No One Writes to The General

Lawyers lawyers in blackIn the NYT today is Pakistan’s Silent Majority Is Not to Be Feared, an op-ed by the author Mohsin Hamid on Musharraf and the rising tide of discontent with his dictatorial ways. He begins by admitting that he was an early supporter of Musharraf and cites some of the economic booms during the last 7 years. However, in sympathy to the growing unrest against Musharraf, he has rethought his position:

General Musharraf now appears to be more concerned with perpetuating his rule than with furthering the cause of “enlightened moderation” that he had claimed to champion. He has never been particularly popular, but he is now estranging the liberals who previously supported his progressive ends if not his autocratic means. People like me are realizing that the short-term gains from even a well-intentioned dictator’s policies can be easily reversed.

This Devil’s bargain has been a consistent part of the popular psyche that has supported dictatorial rule in Pakistan since the 1950s. My parent’s generation praised Ayub for bringing industrialization and development and Zia for trying to harmonize Islam in Pakistan. And in 1999, I heard the same appeasements coming from the intellectuals – Musharraf will bring democracy or will train us to appreciate democracy. I consider this line of argument entirely specious:

[The argument is that …] Pakistanis are forever stuck in the “not yet” time – lacking education or training or a civil society to elect goverments to represent themselves. The masses are uncouth and uncivilized. “Mature” democracies such as the United States do not have mass rallies and tire burning after a child is killed in a road accident. “Mature” democracies elect their leaders after impassioned and logical thought as the best representing the ideals of the collective society. Pakistan has to be trained and Condi Rice is completely devoted to the “steps towards democratization” that The General is undertaking. The pendulum of metaphors swings from “time” to “distance”.

On this one, I am squarely with the Subalternists. The filthy masses of Pakistan are political agents and they are ready for democracy. And they even have leaders. But, the unsurprising reality is that the system is set to prohibit any populist challenge to the regime. The two-legged bar stool of Pakistani dictatorship is firmly situated at this moment.

But now, this blunder by The General has swung the momentum towards that populist challenge. Until now Musharraf had been coasting on US/World Bank support, good economic news and a shrugging acceptance of status quo – that has now ended. There is no way for him to de-escalate without giving in on several key issues: uniform, Presidency, participation of all political parties in the election. This particular agitation by the lawyers follows closely the pattern after student unrest on campuses across the nation, gave birth to the MRD [Movement for Restoration of Democracy] during Zia, which, in turn, resulted in the elections of 1985.

Question is, will the United States support The General or back the calls for democracy? Will the President support the Black Revolution sweeping Pakistan?

In that I join Mohsin Hamid’s concluding paragraph: “An exaggerated fear of Pakistan’s people must not prevent America from realizing that Pakistanis are turning away from General Musharraf. By prolonging his rule, the general risks taking Pakistan backward and undermining much of the considerable good that he has been able to achieve. The time has come for him to begin thinking of a transition, and for Americans to realize that, scare stories notwithstanding, a more democratic Pakistan might be better not just for Pakistanis but for Americans as well.

Sunday Reading for Bostonians

Had all things been normal, I would have been on a panel this Sunday morning, at the AAS in Boston. Instead, I could only hope from a distance that Countervailing Connections: Islamicate Mobilities in Imperial Moments proved to be the barn-rouser that I had imagined. So, today’s late – very late – list of readings goes out to my peeps in Boston who must now have time on their hand. And maybe one of them can tell us how it all went. Or maybe Jonathan Dresner attended and he can give us all a summary as only he can.

  • Listen up, NYT, before you go telling us that a translation of the Qur’an is finally causing some re-examination into the very soul of Islam, please ascertain that 1. this amazing translation is ACTUALLY published and, hence, someone has read or reviewed it, and 2. that the translation passes some normative standards like, oh say, the translator KNOWS Arabic. Man, I hated that article. So, go read it and enjoy my misery.
  • Dictators and the Courts – this time Hosni Mubarak is treating Egyptian Constitution as his personal doodle pad. You must pay homage to the American commitment to spreading God-given Freedom around the world.
  • I asked this question a while ago and finally, the Boston Globe is also wondering why biography is shunned by the academy? I don’t know but there promises to be an excellent work on Raj Kumar by our friend at Land of Lime.
  • Mahmood Mamdani, in the LRB has an absolute must-read on Darfur, Kristof and the politics of higher moral grounds.
  • Mahomet and his Heaven: A Review in the TLS. Putting aside the Danish cartoon thing, I wonder how one would go about putting this in production? I mean, even if no Muslim protests, how do you contextualize this play in a performance?
  • Two goodies in the NYRB: George Soros is not afraid of the Jewish Lobby, while Pankaj Mishra – member of the Brown Lobby – calls to your attention two well-deserved books.
  • Besides Soros, Zbigniew Brzezinski is also a cranky old man who hates the War on Terror. We have always been at War with Terror. Doesn’t he know?
  • Finally. In a recent bout with insomnia I began composing the opening paragraph of my own 10-15,000 word essay on Wasim Akram for the New Yorker. My opening was going to be about the fearless Srikkanth getting hit in the head by an Akram bouncer during the first inning of the 1989 test series and simply crumbling away for the rest of the series. Since NYer has not called me to write this piece [seriously David Remnick. Even you ain’t got shit on me when it comes to profile pieces. Call.], I suggest everyone read about Adam Greenberg and what happens when you get hit in the head with a fast ball.

Cricket Woes

Indian Cricket

Nothing lifts the spirits more in such desperate times than the memory of a young player gaining simple pleasure from one of his first tastes of cricketing success. India’s cricket commercialism was shaken to the core because last week a carefree 17-year-old Bangladeshi, Tamim Iqbal, smacked the bowlers to all parts. Yesterday, Sri Lanka also looked to their younger batsmen. Where their seasoned batsmen failed, they prospered through Upul Tharanga’s security and Chamara Silva’s mid-innings spark.

It all means that Bangladesh and Ireland are in the Super Eights and India and Pakistan are not. The crooks and charlatans on the fringes of the game will be appalled. But Woolmer, were he still alive, would have recognised the essential romance of it, the reminder that financial resources can still occasionally count for nothing when matched against the beating of a human heart.

David Hopps is absolutely right.

In the past weeks of watching this World Cup, it is very clear that Cricket is undergoing a deep crisis – the game is in trouble. The commercialization and superstardom of the last decade has robbed it of the pure pleasures of the game. Is it the dour professionalism and dominance of the Aussies? Or the in-fighting of Cricket Boards in India and Pakistan? The thing about these young Bangladeshi is not just that they can play … but that they are enjoying every single minute of being out there. That same glee is in the NewZealanders and in the Irish teams. It is curtains for many of the Pakistani, and perhaps Indian, players. Is there any hope for a rejuvenation there?

Lawless in Pakistan

Lawyers ProtestThe headlines everywhere are filled with the scandal of District Attorneys fired for political reasons. The White House, the Justice Department, Congress and pundits are immersed in pondering the consequences of such gross politicization of the Law. Gone un-noticed, outside of a few reports, is another crisis involving the executive and the judicial branches that is tearing a nation apart. This one, though, has consequences far graver than Karl Rove’s testimony before some committee. Two weeks ago, General Musharraf suspended the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, on vague corruption charges. Since then, daily riots and protests have broken out in major cities; the goverment has tried to shut down tv stations which reported on these riots; the police have repeatedly assaulted the lawyers who are leading the process. Musharraf claims that this is much ado about nothing. But this crisis could bring down the government of General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

I said government, but of course, a more honest description of the State in Pakistan would be praetorianism or authoritarianism or dictatorship. And no, I will not be crying if it does fall apart. The truth is, though, that with the support of freedom-growers like Condi Rice and the White House, Musharraf is secure in doing what he can to stay in power. If that means turning Pakistan into a police state [if an sustainable argument can even be made that it is not already one] and imprisoning or vanishing his opponents, then he will do it. This is a pivotal year for him – 2007. He has promised elections. He has promised to return democracy. He has promised to run in elections. But, like his earlier promises of shedding the military uniform or stepping down, he would have found a way – with the support of the White House – to keep himself in power as a military and civil commander while allowing some rudimentary nods towards electoral politics. How would he have managed that? The same way that every single military regime in Pakistan has done it since 1958: with the support of an ‘independent judiciary’ which would legitimize his actions as mere counter-balances to a ‘corrupt or run-away’ legislature.

From Ayub Khan to Zia ul Haq to Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s warrior-kings have made one fundamental claim to the public: that their particular act of suspension of democracy in Pakistan was ultimately constitutional and, hence, for the benefit of the nation. And they have had the support of the Supreme Court in making this claim – a support which gave them the necessary legitimacy to stay in power. In order to understand the current crisis in Pakistan – and to recognize the ultimate blunder of Pervez Musharraf – we have to look at the history and role of the Constitution in Pakistan, the historical involvement of the judiciary in the dismissal of democratic institutions and the tensions between the three centers of power in Pakistani society that undergrid this whole enterprise. Feel up to it?
Continue reading Lawless in Pakistan

Luck O’ The Draw

The World Cup of Cricket is currently underway. Those of you who care, already know this and I am informing the rest now. The concept is beguilingly similar to other ‘World Cup’s – a bunch of teams from across the world gather every 4 years and find out how bad they suck compared to Australia (at least, that has been the script for the last decade though things are far more fluid this time around). And while they let Bermuda play, Americans are shut out of this international tournament. Also Iranians, Iraqis and North Koreans. Make of that what you will. Incidentally, no one can find the Bermuda team.

My favorite WC memory – and yes, the fans will cringe – was the semi-final defeat of Pakistan by Australia in 1987 at Ghaddafi Stadium, Lahore. Pakistan had a glorious team. Experienced, hungry and proud co-hosts of the Cup. Imran Khan, the captain, the leader of men, the demi-god, had promised greatness from his team. But, then the brash youth of Steve Waugh brought us all crashing to the ground. Boy, did that hurt. But it taught me the valuable, life-long, lesson to expect my home team to turn to shite at the perfect moment. Bitter, no? True, though.

In this WC, I didn’t really expect Pakistan to do much. The top-bowlers were doped-up at home. The batting lineup is old, cranky, fat and bearded [say what you will but unless the sport in question is World’s Fastest Growing Hair Follicles – shave]. And yet, one still did not expect the #4 ODI side in the world to lose to Ireland. IRELAND! Who don’t even have a cricket team. These are injured rugby players on their physiotherapy routine, people! And those Irish beat, nay thrashed, nay smacked the jama’at out, nay drove the snakes out of our glorious team. Today, on St. Patrick’s Day, Pakistan was sent packing by Ireland. Kinya belev’t?

Except I didn’t watch that match. I watched, instead, Bangladesh’s amazing chase of India’s measely 191. The three bats who carried Bangladesh, with scores of 51, 56* and 53, were aged 17, 18 and 19 years old respectively. The inning of the youngest, Tamim Iqbal, was especially awe-inspiring. That slightly, sprightly, left-hander charged every single Indian bowler with defiance and confidence that made me remember the young Saeed Anwar or Sachin Tendulkar. The composure of all the young batsmen was just solid and their grins infectious. India, on the other hand, played like over-paid, over-endorsed, over-burdened paper tigers with horrid fielding, lackluster bowling and complete lack of imagination in the captainship. You are bowling to kids, yo! Come on! I am certain there is much glee in Dhaka and much sorrow in Calcutta tonight. Oh, how the times have changed. I will remark, though, that at least Pakistan got some money to famously lose to Bangladesh in 1999. Just saying.

Hopefully, Pakistan will go home and every one on the team will be fired. And we will find some 17 year olds to get out there. Luckily for the Pakistani cricket team, our nation is burning cars over the Supreme Court firing, our press is under direct assault and The General is about to go Franco on us. The nation may be too distracted to notice that the tablighis came home early and empty handed.

In other WC news, H. Gibbs did what no batsmen had done in the history of international cricket – he smacked 6 sixes in an over against Netherlands (that’s akin to hitting a grand slam at your every at-bat – plus 2). The best I ever did was 4. So, he wins that head-to-head, I guess.

Looking ahead, I think Sri Lanka, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia might be the Semifinal 4. With maybe West Indies in play for the NZ spot. Good chance that Sri Lanka takes it all.

update: Shocking news that Bob Woolmer, the Pakistani coach died suddenly. Truly shocking.