturing ground for the queen of sciences, philosophy. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were not mere names and figures in the history of the development of philosophy in general, and the uplifting of life in particular. Plato and Aristotle were critical of democracy, and worked much to better understand this strange phenomenon. While in Athens, in the Master’s time, population never exceeded 10,000, there existed a different form of democracy, than what exists in the contemporary world. It was a direct democracy, where all people could participate in openly held debates and forums, affecting their lives. But here, equality was not the equality of today. Here, slaves and women did not have any political right. The philosophers strived for an educated class to become the “philosopher-kings”. One man one vote was not the philosophy of the day and the educated lot of the Greeks understood that equality in front of God, and equality in terms of abilities were two separate notions in the sphere of human life. So Aristotle studied a hundred and sixty constitutions, and divided the form of government in three different parts; what he called, the good constitutions. Monarchy was the form of government where a single monarch worked for the betterment of the whole; Aristocracy, where the privileged class, the nobility strived to uplift the populace at large; and, Polity, where the people ruled for the people. The Master did not finish here; he had in his mind the three anti-theses of these forms of government. When the Monarch regarded his own amusements higher than those of the rest of his people, it was no longer a good form of government, but a bad constitution, a Tyranny. Similarly, aristocrats were not aristocrats but Oligarchs in an oligarchy when they preferred their own tastes over the rest of the community; and a rule by the people turned into a rule by the mob when it strived for its own betterment leaving the society at large on its own, it was what he called, democracy. It was perhaps the influence of his great teacher which was seen here. A mob rule can either lead to anarchy or despotism.

Plato remarked thus; “Democracy passes into despotism.” One may wonder how from the height of liberty can come the deepest forms of repression. Too much power in the hands of democratically elected individuals can yield draconian results. Nazi Germany stood firm behind its Fuhrer. Soon enough, opposition was eliminated and the country steered in one direction and one direction only; destruction of the Third Reich and the social catastrophe that lingered due to the Great War. It is long understood that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” A democracy that empowers the ruling class is in a process of self-destruction. This self-destruction is not in isolation, but like a suicide bomber in the midst of a calm and tranquil gathering, a chaos that tears the social fabric of the whole society. Is history on an agreement with Plato and have a lesson for the civilization? Or does it disregard the words of the great teacher as mere philosophical rhetoric? Any democracy that is “too democratic” in its working has proven Plato to be right in his judgment. Moderation between the polity and aristocracy, that tends to bring closer these two anti-theses of each other from their extremes, might be the answer. Even with the despotic nature of democracy, it tends to survive on its rhetoric of an egalitarian society. Does the slogan of “all men are equal” apply in everything? Everyone has a mind, but not everyone is an Einstein. Let us analyze!

When we talk of the ancient civilizations of the past, the Egyptians, Aztecs, Mayans, Chinese, Greeks and the Romans, we talk of not the general population. It is not an average Athenian that attracts our attention to the cradle of civilization, nor the mere Egyptian labor that depicts the marvels of the Ancient Egyptian architecture, but the very few that belonged to the upper echelons of their societies. Not everyone had the calculating mind of Imhotep in Ancient Egypt, nor did everyone come up to the standard of the dialectical debates of Socrates. Then where is the equality that our democracy talks about? It is probably the love of power that has managed to twist the meaning of equality of mankind before God, the covenants and credo of the religion; to the equality of one man and one vote, the expression and rhetoric of democracy! It is a well known fact that for democracies to excel, the population at large must be aware of the working of their government, the ideas and manifestoes of their representatives, and the impacts of their decisions on the society. How will the population achieve this awareness? The answer lies in education. Without awareness, no one knows when Polity turns into Democracy, and when democracy yields to despotism. Only when the smooth transition is over, is when the masses understand their helpless position in the government. It is by no nature of things that an illiterate person’s decision lies on the same level of understanding as is one that of the educated, noble, and elite of the same society. In the contemporary world, this has turned out to be a taboo, but one must ponder over the idea, if the same illiterate person is not qualified to run a business or be the elector of the advisory body of one, how can he be the judge and elector of those who govern the whole society? How are men of knowledge and understanding become equal to men of ignorance and inexperience? They certainly cannot! As the young are not the judge of the highest matters, so the lower stratum of the society must not be the electors of a government at large. This misconception of the basic idea of equality has given way to flaunt of democracy.

It is said that, “Democracy has become the Holy Grail of Western culture.” There is no argument whether it has, or not. It certainly does occupy the overwhelming majority of our news channels and our decisions. Whether it is used as a pretext to invade a country, or to promote the soaring Eagle of the world, democracy has held its ground firm and strong through the effective use of media as its propaganda instrument, and by suppressing opposition. Will Durant in his book, “The Pleasures of Philosophy” explain that “we are anarchists by nature and citizens by suggestion.” Why is the world after democracy? Is it workable? It certainly might be, in the moderate form with an educated lot of voters. What do countries in today’s world follow? Constitutional Monarchy, Polity, and the worst form of government, for the most illiterate part of the world, democracy. The United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, all have extremely high levels of literacy, and a constitutional monarchy. United States of America, India and Switzerland with not so relatively high forms of literacy tend to follow moderate democracy, while the least of them in literacy, countries like Pakistan tend to fall for the extreme form of democracy. It has certainly become the "Holy Grail" of the Third World countries, who have fallen a victim to this brandish of democracy. Suppression of “undemocratic” forces in these countries and a delusive version of the worst form of government, as the best form of government lead to despotic corrupt rule of the people. Dynastic parties might turn the mob rule into an oligarchy and the state becomes a vicious circle of immorality and exploitation by the people, in the name of the people. The states start to fall apart, and a collapse is inevitable.

One must then figure out the best form of government. Why do the educated class of the world so open to constitutional monarchies? And not the extreme forms of democracy? Why do the aristocrats find their just rule without much opposition when they work for the betterment of the whole? It is perhaps an irony, that the best form of government is one where there are some men who are equal and some “more equal than others”. Where some are the philosopher administrators, as in the case of Confucianism of China, and where others are those who, although not bound to it, are in the working class of the society. People who understand the complexities of the state and government can better judge as to who shall be at the seat of power. In a democracy, where it has become a field of alluring the people on an equal basis of their inequality, it is a game of power. It is rightly pointed, to the contrary of the working of a democracy, by Plato – “Those who do not seek power, are fit to hold it.” It is then perhaps evident, that those of us, who take pleasure in governing the rest of us, must not be the ones who govern us! It is a truism that this is what happens in the contemporary uneducated world, but that is a democracy working on its extreme, what happens in the developed world is either a constitutional monarchy, or a moderate democracy, on the lines of the Polity of Aristotle. Although, aristocracy lost its case long ago, it still remains a good form of the government, and when the people understand this, perhaps an aristocrat government will not be confused and compared with an autocratic regime. Should we bandwagon and follow in the footsteps of those countries that enjoy immensely high rates of literacy and delude our self with an inept form of democracy, a bad form of constitution? Or should we educate our self, and select one of the three good forms of government, as pointed by Aristotle, which remain to this day, as true, as they were in Ancient Greece? A moderate democracy might be the answer, but that is not on the basis of the meaning of equality that we understand today. Perhaps, when aristocrats have helped uplift the lower stratums of society to a more respectable level, a moderate democracy might prove more fruitful. But an oligarchy cannot and will not do that. Nor will a government left on its own go towards moderation.., it will lead to that despotic form of polity that Aristotle called, democracy.

So if “DÄ“mokratia” in reality is, “the rule of the people, by the people, for the people” then perhaps through educated voter class, and proper checks and balances it might turn out to be a form of government that will not only take into consideration the interests of its own but the society at large. For that, education is a requirement. Whether we want a monarch, an aristocrat, or a democrat, we want a just individual that seeks to uplift the society and culture, and not fall a victim to despotism. Whether moderate democracy is the true answer to the best form of government or not, whether a politician works for the state or not, the educated and enlightened, and they alone, can judge better. Universal suffrage is not the answer in the name of equality for the human race that has no basis of egalitarianism. A philosopher, scientist, or an expert can never be equal in their judgment or thought to their very brothers who are on a lower level of education and knowledge to them. They are certainly equal, in the sense of being a member of the same species, equal perhaps as a man in front of God, but not equal in the delusion of democracy. When the world understands this inequality and come to terms with it, only then maybe it will witness the best form of government.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Scourge of Society

Flogging and flaying
Of the feeble
In Murky credence
of the pseudo religion

A vicious circle
Of pain and agony
The Scourge, dreadful and horrendous
Of radicalism and violence

A torrent of cursed beliefs
Sanctified by scanty hallucination
Condemned by the scouraged society
Of everlasting humiliation

Mistaken beliefs
Of honor and dignity
In an oblivious mirage
Of a twisted Islamic Nation

Disgrace in the name
Of religion and grace
The future is upon us
Of a society in ruins!