Politics, Pakistani Style: Somebody Speaking Against You? Lock Him Up!And, while you're at it, lock up some of his supporters.
In my youth, the more rabid right-wingers sometimes expressed the wish that anybody protesting the government should be locked up, or sent back where they came from. In Pakistan, that dream is close to reality.
Pakistan's main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif used to be Pakistan's prime minister, but now he's just leader of one of the Pakistan Muslim Leagues. (At last count, there were the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sharif, and the Pakistan Muslim League - guess which one Mr. Sharif runs?)
Nawaz Sharif isn't an ally of the current boss of Pakistan. And, until quite recently, he was under house arrest.
I have no doubt that I'm missing quite a few of the subtleties of Pakistani politics and culture here, but the bottom line is that
- Someone who doesn't entirely approve of the guy in charge was under house arrest
- His supporters were peeved about that
- So was he, apparently
- They've started rioting
- He's joined them
Pakistan and the Open MindA little over 13 hours ago, an op-ed by Jason Burke started with these words:
My guess is that Mr. Burke's op-ed got out before today's news from Lahore, Pakistan, filtered through. Or, that he didn't have time for any re-writes.
"Our skewed world view won't let us see the real Pakistan"
"The Observer [via guardian.co.uk], Sunday 15 March 2009
"First for the good news: Pakistan is not about to explode. The Islamic militants are not going to take power tomorrow; the nuclear weapons are not about to be trafficked to al-Qaida; the army is not about to send the Afghan Taliban to invade India; a civil war is unlikely.
"The bad news is that Pakistan poses us questions that are much more profound than those we would face if this nation of 170m, the world's second biggest Muslim state, were simply a failed state. If Pakistan collapsed, we would be faced by a serious security challenge. But the resilience of Pakistan and the nation's continuing collective refusal to do what the west would like it to together pose questions with implications far beyond simple security concerns. They are about our ability to influence events in far-off places, our capacity to analyse and understand the behaviour and perceived interests of other nations and cultures, about our ability to deal with difference, about how we see the world....
Mr. Burke isn't unceasingly praiseful toward Pakistan. He points out that "Some of the perpetual international hysteria is stoked by the Pakistanis themselves. Successive governments have perfected the art of negotiating by pointing a gun to their own heads...."
On the other hand, his article reminds me of the sort of daft multiculturalism I had to learn, back in the eighties.
My Ways, Your Ways, and Ways that WorkJason Burke's op-ed was probably written with the British public in mind: It's a guardian.co.uk repost of something the Observer published. On the other hand, he does refer to "the west," so he probably also had America in mind, as well as the Brits and Europe.
My Way or the Highway?These days, with information technology making terms like "global village" less of an oxymoron than it once was, it's important to remember that people are different: at individual, family, community, regional, and cultural levels. And, that not everybody either is, or should be, alike.
Readers of this blog live all over the world: About two thirds are in America, roughly five percent are in India. People with Internet connections in either the United Kingdom, Canada, or Australia make up about another 12 percent. Besides America, people in 140 countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, drop by from time to time.
The point is that these days, there's more to your world than the people in your area.
And, within limits, cultures that aren't your own should be respected.
The stereotype Britisher, who regards the world as made up, in sharply descending order, of respectable English gentlemen, persons who aren't gentlemen but are still British, European foreigners, non-European foreigners, and the Irish, is probably just that: a stereotype.
But, one with some basis in fact.
I don't have any problem with a citizen of the United Kingdom having a decided preference for the British way of getting things done. People everywhere should think that their ways are 'best.' Which, if they're doing things right, they are: for them.
I'm an American. I think we've got a pretty good system of governing ourselves, doing business (I don't mean the the anachronistic nitwits at AIG, GM, Chrysler and Ford - think Bill Gates, Sam Walton, and Steve Jobs), and helping each other in hard times (I know: Bush refused to invade Louisiana - I'm thinking of truckers and contractors who sent supplies into post-hurricane Florida and Louisiana).
The "American way" works pretty well. For Americans. That's not just my opinion: quite a number of people vote with their feet, moving to America from all over the world.
But, it's not the only way of running a country.
Truth, Justice, and the [your region] WayI think humanity would lose a great deal if cultural distinctions disappeared. And, closer to the topic of this blog, I am not at all convinced that "democracy" as imagined by Americans is the one, true, and correct, form of government for all people and all time.
I do think that a responsive, responsible, government is needed everywhere, but details like whether the leaders are selected by elections, civil service exams, or heredity, are just that: details. What's important is that "the government do the right thing by the governed." (A Catholic Citizen in America (March 14, 2009))
Difference is Okay: But "Different" Doesn't Mean "Good"I implied, in another blog, that I don't expect everybody to be exactly like me. I think it's great that the entire world isn't like Georgia, or Minnesota, or New York City, or San Francisco, or Bemidji.
Accepting Diversity and Locking Up People Who Don't Agree With YouI hope that Mr. Burke is right, and that Pakistan's abdication of authority in the Swat Valley, harboring (willingly or not) of LeT terrorists, and habit of locking up people who don't agree with whoever says he's president at the moment, aren't indications that the territory we call Pakistan is going to join the list of areas that need to be cleaned up.
I think that reading Mr. Burke's op-ed is a good idea. He seems to have some knowledge of Pakistan and how it works. However, I also think that it's well to realize that 'non-Western' isn't necessarily 'good' or 'functional.' And, that 'Western' isn't 'bad' or 'oppressive.' And, no: Mr. Burke doesn't use the term "oppressive."
The first person to comment on Mr. Burke's column, Zarak, did:
"One sees the thoughts and influences of Imran Khan in this article, who now a days is carrying himself as one of the authorities on the current Pakistan's Islamic phenomenon. The fact is that Pakistan is a complete mess with a powerful Punjab that is trying to run the state in an imperial manner and using fundamentalism/militant Islam to control peripheral nationalism of Pashtuns and grabbing territory in the west (Afghanistan) and the east (Kashmir)...
"...The author's knowledge of Pakistan nationalism is also superficial. There is no strong feelings of nationhood in the citzens of Pakistan. They are either Punjabis, Sindhis, Baluchis, Pashtuns, Siraikis, etc...."
Zarak may be biased about the "the oppressive rule of Punjab's military elite" - but I'm afraid that he may have a point, about the Pakistani-on-the-street's attitude toward Pakistan as a nation.
The idealism of Mr. Burke is admirable. However, I think it's prudent to consider that locking up the leader of an opposition party, together with some of his supporters - and leaving enough supports running around loose to start at least one riot - may not be the mark of a well-functioning government. No matter how non-Western it is.
More-or-less related posts:
- "Pakistan: Cricket Fans Not Pleased"
(March 4, 2009)
- "Turkey, the Ottoman Empire, Dead Armenians, and Learning from Mistakes"
(February 28, 2009)
- "Taliban Brings Peace, Islamic Law, to Pakistan's Swat Valley"
(February 21, 2009)
- "Pakistan, the Taliban, and Peace Through Diplomacy"
(February 17, 2009)
- "India, Mumbai, and the Pakistan Connection: Following Facts"
(December 31, 2008)
- "Pakistan, India, Mumbai, Nuclear Weapons, and Pashtunistan: Simple This Isn't"
(December 27, 2008)
- "Police and Protesters Clash in Pakistan"
The New York Times (March 16, 2009)
- "Pakistan to reinstate chief justice"
CNN (March 15, 2009)
- "In pictures: Pakistan protests"
BBC (March 15, 2009)
- "Pakistan diary: City on knife edge "
Al Jazeera (March 15, 2009)
- "Pakistan ex-PM Sharif defies house arrest"
Radio Netherlands Worldwide (March 15, 2009)
- "Our skewed world view won't let us see the real Pakistan"
The Observer via guardian.co.uk (March 15, 2009)
- "Understanding Pakistan's latest turmoil"
CNN (March 14, 2009)
- "Pakistan 'blocks' critical TV station"
CNN (March 14, 2009)
- "Opposition leader ban sparks Pakistan protests"
CNN (February 26, 2009)