Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Return To Karachi: Meeting My Old Maulvi, Discovering Asif Zardari Killed Benazir, And Looking Forward To The Train March

What an extraordinary 48 hours (by my standards anyway). This is not a personal blog, so I won't bore you guys with the completely random shit that has happened to me in the very recent past, but suffice it to say it would be enough to fill an entire page worth of Postsecret's anguished secrets.

There are three notes though that relate either directly or indirectly to the type of stuff readers of this blog generally care about, so I'll share those.

It's better to be a wuss than an asshole: meeting my old maulvi

Many (most? almost all?) Pakistan children when growing up have a maulvi. For those unaware, these guys (and they are always
guys) are essentially religious tutors. They help the child through reading (and sometimes understanding) the Quran, and they are usually the people to teach children about the basic mechanics of prayer (though parents fulfill this role too) and other rituals and religious obligations. They operate outside the framework of any central organization (like say a school or a particular mosque); they are basically freelancers, and their employment relies on word-of-mouth recommendations and transfers.

Anyway, so I had a maulvi when growing up. As some of you may surmise, I haven't met the dude in a while. In any event, he was at my house today for some odd reason, and apparently wanted to meet me. Hell, I wanted to meet
him - he was an important figure in my childhood and so when I found out he was at our place, I wanted to say hello.

Well, that didn't work out so well. In easily the most surreal episode I have experienced in at least ten years, the guy lectured me for fifteen minutes, berating me for losing my way and exhorting me to mend said ways. I am not joking. I hadn't seen the guy in more than a decade - my express purpose for saying hello was exactly that: saying hello. His express purpose in wanting to meet me was (a) to establish a position of moral patronage by kicking the conversation off with "I hear stories about you...", thus seizing the role of the concerned guardian; (b) to inquire about my praying habits by asking me "how many times [I] remember God in a day" (there's a really terrible and blasphemous joke to be made here but I won't make it) even though we both damn well knew the answer to that question; (c) judge and reprimand me for not being a true Muslim at all times (on being told I was studying for a PhD, he said for any student, being a good Muslim should come first, and 'studies' second; dude is clearly unfamiliar with the average U of C workload); and (d) express my arc of life as n-shaped by describing me as "one of [his] best students" and wondering aloud how this tragic turn in priorities could have come about. What made this entire episode worse was that this conversation happened around noon. Those who know me well know that if I'm up around noon on my second day of vacation, I'm probably in a
jetlagged state. So yeah, that part definitely didn't help.

In all seriousness, what pissed me off the most was that I maintained the decency, in the face of considerable provocation, to not offend him; throughout his lecture, I successfully resisted the urge to throw him out of my house or act like my phone was on vibrate and was getting a call. More importantly, I pretended to give a crap about the stuff he was saying. By contrast, he chose not to exercise any discretion. Put another way, I chose not to make him feel uncomfortable and he chose to make me feel uncomfortable. Which makes me a wuss but him an asshole.

Mystery solved: Zardari did it

The best part about returning home is, without a doubt, the conspiracy theories. Reading them on blogs and newspapers is simply no match for hearing them first hand;
soaking them up rather than merely discovering them. It's as Pakistani as pirated Bollywood movies.

Anyway, so my mother solemnly pronounced that she is convinced that Asif Zardari had his wife killed. This is certainly an unoriginal sentiment - almost from the moment his wife was assassinated, Zardari has aroused whispered suspicion. But it's fun nonetheless. "In any murder mystery," my mother advised, "you have to ask: who gained the most?" She went on to describe how Zardari has gained politically, financially, and personally. I didn't even have the patience to respond. I have decided to not get into it with my parents this summer; from here on in, I am going to believe in every single conspiracy theory espoused in my house, for entertainment's sake if nothing else.

Onwards we march: what does it mean for a judiciary to be "independent"?

So the long march is over. Some of the lawyers - bless their hearts - have finally come to the realization that their movement may just have been subverted and coopted by political parties as an electoral and political issue. Unsatisfied with the way the march ended, they now want a "train march", probably because walking all that way in the heat twice in one summer might be too much to ask for.

Anyway, can anyone say with a straight face that this is still about an "independent" judiciary? My limited understanding of politics leads me to believe that an independent judiciary entails a check on other branches of government; the highest legal body in the land being insulated from political pressures and processes, concerned only with rendering correct legal judgments on the basis of evidence and argument; an avowedly political but non-partisan body. That, my friends, is not what's being fought for. The rally was not for an independent judiciary but an anti-Musharraf and perhaps pro-PML one. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs only to read about Nawaz Sharif calling for Musharraf's hanging in his speech.

I should add that Nawaz Sharif (and Imran Khan and Jamaat-e-Islami) are well within their rights to make this a political issue. They are politicians after all; it's their job to make things political. Frankly, attaching themselves to the issue has been an excellent strategic move, leaving the PML-N especially in a win-win situation in terms of electoral prospects and popularity. My concern comes from the fact that I care about an actual independent judiciary, one divorced from mass politics. I mean, think about some of the proposals floating around. Not only is an extension of the Supreme Court from 13 to 29 judges being considered because of the political exigencies of the day, but the very roles judges play is being used as a bargaining chip. The PPP, according to the ever-reliable Ansar Abbasi, is willing to compromise by rendering the PCO judges "lesser judges" by giving them "evening courts and others set up to speedily dispose off the mounting pending cases." Evening courts! Hahahaha. It sounds like Michael giving George Michael control of the banana stand: "Aww, you're so cute! Of course you can be a judge!" In short, politics is making a mockery of what is supposed to be one of the state's most revered institutions. The irony, of course, is that it is being made a mockery by precisely those actors who profess to be fighting for it.

Anyway, I am really enjoying the politics of the whole thing. Frankly, I'm also relieved that the long non-train march has forced Zardari to pick a side. I mean, how great is this quote? "We know what to call a long march. We know when to call a long march. We know how to conduct a long march. And when the People’s Party calls a long march, then Pakistan will see what a long march really is."

God, I love Pakistani politics. We really are like a permanent Jon Stewart clip. Leaving aside the long and train marches, check out this story about the goings-on in the Senate yesterday:
The upper house witnessed a brief pandemonium when Leader of the Opposition Kamil Ali Agha criticised Parliamentary Leader of the Awami National Party Haji Adeel for his remarks against him.

Mr Adeel in his speech said he wanted to speak in the presence of the opposition leader, but it seemed that he had lost heart after the defeat of his party in the Feb 18 elections and was found missing from the house most of the time.

Mr Agha said: “The lawmaker (Mr Adeel) belongs to a party (ANP) which never accepted Pakistan’s reality wholeheartedly and whose founding father (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) had wished not be buried in Pakistan and his body was taken to Jalalabad for burial.”

This started a commotion and several members from both the treasury and opposition benches started shouting at each other.
It's good to be home.


Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention that you were high as a kite along with being sleepy and jetlagged.

And I've noticed that you guys have all picked different colors to use for your links. How cute.


Anonymous said...

I miss conspiracy theories the most so please do blog about them, purely for entertainment sake.

Ali said...

the lawyers movement lost the plot ages ago. this is the biggest waste of resources/time/energy that could have been better employed. even for all the deviant intentions under the guise of the restoration of an independent judiciary etc, this movement hasn't yielded sufficient results to meet the costs. if it did, i'd probably commend them. i wonder how much more zardari, sharif, aitzaz ahsan etc are raking in these days.

however, as the 2nd comment said, please do keep the conspiracy theories from the ground coming, quite entertaining.

most pakistani maulvis aren't quite islamic. javed ghamidi comes correct tho.

i remember that arrested development episode, but can't recall the lines that would make the analogy work.

Aitzaz Ahsan said...

Years from now, I will be referred to as the Che Guevara of the Sub-Continent.

Ali said...

you're hardly a revolutionary aitzaz sahib

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