Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Conversation With Political Economist/Columnist Mosharraf Zaidi (Part II)

This is the second installment of my two-part conversation with The News columnist Mosharraf Zaidi. Part I, which you can read here, covered education in Pakistan, clientelism, Barack Obama, and Asif Zardari. Part II covers the IMF bailout, Pakistan's political economy, the middle class, and foreign policy.

Ahsan: Let's move from politics to political economy. I read your columns regularly during the run-up to the IMF bailout. You often repeated a variant of this phrase: Pakistan's problem is simply that it spends more than it saves. Can you expound on that?

Mosharraf: Sure. Just to clarify, what I was saying, or should have been saying is that Pakistan spends more money than it has.

I am trying to appeal to your common sense, rather than the idea that economics is a complex black hole that is only comprehensible to supercomputers and bankers that wear better suits than you and know long words that don't mean anything.

So the first thing we do is identify the problem. The problem at that time was (and soon once again, maybe even this year will be) that Pakistan doesn't have any money. Now the thing that makes the need for money urgent is that Pakistan owes "people" (lenders) money. If it doesn't pay back that money according to the agreed schedule, the whole system takes a nosedive, because at that instant, the theory is that nobody would give Pakistan any money in the future. It would have proven to be a bad place to give a loan--having "defaulted" on its obligations.

That's the problem. But the problem is defined on the terms of someone who thinks that the infinite supply of loans to Pakistan is important. Who would think such a thing?

Someone who needs that money. Who needs the money? Let's see.

The biggest chunk of money in the Pakistani budget is for paying back loans, ironically. So of course Pakistan's creditors, those banks, countries and organizations to whom Pakistan already owes money. They need the money to keep flowing in, so it can keep flowing out.

The second biggest chunk of money in the Pakistani budget is for the military. So of course, the military needs the money to keep flowing in.

The third biggest chunk of money in the Pakistani budget, cumulatively, is the cost of running government--salaries, pensions, electricity--the works. So the government and its employees all want the money to keep flowing in.

(Some will argue that without this money, how will the government provide services. Uh, what services?)

Don't forget subsidies like the ones for PIA--which not only makes it a nightmare to travel anywhere, but also charges your children and their children money, so that political parties can firm up votes.

We digress. So essentially, Pakistan's taxpayers are perpetually in debt as a collective, because international bankers need bonuses, generals need tanks, and bureaucrats need a chair to sit on, from where they can make your life miserable.

This is spending more money than you have, and doing it without any real purpose--in a normative sense. Of course Pakistan should default. This is not ideology. Its common sense.

Ahsan: Ok.

How do you feel about Musharraf's economic policies in retrospect? There was significant growth, the middle class boomed, refrigerators and cars were bought, and then the floor came crashing down. First, the global price of oil skyrocketed. Second, the wheels came off politically and militarily, leading to a crisis of confidence. And third, water and energy shortages meant businesses simply couldn't do what they had to.

All that aside, people like Shahid Javed Burki are on record as saying Musharraf's economic policies were, at best, band-aids - and that they were shortsighted and reliant on contingent factors like foreign investment. Do you agree with that assessment?

Mosharraf: I have to admit that I was bullish on the idea that Aziz and Co. were capable of delivering sustained growth in Pakistan--but I was always very worried about the very thin and superficial basis for that growth. Essentially it came from four places. The deregulation of the telecom sector, the innovative enterprise of Pakistan-returns post 9/11, the real estate boom, and the explosive growth in the banking sector. The growth was financed by two external factors: remittances from Pakistanis abroad, and inflows from the US. The US impact is overstated and the remittance impact is understated. Its about 3 to 1 (3 remittance dollars for every one US assistance dollar).

But I think there's a problem of perception in Pakistan that the economic well being of the country is a government domain. It is not. Never can be. The Pakistani private sector is one of the great untold stories of laziness, incompetence, greed and elite capture of state resources. It shoudl be no surprise that the government is always there for the rich--not just generals and fuedal lords and bureaucrats, but also for so-called capitalists. And never there for the foundation of growth, the middle class.

All said and done however, the Musharraf era was transformational in the sense that it creates the momentum for a middle class narrative. This was an unintended consequence of the economic policies pursued during the first decade of this century. The lawyers movement was the first squeak. The real war in Pakistan now is the war on the middle class. If the elite wins it, Pakistan has no hope. But this is not a war that will be lost or won in weeks or months. And the elite hasn't even begun to invest in the weapons that will decide this war. Blogs, social networks and knowledge.

Ahsan: What is the "war on the middle class"? I am completely unfamiliar with this war. To me, there is no middle class in Pakistan - a politically salient one anyway. The relevant political actors are:

1. The military
2. The feudals
3. The faux capitalists/industrialists
4. The bureaucracy
5. The lawyers (since March 2007)

None of those are even remotely middle-class in any common-sense understanding of the term (although the bureaucracy comes close I guess). As for the "biggest war in Pakistan", I would say the following qualify:

1. The state vs. the Taliban
2. The government vs. anti-Americanism/talk shows on TV/the new nationalist right/the old religious right
3. Centralists/Punjab vs. federalists/smaller provinces
4. The fourteen liberals left in the country vs. everybody else (not exactly a fair fight, but neither was the first Gulf War, and we still call that a war, so there).

None of those are defined by class-based cleavages. So I ask again: what is this "war on the middle class" of which you speak?

Mosharraf: I use the term in the most unscientific way possible. And the middle-class is not entirely politically impotent, though I couldnt' agree more that it has a long, long way to go. I should also point out that the right/left construct only exists in books anymore. I mean, really. Have you seen the right? They talk like Che is in the back changing, and that Karl was one of the disciples. The right isn't what it used to be, and neither is the left. Anyway, that's a whole other discussion.

Within Pakistan, I'd say you are middle class if you are not elite, and not poor. Poor is less than 5 dollars a day. Elite is a phone call away from the rule of law. Everything in between is middle class. So the lawyers are middle class, the competent employees at PIA, middle class, the entrepreneurs post Amreeka return, middle class. Incompetent PIA employees who are there because of their politics are elite, or elite-constituency. I keep using PIA because it is such an accessible example.

Issues in Pakistan that are being discussed on blogs like All Things Pakistan, Grand Trunk Road and Five Rupees today are going to occupy the heart of public policy within the next decade. And none of the protagonists of these blogs (or thier readers) qualify as elite, or as poor. I know it won't fly in PolSci 101, but that's cool. No one's looking. There is a small, and increasingly important middle class in Pakistan. And the elite don't like them. They want them to disappear. Immigrate to Australia or Canada in the best case scenario, and actually physically disappear in the worst. Hence the war on the middle class.

Ahsan: We'll simply have to agree to disagree on these definitional issues then. To me, if you have a car and a house in a country where a third of the population (at least) doesn't have clean drinking water and half can't read, you're elite. That means the authors and commenters on Five Rupees and Grand Trunk Road are elite. Can't say anything about All Things Pakistan, because I don't read it.

To be self-referential for a second, I also have to take issue with your statement about the stuff being discussed here forming public policy debates for the next decade. One thing that is really disheartening for me personally is how far out of the mainstream I exist. The fact that I believe in secularism, and rapprochement with India, and political and diplomatic disengagement with the Arab-Israeli dispute, and a woman's right to marry whomever she chooses without threat of violence or even social shunning, means I'm engaging in conversations that public policy simply isn't concerned with. It's not even on their radar. It's a whole different world. The older I get, the more this is rammed into my head.

Have you read Lipstick Jihad? It's actually pretty decent, despite my low expectations going in. Its subtitle is "A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran". It really captured a lot of my thoughts on the quasi-immigrant experience. I am forever made to feel like an outsider in Pakistan by the Imran Khans and Ayaz Amirs and Talat Hussains and the Urdu op-edders and the America-bashers. My ideas find acceptance nowhere other than my close friends; even much of family thinks of me as some fringe lunatic. And you really should read one or two of the extreme comments we've gotten on this blog.

All this is to say that (a) who you count as middle-class count as elite for me, and (b) that particular section of the elite is about as politically and socially irrelevant to Pakistan's future as Cartman.

Mosharraf: Happy to disagree on the definition, after I point this out. If you're in your car, headed toward your house, and the cops stop you, and decide to search you, harass you and accuse you of things that you haven't done, you're elite if you can shout them down, or call their boss, or their bosses boss. But if you end up at the thaana, with nothing but dad, chaaha and maamoo looking out for you--you are not elite, even by the technical definition. The majority of car owners in Pakistan are helpless sheep. They have no access to justice, if justice decides to miscarriage on them. None. That's not elite. That's developing country middle class. Hope no one is waiting for Henry Ford in the developing world--that paradigm is done and dusted. So too is the chronological fiddelity of that model. The Pakistani middle class will not follow a pre-defined set of parameters as it comes into its own.

On the "mainstream", one thing that I think a lot of privileged middle class young people don't realize is how deep rooted the changes that have taken place in Pakistan really are. I won't go into a list, but some of the fundamental assumptions about Pakistan are actually begging to be corrected. Pakistan is now an urban country, not rural. If there's a half-decent census (not possible in the current atmosphere) you'll see the urban share of the population has gone past 40%. Then consider that the current definitions don't really account for extended metropolises and peri-urban areas. Then consider that if you can get cable, and have a highway nearby (that's virtually all of the Punjab save three to five districts, out of 35) then how "rural" really are you? Point. The mainstream in Pakistan is not what it used to be. Syeda Abida Hussein said horrible things about middle class Pakistanis in an interview with the Wall Street Journal before the election. One generation ago, that was not news. Now it is. She's over as a political entity. Her ilk is near extinction as well. Two more election cycles and all this will be more obvious than it is right now. It might not even take a full ten years.

The things you beleive in are not a unique set of ideas, much as they might seem to be from reading the newspaper and watching television. They are more mainstream than the regressive politics that dominates the national landscape. In part this is because the middle class has yet to "land" it is still circling the airport tentatively. The landing is inevitable because it will run out of fuel--or to translate the metaphor, the middle class will engage politically because it has to, not because of a high minded nobility of ideals. Its engagement alone will transform the mainstream into a place where having radical ideas on either end of the spectrum is recognized as the lifeblood of a dynamic soicety.

If I sound overly optimistic, it is because I am. The lawyers movement was not about the handful of elite-captured politicians who can read poetry. It was about the political activation of a generation. Remember, since the PPP began, and for some, since the PNA, there's been no new political blood in Pakistan. This movement has injected freshness. It won't be pretty, or always rational, or liberal. But it will create the space for those things.

Ahsan: I don't think the lawyers movement was the political activation of a generation. I think it was the social mobilization of a certain professional class around parochial interests which ended up being (mis)appropriated by political opportunists who seized upon an opportunity to use a crisis as a focal point for obviating the difficulties of collective action.

Long marches, shong marches. When Nawaz Sharif starts talking about the independence of the judiciary, and Imran Khan starts talking about freedom and accountability, I know I should probably just go to bed.

Mosharraf: I think if you're expecting teenage students and twenty something lawyers to launch into spectacular careers in politics, then you're expecting too much, too soon. If we aren't prepared for an intergenerational transformation, then we'll keep getting jacked up for the next dynastic fircracker in the geneological arsenal. Gracias, but no gracias.

The lawyers movement represents the activation of a new generation of politicians, if for no other reason, that its the first big movement the country's experienced since the late 1970s. Tommorrow's second tier political leadership is going to have earned its first stripes during this movement. Where I think I am willing to go, in terms of investing hope, is that first-tier leadership as we know it is in its final stages. That the students that marched with the lawyers will not only occupy tommorrow's second-tier leadership, but also the top. So I am saying dynastic politics as we know it will come to an end. When? Not for another 10 to 15 years. But its coming.

Now that doesn't mean that these folks can solve the most urgent problems Pakistan is facing. Not with ambient levels of talent they have at thier disposal. But they can learn. I'll trust a slightly dodgy lawyer over the available options in this country, any day of the week. The lawyer comes from the same place that most people who can read in this country do. Insecurity, unequal access and some semblance of linear reasonability.

Bottom line? Those that have participated in the movement are capable of linear algorithmic processing of data. They can be convinced by reason to do what is reasonable. The current elite does not share those qualities, because it maintains elite status by sustaining irrational allocations of resources and by perpetuating its irrational public discourse.

And let's not forget that the irrational public discourse is too easily projected on only the right-wing. The right wing hasn't had to come up with a new idea for three dacades, at least, because all its work is done for it by so-called seculars and progressives. Remember who the Papa Bhutto was eh? The leading pan-Islamist, nuclear prolierator supreme and the Ahmadi/Qadiani Banner-in-Cheif. Secular? Hey, if you want a cigar and a drink in Pakistan today, you don't need to go to the people's party, you can find it at any party. This isn't 1989.

Of course, I think you're right not to invest too much hope in the other parties. It isn't ideology that does them however, its incompetence. They all have the same ideology. I will say that Khan scares me the most. Fifteen years into politics and he still can't find his way around the bureacracy, the local governments, the nuts and bolts of the thaana and the kutchehri! That's an astoundingly slow learning curve. But hand to him this... he has been able to help define the shape of public discourse--for whatever its worth--from a very miniscule political platform. Ehtesab, the 2 rupee roti, the citizenship/voluntary activity bit. That's all Khan, all day.

Ahsan: I take your point that so-called seculars and progressives do the right's work for them. I've been saying for a few weeks now that there are no true liberals left in Pakistan. The old left has been co-opted by the anti-American/anti-West movement. The avowedly secular parties are more ethno-regional centric in their worldview, and choose not to define themselves on the secular/non secular axis (MQM, ANP). The Army we already know about. And mainstream politicians just find it easier to get their point across if they cloak it in the language of religion and civilizational differences. Being a liberal today in Pakistan is a very lonely occupation.

Let's move on though, and talk a little bit about foreign policy or international affairs. The Obama plan seems to be to push India to make concessions on Kashmir either as a reward for, or a nudge to, Pakistan "doing more" on its western border. As sound as this strategy is, I have my doubts about its efficacy. Indian statesmen weren't born yesterday, and they're not going to let Pakistan essentially get rewarded for supporting militancy for twenty years.

Your thoughts?

Mosharraf: India hasn't had a statesman in the mainstream since Vajpayee. And his statesmanship was throttled by the mullahs in his party. I think we will all miss Vajpayee's relatively moderate brand of Hindutva once we all have to chew on Modi for a the next several years. He's the future of the BJP and he's no statesman. And anyone who thinks Rahul Ghandi is a future stateman should stick to NASCAR. He's a future Prime Minister, sure. But even Nehruvian genius has has its genetic limits.

I think there's too much being read into the newfound congizance of Kashmir as an issue. The strategy is to bleed the pakmil of its appetite for destruction by denying legitimacy to its claims of victimhood--not to reward Pakistan. The real question isn't whether India will play ball. Deep down, India will only be too happy to agree on the LOC as an international border (the US is not going to push it any farther). The real question is whether Pakistan has had enough? My guess is not. The ideological culture of the country and the military won't allow a raindance dance at the LOC as it exists. Of course, luckily for them, the Indian establishment has the same genes. They'll be the ones that get tagged for not wanting any movement. Its a lose-lose for the people. Win-win for the establishments.

Ahsan: I see today that Pakistan has admitted to some part of the Mumbai attacks being planned on its soil. Good times. This about a week after the release of A.Q. Khan (and blaming Bangladesh, don't forget). I feel like the leadership in Pakistan right now is a little schizophrenic - at once bowing to the Ziad Hamid types and bowing to the demands of the Indian government.

Back to the Obama plan: I think it fundamentally fudges the issue of time horizons. Even if everything works perfectly from their point of view (i.e. make Pakistan less afraid of India by getting a deal on Kashmir, and thereby convince Pakistan to do more on the western border), it confuses what is a long term problem with what is an immediate problem. The threat of militancy on the western border is a real and present danger. The potential of Pakistan scaling back its security fears vis-a-vis India is, at best, a medium term proposition (perhaps a decade or two). So the first part of the equation (the final solution--less militancy on the western border) cannot be solved by the second part of the equation (the intervening variable--making kissy face with India).

Mosharraf: Interesting that in the time that we've been having this exchange, as you pointed out, Pakistan finally admitted that there may be Pakistanis in Pakistan who want to do bad things to India. And now, "Sharia" has been "restored" in Swat. I can understand why Pakistan makes so many people, so nervous. I am not so sure however that the elite that has been playing chicken with this country's future for sixty years (and only has some bruises to show for it) quite understands how nervous Pakistan is making a lot of Pakistanis. This is a critical point. The expanded universe of voice in Pakistan--that is people that can shout and make a difference--is big trouble for the elite. Since the elite is not a monolith with a defined hierarchy, their reaction time to this is going to be too slow to matter.

But that's just the hyper-optimist in me. Its ok to be cynical. The real punchline in a world of qazi courts and playing footsie and then making out with the Taliban I suppose is the WTF factor. Why did we put thousands of Pakistani soldiers in body bags, many thousands more poor citizens in graves made of the rubble of thier homes, to eventually surrender to these terrorists who had to be "defeated at all costs"? WTF.

Of course, all this global attention for Pakistan--including Obama's carrot on Kashmir--is a product of the accentuated effects of South Asian dysfunction on the rest of the world. And while the rest of the world has done its part in bringing things here. This mess is our responsibility. For sixty years, power dynamics in Pakistan have changed clothes plenty of time, but never changed at their core. This is a place where the only contract that is consistently enforced is the contract among the elite. Long after American GIs are back in sweet home Alabama, Pakistanis will be left to contend with the same threats to their lives and liberty as they always have. Pakistan was being overrun by illiteracy and the law of the jungle before 9/11, it has been the same since 9/11 and it will be the same after 9/11 slips down the depth chart of defintive global inflection points.

India's best and brightest know this. Which is why they can afford to feed Holbrooke veggie-burgers, extract some H1-B favours, and take the nuclear relationship to the next level, while firmly telling the Americans to kiss thier ass on Kashmir. At this stage, Kashmir looks like it will eventually be resolved in a manner much more Nehru than LeT. It sounds so trite, but it rings so true. Imagine all the schools and bridges that could have been built with the money Pakistan has ploughed into its lack of relationship with India.

Ahsan: On that wistful note, I'd like to thank you for your time, Mosharraf. Keep writing your always-insightful columns.


Tazeen said...

The Pakistani private sector is one of the great untold stories of laziness, incompetence, greed and elite capture of state resources. It should be no surprise that the government is always there for the rich--not just generals and feudal lords and bureaucrats, but also for so-called capitalists. And never there for the foundation of growth, the middle class.

And anyone who thinks Rahul Ghandi is a future statesman should stick to NASCAR. He's a future Prime Minister, sure. But even Nehruvian genius has its genetic limits.

two absolute gems from Mosharaf.
keep writing

Raza said...

I actually think there are many secular liberals in Pakistan. They've just been closeted by anti-Americanism of late, and by that little thing called Islam. Religion has been marshaled so effectively by the right that it's impossible debate its merit in society, which is what a secular liberals (myself included) want to do. Throughout our history, political parties and dictators alike have found that Islam provides Pakistanis with a narrative, a historical and cultural anchor that gives purpose to their basic human need for endeavor. In America, freedom and democracy really do motivate the masses, it's the country's ethos; in Pakistan, it's "din." Liberal secularism will necessarily find it difficult to function in this space.

AKS said...

Wonderful interview.

Ahsan and MZ, I don't agree entirely with either of you over the definitions of 'middle class' and 'elite,' but I do understand what you're both saying. MZ, perhaps its better to classify your 'elite' as the 'ruling elite' – which, by the way, is perfectly exemplified by our Senate nominations.

One of the things that I think I've underestimated is the change taking place in Punjab.

This change is even reflected in the manner in which the political elite behaves or will behave in the future. The children of Punjabi politicians are much more educated than their Sindhi counterparts and this does have an impact on how they behave.

Moreover, their supporters are younger AND more educated and affluent than ever before, and have therefore demand more from their politicians.

I wanted to raise the following point in a post but I guess for the time being this will have to do:

Much of the exciting constitutional debate in this country is taking place in Lahore. Most top law firms in Karachi are just not engaged in any aspect of constitutional law, whereas there are a number of Lahori firms that are. Secondly, smart, young Karachi lawyers are more inclined towards doing corporate work, rather than Litigation, Human Rights, Labour, etc. (Money not fame or policy is the driving force here). Thirdly, there are many more (elite) lawyers in Lahore with American legal education (JD) then in Karachi which makes the legal environment there more dynamic - the reason is two fold: one, few Karachiites are studying law in the US; and two, the few that are, aren't coming back.

This brings me back to the 'ruling elite,' actually affluent, well to do 'non-ruling' elite (relatively affluent members of MZ's middle class). In the last 25 years (even during Mush's era) Karachi has seen a greater exodus of people from this important segment of society than Lahore. We should begin to feel the impact of this soon. This perhaps will best be indicated by the membership / leadership of the PML (N) and MQM.

AKS said...

Ahsan, totally agree with you about feeling like an outsider. Its startling to realise that there are so few people who agree with my views, and I'm hardly some anarchist, satanist, etc.

Anonymous said...

Well I am thoughtfully inclained to disagree with his 2nd point

AKS said...

Just read the WSJ's interview of Abida Hussain MZ was referring to. Talk about distasteful:

"When reminded that Mr. Musharraf has denied such accusations -- saying he doesn't assassinate people because he is "not a feudal and not a tribal" -- Ms. Hussain smiled. "Poor thing, he's a son of clerks," she said. "His mother was just a typist."

A must read, this article. I found it here:-

hahaha said...

what pakistan needs is a true islamic resurgence. a return to islamic principles and an islamic government based on an informed view of the religion.

throughout pakistans history islam has been abused by those in power as a tool to further their goals. mad, uneducated mullahs were allowed to run havoc misrepresenting islam to the extreme.

an elite class that abuses islam was always going to come into conflict with a populace that rediscovers islam gradually.

over the years as i have visited pakistan there is no doubt that the mosques filling up more and more, there are more and more quranic classes in places where they never used to be held, in homes you'd never expect them to be held, etc. my own relatives went from whisky-downing ex-airforce playboys to repentendly attending quran academy (the one near seaview) and holding dars at their homes. and this is karachi, not peshawar.

this change is not unique to pakistan but it is most acute in pakistan and pakistan needs this more than anything else because true social justice for pakistanis lies within an islamic framework. we don't need mad mullahs blowing up schools, but truly educated scholars explaining the true islamic ethos to pakistanis.

every time i visit pakistan, i see the greatest work being done by those whose motivation is islam. be it the building of schools, orphanages or watering wells or indeed the response to emergencies like the earthquake.

that is where the future lies and if the path to it is revolution because pakistan's elite are so entrenched, then so be it. the suffering of a people can not and should not continue the way it is in pakistan and other countries generally.

malaysia is a good example to point out and despite his failings, mahathir mohamed was a dedicated islamist who made an enormous difference to malaysia as a nation - in fact it is the only muslim nation with any credibility or standing in the world not despite, but because of its islamist past. it is also one of the muslim world's very few functioning democracies (shock! horror!).

His most amazing feat in power for me, was his realization that a developing nation like malaysia can not possibly catch up with with the West without education and investment in the future. As a result he made teaching the highest paid profession in the country - so much so that the best malaysian graduates would want to become teachers. I was amazed to meet malaysians doing degrees at my university in London who were going to go back and teach in malaysia and looking forward to it.

contrast that with the pakistanis i met, who were purely there for the flash job in london or some other superficial self-fulfillment or indeed to go back to pakistan and take over their family business empire (lazy, inefficient, etc) and render themselves utterly useless to the nation.

and as a side issue, im afraid that liberal/secular/liberal secularist ideals have no place in the future of pakistan as a nation and that those views are given far more weight in the blogosphere than they deserve (largely because those that espouse them are foreign-educated and well articulated pakistanis who blog).

those that hold such views should go to where liberalism, secularism etc are practiced and help them sort out their problems - you'll find that beneath the surface, its all bs anyway.

you can help sort out 'liberal' america's appalling record on health for black people or go the 'modern, democratic' UK and explain why less than 10% of rapes end up in a conviction (as good as swat?). or indeed explain why both of these liberal, democratic and free countries have been involved in the massacre of innocent people (thousands of pakistanis included) over the last few years.

liberals/secularists will, as individuals, obviously be welcome in pakistan to make a positive contribution, but their political and social ethos is not in line with the soul of the country - and that soul is inherently islamic. pakistan's 60 odd years of soul-searching are gathering speed and inshallah in the not too distant future i can see them bearing fruit in an incredibly positive way for the people of the nation.

Liberal/secularist thoughts are as foreign to pakistan as the education of those who promote them in the lala-land of the blogosphere. The real thoughts for pakistan are being generated on the ground in the real world - in charities, in schools, in mosques, in community gatherings in lecture tours, in madrassahs not run by lunatics and most of all in conversations between educated pakistanis increasingly leaning towards islam as part of the solution, not the problem.

AKS said...

@ hahaha

You know what dude, I honestly blame the likes of you for the mess we're in.

I know that I should just ignore you but I can't.

I don't know what sort of reality you inhabit, as the suffering of Pakistanis has nothing to do with the lack of Islam in our society.

Pakistan is one of the most conservative and religious countries in the world, and yet justice is no where to be found. I know your retort to this is going to be that Pakistanis don't adhere to 'correct Islamic values' that guarantee social justice. My wise ass remark to this will be "sure, except if you're a woman." You may then choose to go on a tirade about how Islam protects women, you may even say that Islam offers more protection than 'the West.'

And so it will go on. So lets just not get into that. I think you're wrong for advocating the inculcation of even more religion into our society. I think you're ignorant for stating that the most development work is being done by religious organization - you obviously don't know Pakistan that well. Most of all I think you're stupid for not recognizing that Islam in Pakistan is not homogeneous so when you speak about 'Islamic principles' you are conveniently ignoring the various sects that inhabit this land.

I unfortunately do fear that you may be right when you say that "liberal/secular/liberal secularist ideals have no place in the future of Pakistan." (I'm so fucked. Time to grow a beard and pretend religiosity.)

I know that you think that I'm a spoilt western educated elite, totally out of touch with the soul of the country, so be it. But your assumptions about Pakistan are ill founded and formed with an outsider's knowledge of the country - its all a bit more complicated then you imagine it to be.

And while, my thoughts may well be contrary to those of most other Pakistanis, but they too have been formed in the 'real Pakistan,' and that's something you have a hard time understanding.

P.S. What sort of idiotic Pakistanis did you hang out with anyway?

P.P.S. You appear to have good academic qualifications, why don't you come back and teach at a college / university in Pakistan?

Rabia said...

"those that hold such views should go to where liberalism, secularism etc are practiced"

and those who hold views such as yours should be at the forefront of the Islamic revivival -- Malakand.

hahaha said...

@ AKS & Rabia

You two have demonstrated the fallacy of your pathetic approach to pakistan quite well.

Not once did I mention support for the taliban or what happened in malakand, yet that's what rabia implied. Not once did I say suffering is caused by lack of islam, and thats what AKS implied.

Don't you see? You are the liberal/secular equivalent of the Taliban. When they label someone a kaffir for the wrong shalwar-length they go through the exact same thought-process you went through to label me an extremist because I had the gall to advocate an Islamic approach. You are liberal extremists and they are religious extremists and both sets exhibit the same mental retardation.


Firstly, pakistan may be the most religious and conservative people in the world - not country - the people running this country as I said, abuse islam for personal benefit.

Secondly, religiousity without education breeds extremism and misinterpretation of islam - this is actually the cause of the problem and it is why education is at the core of any islamic revival. And you may mock it, but it is true that proper adherence to islamic principles on a broader scale will lead to greater social justice, including for women.

I was a volunteer counselor at my university and do you know how many pakistani girls of your liberal ilk came for depression-advice (usually relationship-related)? anti-depressants? abortion advice? self-hate problems? Do you know how rife these problems are in the west? Do you know how they have led to the breakdown of the family unit? The social incohesion they have caused? The single-parent families that now bring up broken children who increasingly turn to crime? Come to the west into any working environment and I guarantee 70% of the women feel like shit for one reason or another - I see it everyday.

If this is the basis for pakistan you propose, then you really are a spoilt western-educated elite (which I don't believe by the way).

A truly islamic approach, like that of Malaysia which you conveniently chose to ignore, is far superior. Women there are (generally) covered but educated, confident yet modest, professionals yet not chronically depressed and I'm speaking from my personal business experiences in malaysia. If pakistans lawyers are made up of people like you, I can see why the concept of evidence doesnt really go down too well there.

And if the best you can do in the court cases you take on is plead 'its more complicated than that' - I can tell you, don't bother. That's not a counter-argument and that definitely is not a solution.

Im advocating an social, economic and political change based on islamic principles.

Right now, pakistan has no principles. In pakistan the educated have no religion, and the religious have no education. This however is changing slowly and the new cross-breed (if i may) is where pakistan's solutions lie.

People like yourselves or ahsan and the taliban will be in the same boat then, extremist fringes on edge of sociey (which is where you are now).

Im well aware of the various sects in pakistan and im not imposing my views on them - im simply calling for change on an islamic basis. and guess what? everyone, including the shia, the sunni, the christian and the hindu in pakistan would be better of for it.

And no matter how much you try and pigeon-hole me as a west-hating islamist - I am not. I believe we have a lot to learn from the west, from both their strengths and their weaknesses. I do not believe however that progress for us depends on emulation of their politics, their social norms and their economic policies. I believe we have a superior way of life and principles on which to build our society on.

I do not believe either you are a spoilt western-educated elite, I believe you are a misguided western-educated pakistani with good intentions for the country. I'm genuinely saddened that whatever skills you have are not being used to promote change on an islamic basis, but I harbour hopes that one day they might (very dim hopes, lol).

PS - Believe it or not, I socialize with all kinds of pakistanis. The ones like you can't stand me either - but slowly (over 5 years) some of them have begun to see things as I do - and others havent. c'est la vie.

Anonymous said...

Good job as always. Interview was articulate and just plain 'Wow'.

I agree with Mr.Mosharraf that it would be foolhardy to regard Rahul Gandhi as a statesman. His only achievement is spending a night in a sanitized village with British foreign secretary David Milliband and similarly, it would be wrong and foolish to regard Narendra Modi as a statesman who is only good in making highly provocative statements against minority.

Basically,we all want a charismatic, inspirational leader like Obama but sadly, we don't have a single leader who can rule the hearts of millions.Obama, simply can't be produced.

I just want to mention Holbrooke's recent comment that Taliban operating out of Pakistan's Swat region pose a "common" threat to Pakistan, India, and the US. All face a common enemy that poses direct threats to our countries and our people.

Anonymous said...


Don't worry about the people that frequent this blog. They desperately want to prove how progressive and developed their thought process is and hence they bash Islam at every opportunity. All they want is acceptance into Western society and they will abandon their values, culture, religion, and morals to achieve it. None of them have studied Islam or know a thing about it but just like the Westerners they desperately want to be they are quick to label any Muslim as extremist Taliban. They also feel like they have the right to comment on every facet of Islam without any knowledge. Don't worry.

Anonymous said...


thats so apt!

I think religion is a private relationship between me and my God! The state has no business directing my beliefs...the mixing of the state with religion is the problem that plagues Pakistan....

Raza said...

@ hahaha

You've failed to explain (though I realize it'd have to be one long comment post) why Islam is the only way forward for Pakistan. The best you've done is say that you've met depressed Western women and seen Islamic charities. But I think worrying about boyfriends would be a lot less depressing than forced hijaab and a life of cooking and cleaning despite a prolific education (please convince me that it would be otherwise in an Islamic society). And certainly there are many, many non-Islamic charities doing amazing stuff in Pakistan. Your business trips to Malaysia don't convince me that all is fine and dandy over that either.

There are two major reasons why I'm against Islam (or any religion) informing our body politic and society. First, freedom of religion goes out the window. We in Pakistan are Shias, Sunnis, Ismailis, Boris, Barelvis, Hanafis, Noorbakhshis, Ahmedis, Sufis, Christians, Hindus, secularists and many many more. These are rich, proud traditions which, in a homogeneous Islamic society will be necessarily repressed. Religion should be personal. Second, The nation-state is relatively modern phenomenon, one for which Islam originally made no accommodation. So even if we wanted an homogeneous Islamic society, its dynamics would be so difficult to synthesize that no one would be happy with any arrangement (for instance, Qazi Hussain Ahmed doesn't like the type of Sharia imposed in Swat). Third, any society that's raison d'etre is space in the afterlife can't have the best short term interest of its people in mind. This may sound trivial, but such a state would be NOT primarily focused on the material betterment and physical safety of its populace.

Secularism means a separation of 'church and state,' a freedom to practice religion however you wish as long as it doesn't infringe on anyone's else's practice, and it doesn't influence the workings of state. Liberalism, for the most part, means social justice. Combined, that's a pretty good ideal.

Raza said...

Oh, and I guess there were three reasons. My bad.

Anonymous said...

"Its a lose-lose for the people and Win-win for the establishments." . Well said, Mr. Mosharraf.I couldn't agree with you more.

I also couldn't help but notice the expression,"making kissy face with India". That was witty.

Sputnik said...

@ hahaha

Regarding your discussion of women in the west, four points:

1)Your discussion treats women as monolithic. Yes, there are women who would prefer to live in an Islamic state as you envision. However, there are also women who would prefer to live in a secular westernized state. Rather than take the agency out of their hands, isn't it best to opt for a society where education AND individual liberty are encouraged. That way, women have the ability to live in a manner that best suits their individual preferences- religious, secular, liberal, conservative, or otherwise. Only in the case that women are somehow emotionally weaker, dumber or more irrational, does it make sense to encourage cultural values that prescribes their range of social behaviors. Luckily, however, history and science successfully debunks that myth.

2)I agree with you that liberal values can create a variety of new social problems for women. However, I think your contention that it inevitably breeds depression, abortion and low self-esteem is flawed.

In social-science-speak, I believe you're suffering from selection bias. You're ignoring a) the problems that arise for women in traditional religious societies (e.g. forced marriages, honor killings, domestic violence, limited access to education and career opportunities, etc. etc. etc.); b) the benefits that women receive from living in the west (e.g. higher levels of education and career opportunities, increased personal freedom, decreased violence, etc.); and c) the problems for women of living in a state like Malaysia, (e.g. only 36% of women work- half as unpaid laborers, religious and sexual discrimination, suicide rates for women that are 171% of the suicide rate from women in America, decreased individual freedoms, etc. etc. etc.)

3)"Come to the west into any working environment and I guarantee 70% of the women feel like shit for one reason or another - I see it everyday." As an American woman, I can guarantee that this is just utterly wrong. Perhaps because of working as a counselor, you have gotten the false impression that all western women are chronically depressed. This isn't true. Speaking as a woman living in a major metropolitan area in the United States, I can honestly say that my female friends and I (whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Atheist) can lead very fulfilling lives while successfully avoiding all of the troubles you discussed.

4) I'm glad that your educated view of Islam has led you to pursue policies that encourage the advancement of women. However, you should acknowledge, that you have a particular interpretation of Islam that other's aren't necessarily going to adopt with increased education. After all, the Koran, like all of major religious texts, includes passages that can be interpreted as justifying deplorable treatment of women: 33:50, 4:34, etc.

Raza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sputnik said...

By the way Ahsan, another great post. I really enjoyed reading both of these interviews.

takhalus said...

great posts guys don't agree with all the stuff made by either one but extremely interesting and stimulating..and had some killer lines.

karachi khatmal said...

firstly this was the best interview i have ever read on the blogosphere. seriously, an analyst who explains his points with the WTF paradigm... AMAZING!!!

secondly, why is it that the people who bash bloggers on their west-loving, islam-hating ideals always choose to be anonymous or not leave any links to blogs where we can learn from their enlightened views?

more importantly, as ahsan tried not to overtly mention, but really needs to be mentioned - why the fuck are all such commenters people who visit pakistan frequently? i mean for fuck's sake, really FOR FUCK'S SAKE COME BACK HERE BEFORE YOU FUCKING JUDGE US ASS****!!!

sorry for that.

what i really had to say was that i don't consider myself as an atheist, but that's what most people understand when they read or here secular. as raza explained, a believer can also be secular.

the reason for my secular beliefs?

i have studied at LUMS and IBA, Pakistan's most celebrated universities, and really as educated as paksitanis can get. the blinkered bigotry on display towards any non-sunni muslims in those places has convinced me that should islam be the basis of our society, us khatmals and every other minority would be getting the Auscwhitz treatment.

for the record, i wouldn't mind islam as the basis of our society - muslim societies in the past have been some of the most progressive in history. however, living in pakistan has convinced me that as a nation, we are very insecure about our identity. alternative narratives and points of view are just not tolerated. this is bitter experience, and not social-science theorizing speaking. therefore, any islamic society in pakistan would mean bad news for this hugely diverse country. i hope you can understand that from whichever western nation you are reading this from, because while pakistan might seem like a forlorn helpless country that needs the masculinity of islam to rescue it, the reality is quite different.

pakistanis, rich or poor, are generally kanjars. this is the most harami place i can ever imagine being in. don't pity us. try and understand us.

AKS said...

@ KK

Your comment perfectly captures my thoughts. It really is a harami place.

Ahsan said...


Not sure what your first point really is. You argue at once that there are many secular liberals in Pakistan (a point I disagree with) and that it is necessarily hard to be secular and liberal in Pakistan (a point I agree with). But even if you're right, what's the point of having secular liberals if they can't be secular and liberal?


What sort of Mohajir actually praises Lahore over Karachi? A useless one.


Nothing to say to you, if that's ok with you.


I'm always witty! You should pay more attention.


I disagree completely. Haven't you seen Sex and the City or Desperate Housewives? They tell a very different story than you do. Who are you trying to fool?


Hear, hear.

To all those who had kind words about the interview/conversation:

Thank you.

hahaha said...

Wow, where do I start.

@ Raza
You clearly have little understanding of islam - a society that's based on the afterlife does not ignore its obligations in this one. In fact it increases the importance of achieving as much as possible in the time you have in this life, based on principles that better humanity - it is no coincidence that best achievements of muslims of ANY muslim nation of the world today came when islam was at the forefront of politics, economics and society.

I am not espousing Malaysia as some perfect example - I am simply pointing out the obvious for your liberal ilk (something that needs to be done often). As far as muslim nations go and taking a cursory glance at stability, accountability, education, prosperity, independence of foreign policy, infrastructure, coexistence of diverse ethnicities/religousities, etc etc - malaysia is the best example of all muslim nations and is clearly light-years ahead of pakistan. that this has been achieved on a foundation of islamic principles is no coincidence.

@ everyone else
and as a point to others, there is no such thing as a separation of church and state. the principles of the state in the public sphere are inevitably going to infringe on my personal space - so the commonly espoused 'religion is a private matter' non-sense does not cut it in the real world.

a religious state might infringe on your right to wear a mini-skirt but a liberal state would infringe on my right to not want to see that as it personally dismays me. or a liberal states insistence that two men can bring up a child may infringe on my right to not want my child exposed to 'charlie' in 2nd grade who has two daddies.

that is why islam is what it is - it provides a holistic approach to life in both the public and private sphere. it defines economics, politics, law and order, inheritance, family structure, individual responsibility, importance of education, societal advancement like no other religion or ethos does - that you have been brought up to believe otherwise is not my problem, it really is yours.

@ Sputnik
Before I respond, thank you for actually taking what I said and discussing/debating it rather than spewing out incoherent hatred.

1)&2) (generally)
The perceived treatment of women as monolithic and the perceived selection bias is deliberate as I have to usually on these types of blogs state my views rather more fanatically than I would like to.

This is simply to get a reaction as the authors of these kinds of blogs love preaching to the converted and ignoring those that bring alternative ideas to the table (especially if they involve islam). I find that if I express my views rather more acutely, then at least some discussion will ensue (out of sheer annoyance mostly). To say that the likes of ahsan or AKS 'exist in their own world' would be an understatement.

1) We'll have to agree to disagree here. There are two aspects to my disagreement. Firstly, I also strongly feel that men and women should both be allowed to follow their individual preferences, especially if they exhibit particular talents in certain field, but at the same time there ARE certain social spheres which can be ascribed to both men and women. These are not all-inclusive and would not apply to every single man and women, but provide a general basis for society. Without these, I believe society as a whole suffers, e.g. the pyschological problems of women in the west to name but one. Secondly, I do not feel that this freedom of choice between education and individual liberty truly exists in any of the 'liberal' countries I have lived in (US & UK). The pressure from society forcing women to work due to a myriad of factors (be it materialism, social status, feeling of self-worth, feminism even) makes it less choice and more indirect force.

2) Im not ignoring the problems faced by tradional religious societies (like pakistan) - these are the very societies i want to change! please re-read my posts, i want to CHANGE pakistan based on islamic principles starting with education and eradicate these wholely unislamic practices (honor-killing, domestic violence, etc) - the inferior status of women is something many islamic countries inherited from their unislamic pasts. islam came and enshrined the rights of these women for the first time in history (well before any women's rights movement).
just look across the border to hindu india continuing legacy of female foetus abortions, widow-burning, etc.
That uneducated muslims in uneducated countries choose to abuse islam to further their own aims or maintain the male-domination of their cultural histories is not islam's fault.

I agree with your definitions of benefits to women in the west but I believe those benefits come at a high cost - I want to provide those benefits within an islamic framework without those hidden costs or with minimizing those hidden costs. Idealistic perhaps, but possible I believe. In any case, any attempt is better than the status quo.

I simply used the women of malaysia as an example relative to those of pakistan. I know it has its issues, but relative to pakistan, as aforementioned, it is light-years ahead.

3) The 70% was arbitrary I agree but it is based on what I've seen from working the US (1 year only) and the London (last 4 years). Most women I met and now meet look forward to nothing but that drink at the pub on a weekly basis, or going clubbing and getting drunk, or going skating then getting drunk or getting drunk with their boyfriends - see the trend? And then they come into work and complain about how shit their weekend was or have a mental breakdown. Ironically the ones that do seem happy or living fulfilling lives are the ardently religious ones (all christians in my office).
You said you are a woman living in a major metropolitan area - not working. Give it five years of working and perhaps things will change.

4) I agree broadly that interpretations will differ from person to person, but with education we can root out those interpretations that are most 'off the path' and a general understanding of agreed over-riding principles can be sought.

to be continued...

hahaha said...

@karachi khatmal

nobody bashed any bloggers - i bashed their ideas. and if you really want to see where i'm coming from and not project reactinary bile at me then visit:

i dont pity you, but you clearly pity yourself and your absurd mentality that pakistan is a harami place is part of the problem. self-pity never helped anyone get anywhere and it wont help pakistan. if it is such a harami place incapable of changing, why are you there? or do you, as with most priveleged pakistanis, have a superiority complex and trust in your ability to thrive in a harami environment?

it is a harami place because the institutional framework in place from its politics and its 'elite' to its civil society and its economics are devoid of islamic principles. that is exactly what change will be based on - but to do that we need change the environment that self-pity like yours festers in.

doesn't it suck that someone like me who has never stayed in pakistan beyond a 2-month period would be more accepted by the general people than someone like you? doesn't it suck that if i went to chill with some of the poor at orphanages in balochistan or went to the villages im from in punjab or visited schools we've help build in kashmir that you, and not I, would be the obvious misfit?

misfits in your own country - thats what you are. and thats why you blog in your cliquey little circle about pipe dreams fashioned in an environment completely alien to pakistan and pakistanis. happens every time - someone from outside your little bubble comes along and all of a sudden people are forced to think and you see REAL responses to a blog that otherwise gets the same old people visiting and nodding. and i thought the taliban were indoctrinated.

Mosharraf said...

I just wanted to come over and thank Ahsan for the really interesting discussion. These exchanges always leave me with an appetite to learn more about the problems we're all struggling to understand and help fix.

I don't want to get into a long debate, but I did want to respond to some questions and comments, as a humble writer should--in the face of encouraging feedback.

1) Kulsoom. The gap between aid money and aid results. There's a lot of work being done around something called aid effectiveness and the Paris Declaration which was signed by wealthy countries to make aid more effective. But the fundamental problem of development is not financial. Nor is it capacity. Aid money can provide financial support and skills that are otherwise difficult to find. But aid money cannot construct institutions or establish political will. Those are the responsibility of the societies that seek development. Pakistan needs to take responsibility for Pakistan's development.

2) Raza. On Zardari's limited public appearances. Think Cheney. There's a perception problem that you can't poll or advert your way out of. Out of sight, out of mind. That's the hypothesis.

3) AKS. Fascinated by the Khi/Lhr dissection. Would be really interested in looking at the actual numbers on lawyer-drain out of PK. And then interpreting them in light of the factors you highlight.

Finally, as a Muslim, some thoughts on faith.

Arrogance in one's own faith, and contempt for others' opinions are hardly a service to the Lord, Al-Rahman, and Al-Raheem.

The reason that so many privileged young Pakistanis are utterly repulsed by religosity is the compulsive self-righteousness of advocates of religion.

Of all the different ways to counter the carjacked narrative of Islam in a post 9/11 world, verbal bludgeons seem to be a particularly poor choice of instrument.

Thanks again for all the feedback and comments.

So I'm Anonymous, what are you going to do about it AKS? said...

"misfits in your own country - thats what you are. and thats why you blog in your cliquey little circle about pipe dreams fashioned in an environment completely alien to pakistan and pakistanis. happens every time - someone from outside your little bubble comes along and all of a sudden people are forced to think and you see REAL responses to a blog that otherwise gets the same old people visiting and nodding. and i thought the taliban were indoctrinated."

Brilliant! AHSAN AKS and all other LIBERALS exposed!

karachi khatmal said...

mr. hahaha

i am trying to compose myself because you have really gotten my goat.

you write that you are someone who visits pakistan for two months, and decides to "chill" with the poor. then you tell me that i have self pity.

let me tell you something. i have lived in every province in pakistan. not visited. lived. its not hard for me to fit into any place in this country, because i have done it already. thank you for assuming that i am festering in self-pity. thank you also for ignoring what i said about your need that pakistan needs to be saved.

but i can't imagine something being more hypocritical than thinking that your ability to chill with the poor in pakistan makes you more of a member of this country than any of us, or me.

its easy to have these vacations into the gritty reality of pakistan. but when you live here, when you know that you are part of the problem, it really tests and tears at your soul.

and when your attempts to make a difference encounter bigotry, discrimination, and pure ignorance from both the educated and the illiterate, from the rich and the poor, from your family and your friends, from your own self, it makes you realize how harami this place is.

i know we are harami because i am harami. have you ever sat here through a traffic jam? watch the way we manouvere ourselves, how we overtake from the wrong sides, and play chicken with 18-wheeler trucks and murderous buses and daredevil bikers and asshole pajero-walas. every single person, even the pedestrians, are ruthless and brutal.

i think that is because we don't think this traffic system is something we feel an organic connection to. so we find short cuts rather than embracing the spirit of the law.

i have studied in pakistan. i work in pakistan. i live in pakistan. for you to decide that despite all that, my experience pales in comparison to your vacations is outrageously offensive. how often have you dealt with people who pay money to get marks in class participation and thus get a better grade than you? how often have you written song lyrics in an exam just to fill up space because you know the professor gives marks on the weight of the answer sheet rather than its contents? how often have you seen people reach out to grab your mother/sister/wife's ass or breasts in a public place, forcing you to walk furiously in circles around them? how often have you seen your grandfather, a man who won the sitar-e-imtiaz for his patriotic poetry, die broken-hearted because young, unemployed boys from his own ethnic community robbed and humiliated him in his old age? how often have you buried a grandfather who in the prime of his health was run over by an ambulance? how often have you buried an uncle who was a famous physician but was gunned down for being a minority sect? how often have you seen your father switch his route to office every day because he is a doctor and a shia? how often have you had to shelter your weeping neighbours as a seven year old form their heroin addict father who is threatening to kill you?

don't tell me what it means to be a pakistani. you have your own ideas about how to make this country better. i don't completely disagree with those. but i can not stand to read you tell me what it means to be myself. because i have an absolute conviction in my own self. i am not going to hide behind a pitiful conception of pakistan as a well-meaning country run to the ground by a few blinkered elites.

i know the problems of my country because they run through me.

don't ever fucking tell me how to look at my own self, when you don't even know who i am.

i am sorry to everyone for this emotional and lengthy comment.

C.J said...

@ So I'm Anonymous, what are you going to do about it AKS?

With all due respect,I just want to say that why can't you just simply respectfully disagree instead of fighting? It just makes you appear as intolerant to opposite viewpoints. I thought living abroad makes us more liberal and tolerant.I am sure we all can have intelligent and rational conversation on this blog without resorting to invective and confrontational language.

Ahsan said...


That was a very moving and incisive comment. Thank you for it.

hahaha said...

sorry, took a weekend break.

@ karachi khatmal
first of all - what the hell? i wasn't even talking to you, lol.

the ones i was talking to (AKS and ahsan) choose not to respond because they know its true.

i'm simply saying that by virtue of our shared commitment to islam, i have more in common with the average pakistani than them. if i took them to peshawar or quetta or the poorer parts of karachi or lahore, they and not i would feel out of place. simple.

you guys (aks, ahsan & co) may be born and bred pakistanis - but your world is confined to the defenses, cliftons, creeks clubs, defense clubs etc etc - outside of these, they are more alien in pakistan than even me.

i believe if we can re-align peoples commitments to islam - re-educate them on islam and re-introduce true islamic principles into society then we can build a better pakistan (without sectarian violence, etc etc.)

the liberal secular path offers nothing. it is as far away from what is in a pakistani's heart as possible. pakistani may be haramis, but they know what they are doing is wrong - they just need incentive to change. political, social and economic incentive to change.

(like the raids on peshawars dvd market for porn-distributors - publicly shamed and beaten but when asked by the bbc to say if they feel angry, they said 'no. we deserve it. what we were doing was unislamic').

and get one thing straight any of you - YOU guys are not the average pakistani. the average pakistani is poor, doesnt have a car, doesnt have an education. the average pakistani can't read this blog.

i implore the foreign-educated dwellers of elitist bubbles to piss off to somewhere where they can build on their oh-so-enlightened ideas. pakistan doesn't need them and those that know pakistan best are realizing the same.

even the charity that this blog supposedly supports knows this (citizens foundation).
their fundraising dinner in london this week has as a guest speaker a US-born, Saudi-educated Islamic scholar of Pakistani origin who's completing his phd at Yale. He will be talking about the importance of education and a return to islamic principles as the way forward for any muslim nation - especially pakistan. These are the type of people that will actually help pakistan - not rich, drunk, high, adultering but educated pakistanis in perpetual west-worship mode.

if pakistan's well-off, educated elite could stop kissing up to everything western and wake up, they too would realize that western solutions don't solve non-western problems. they don't solve any problems.

karachi khatmal said...

mr. hahaha

at 2/19/09 1:50 PM you addressed me directly. i actually got pisse doff enough to devote a long-ass blog to you. i would love for you to read it.

i don't think you would like it too much. also, whatever your opinion about the guys on this blog, i don't know them either. but really, you are a pompous dick. which is why despite the fact that your thoughts are not offensive, you certainly are.

Raza said...

@ hahaha

Ok, here's the problem with what you're saying: a) Your assertion that the Pakistani “soul” is religious isn't true and, b) your argument for political Islam is, as I’ve earlier stated, unconvincing, and idealistic.

To begin with, there's a fundamental difference between religiousness and religiosity. You might be right that religiosity in Pakistan motivates the masses. But that doesn't necessarily make them religious; in fact, I'd argue that religiousness in Pakistan is weak at best.

Pakistan's political demographics are probably the best empirical indicators we have to describe the nation's sentiments. The PPP, Pakistan's largest, most popular and only truly national political party is decidedly secular. The Jamaat, JUI, and the entire MMA received a mere 16% of the vote in an election rigged in their favor under Musharraf. In the recent election, they were routed nationally, and kicked out of governments in NWFP and Baluchistan where they otherwise derive much of their support. In fact, sadly, regional ethno-centric parties such as the ANP, MQM, PML-N and, an extreme case, the BLA, are now more powerful in their regional constituencies than they've ever been. The MMA is in disarray.

Another measure: TV, our most pervasive media (I once worked on a financial model for the profitability of a Pakistani TV channel—-TV penetration, 2 years ago, was at about 53%). Aaj TV's Begum Nawazish, a talk show hosted by an overtly sexual transvestite compeer, someone who would normally offend orthodox Muslims, was Pakistan's highest rated TV show. Ever. Our music channels, IM, The Muziq and MTV Pakistan regularly outperform the Quranic channels on cable. Geo's Alim Online, Pakistan's most popular religious orientated program, often invites practitioners of other faiths, and openly debates Islamic tenets. Also, I know from personal experience--I work in Pakistani media--that listener/viewer feedback from of poor, rural areas, let alone urban areas, strongly favors entertainment and lifestyle shows as opposed to religious programming.

And the anecdotal evidence is endless. Your Peshawari porn dealers might acknowledge that pornography is unislamic, but demand is so high that they’d risk the wrath of the moral police to sell the stuff. Bollywood film and music, often as lewd as said pornography, can be found in every nook and corner of Pakistan, to the extent that Shahrukh Khan is a more recognizable figure than Yousaf Raza Gillani. Bootlegging is big business in rural Punjab and Sindh, where moonshine is a staple for farmers and peasants after a hard day's work (scour any major newspaper for reports on illegal alcohol consumption). Call it harami, call it what you will, this stuff distinctly unislamic, and it’s the soul of the masses.

And even if it isn't: why Islam? I’ve already talked about why religion shouldn’t define a system of governance. And you're right, I don't know all that much about Islamic theology. But everything I do know of its modern political iteration frightens me. I know that the citizenry of Iran and Saudi Arabia, two countries with decidedly Islamic regimes, are poor and oppressed. I know these are nasty, intolerant places (I've spent time in both) where Islam really is the opiate of the masses, and is used to legitimize authoritarian regimes. I know that modern political Islam in places like Saudi, Iran, Afghanistan and even Malaysia (where there’s constitutional segregation of Muslims and non-Muslims), has restricted civil liberties, quashed independent judiciaries, and repressed art and culture.

In these countries and in Pakistan, Islam has been reduced to a reactionary phenomenon, a vehicle for West-bashing. In popular discourse, Islam is no longer expressed as a religion; it’s expressed with hate and contempt just to stick it to the West. And so loud and pushy political opportunists have found it to be a perfect platform--if you question it you’re a heretic and a hater, a fornicator, a drunkard; you’re westernized, you’re Devil spawn. They play with your fear of being labeled.

Whatever Islamic system we put in place today will necessarily be defined in this matrix of invasive, obnoxious political Islam. You want to start at year zero, re-educate all Pakistanis, and mold them in to model Muslims. But that’s as naive as me saying liberal secularism should be the law of the land. Muslim stakeholders in Pakistan today gnash their teeth and flay their arms when someone in Denmark draws a cartoon, but are at home waxing their beards when a bomb explodes in a girl’s elementary school. Start by re-educating them, not us.

Farooq said...


Are you Bubs?

Urdu said...

Hello. This post is likeable, and your blog is very interesting, congratulations :-). I will add in my blogroll =)THANX FOR


Let me share with you a great resource,

Urdu Rasala

if you are searching for Some Great urdu literature Online And want to read Great urdu novels And poetry on one place then check this out

Chris Hayes said...

Really like to reinforce one point in the article. Political change is today mostly evolution (with constant key battles that have to be fought to continue this change - and this change snowballs over time, often with unintended consequences).
The point about those leading the lawyers movement 'cutting their teeth' on politics is true. Its a difficult complex system and it takes time to become effective in it. Really you may feel alienated today but if you can in the next 10 years stabilise the situation in your country and provide a platform for those coming after you or anyone who is still ifred up enough to continue, thats a major achievement.
Looking back on history everything seemed to happen so fast. But in reality the various battles took years and decades. South Africa and apartheid, the west and slavery, one man (and much later woman) one vote. In many parts of the world these struggles continue centuries after they began in other countries.
So don't get disheartened. Realise that one of the objectives of anyone in power is to disolusion any challengers and/or divert them. Sadly when in the civil service one of my jobs was effectively just that. You will no dout see the leaders of the lawyers movement bought off, sidelined, 'included' in future discussions or whatever. Don't let it happen to you. In other words keep the faith :)
And hahaha - work on your examples and your arguement, plus decide which Islamic values you favour. Plus of course British women go out drinking and feel awful. They wanted equality with British men after all!

Ahmed (I am sorry i dont have a blog :P) said...

Dear Mr. Ha Ha Ha,

Greetings and please 1st read this following list of terminologies:

-Tue Islamic resurgence
-Islamic principles
-Islamic government
-Informed view of the religion.
-Islamic framework
-True Islamic ethos
-Inherently Islamic
-Islamic revival
-Islamic principles
-Superior way of life & principles
-Understanding of Islam
-Holistic approach to life

I didn’t read the interview but i was directed to this discussion from Mr. KK's blog. When i read your (Mr. Ha Ha Ha) comments, arguments and counter-arguments, I couldn’t help noticing that u have been going around and around in circles in proving you point. The basic observations are as follow:

1. Your usage of these terminologies/words (refer to above list) which have no concrete meaning/definition but can be generalized into any definition suiting what and when you want to express. Certainly, with diverse "Islamic" practices which to my ignorant view changes almost like language in Pakistan, you certainly cannot advocate change on "Islamic" basis while yourself being vaguely convinced (or trying to convince) though some empty words which do not mean much when seen in real world of Pakistan. So I guess, I will be better enlightened by your views if you will come out and talk in less “politically correct” terms. Forgive my ignorance and poor English vocabulary.

2. As you said “non-sense does not cut it in the real world.”, I will totally agree. On the same line of reasoning, I would like you to slightly touch on the topic of how your advocated version of “Holistic Approach to life”, will settle daily life of different religious/nonreligious problems. Let us say for example economics, justice, family laws, punishments, banking system, political and government system and last but most important for me; cultural systems (songs, clothes, weddings, sports, picnics etc etc). Certainly, by arguing that “holistic approach” will save the day and everyone will have a peaceful night sleep is something (I hope that you will agree) that I also think will not cut in the real world and certainly when idea of Islamic Society brings, Saudia Arab, Afghanistan, Sawat, Waziristan to mind. ( I am sorry, but as famous saying goes: What you see is what you get)

3. Your most of the arguments prevail in the “Future” tense. I think you use more than reasonable use of “Will”, “Shall” while arguing (without examples.), as this points to the state of imagination, dream which may or may not be as true as you claim it to be.

4. Malaysia has a different cultural, social, political and domestic background. I think the reason why many commentators here are not ready to accept what you bring forward is because of this delusion that “Ctrl C” + “Ctrl V” Malaysia to Pakistan in terms of “Holistic approach”. For example an average Malaysian does not suffer from lack of education and insight, which average PK people do, there is no feudal system in Malaysia (and thus related troubles), Muslims is Malaysia follow one sect (shaafi) which is totally opposite to Pakistan. (On lighter side) Malaysian people are lot less angry than normal Pakistani people. So all these realities are which your argument of “Islamic framework” fails to encounter effectively. And I somewhat agree with KK that to get the extent of what are the different parameters that govern life of “Common”, “Average” Pakistani person, you really have to observe them after being a part of problem. When you know (in you heart) that you are here temporarily and will fly away after a while than certain things about “common/average” man of PK do not hit as hard as they should.

5. Lastly, I think I disagree with you point not because I am prefer secular system or you are Religiously motivated person (I again hope that you will understand a fine difference here what I want to express, owing to your claim of being different from main-stream PK religious zealots), but because I am under impression that you fail to bring something real and concrete to the table. Imagining that everyone (160 million or so) will accept what you label as “Islamic framework” and then we will live happily forever is not something which will even convince Hindus of PK let alone different sects. (I refer to your comment: everyone, including the shia, the sunni, the christian and the hindu in pakistan would be better of for it). Certainly you will need more than imagination and conviction to prove what you believe “WILL” be accepted easily.

We can remove the bias of political/social motivation from our arguments..
I whole heartedly agree with what Mr. Mosharraf said in his comments:

“The reason that so many privileged young Pakistanis are utterly repulsed by religosity is the compulsive self-righteousness of advocates of religion.

Of all the different ways to counter the carjacked narrative of Islam in a post 9/11 world, verbal bludgeons seem to be a particularly poor choice of instrument.”


Ahmed said...

Oops... I am sorry for the three times Comment. Please forgive the inconvinence as this is the first time i am posting nay comment to any blog. I will request the owner of blog to delete the two repeated comments....
Ladies and Gents, apologies again :)


PS: Mr. Ha Ha...i live in Gulshan :P

Butters said...

Great discussion, and good blog generally.

@ hahaha

1. Many of the values that you espouse are shared values, that many 'liberals' hold as well. Instead of using the discourse of 'Islamic principles' let's be more specific about what is common between those principles, and what is essential to them. That is, if they involve the development of one's reason, let's list that as a virtue, rather than limiting our understanding of it to the characteristic 'Islamic'. Similarly, avoiding addiction or seeking after long-lasting happiness rather than fleeting pleasure are more specific descriptions of the kinds of values that you possesses; and it will help to describe them as such.

The reason this is more beneficial is not merely that it will bring clarity to the discussion and reduce the level of partisanship involved in it, but also that it reveals an important fact: however good or useful your own moral principles might be, you did arrive at your conclusion using reason, and everybody will and ought to use their reason too. Instead of establishing an Islamic state, it is better to get to the core of what makes those values good, and promote those, while giving people the liberty to discover their own path if that is natural to them. Otherwise you are at risk of the imposition of any interpretation of Islam that any crackpot comes up with, and we are all stuck needing to appeal to Islam to make a point, rather than to reason.

2. You say that you have the right to not see women in mini-skirts and men raising children. I'm afraid you have no such right, and this is where liberals will differ with you, not over whether women ought to be depressed or not.

3. The women you described were an unrepresentative sample as you worked as a counselor, and thus were exposed to women who had problems. To presume that all women are like this is bad inference.

4. It is an unjustified assumption that the only reason people interpret Islam misogynistically is that they are uneducated. Many Saudi clerics are very educated (having graduated from Al Aqsa University, after all), and they hold this position for genuine theological reasons. I also don't see how the absence of something can be the cause of something else.

5. You've described an exaggerated stereotype of drunk, irresponsible teenagers in West-worship mode: this is a straw man, and a figment of your imagination. I'm sure some 'liberals' fit this characterization, but this is not essential to liberal philosophy, nor is it what liberals advocate for. There are ass hole Muslims (educated or otherwise) and there are messed up liberals, but that has nothing to do with the merits of the argument.

6. It is circular reasoning to use Malaysia to prove your point about Islamic society. If you had selected Saudi Arabia as an example, your point would not have been made. So why didn't you? Your answer will be: because Malaysia is truly Islamic, whereas Saudi Arabia is not. But you've decided it's truly Islamic based on its goodness. So, you've presumed what you're trying to prove, which is known as begging the question.

7. Lastly, and most importantly, 'liberals' do not advocate for the blind imitation of the West, including its problems. Many of the problems you described women as facing are problems both men and women face as a result of the high-pressure work environments that exist there. Simply advocating for secularism does not mean advocating for a wholesale importation of WASP culture.

We can use our reason to decide, on a case-by-case basis, what aspects of any culture are desirable and what aspects are not. In order to facilitate the maximum use of one's individual reasoning in accordance with one's nature, we need a certain level of liberty and secularism.

Ahmed said...

Very goo and articulate reasoning Mr/Ms. Butters. I fully agree to what u have added as ur valuable comments.