Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: POLITICAL IMPRESSIONS

Thanks to Dost Publications for the review copy

PUBLISHED IN DAILY TIMES / 13 FEB 2010

Many would call it a wasteland where governments and old problems get recycled, institutions never get a chance to evolve and good intentions remain unrealized. Against such a backdrop, some people have an unerring sense of direction which brings moments of clarity in an otherwise murky scenario. Dr. Aftab Ahmed may have possessed such ability. Political Impressions is a collection of his articles that have appeared in prominent English dailies over the years.

21 articles, spanning 13 years from 1987-2003, have been arranged in three sections. They give readers a brief glimpse into the life of founding fathers who visualized a secular Pakistan, a reality check about headline making events of the time, topped off with proposed reforms to avert the slippery slope brought on by what can only be classified as a policy of benign neglect. Separately, they represent a well grounded analysis of Pakistan’s political scene. Together, they reflect the dichotomy between the charted vision and established practices.

In the first section titled ‘Concept’, the writer takes a look at secularism from two perspectives and elaborates upon Iqbal’s version of a nation inspired by a secular Turkey instead of an insular Saudi Arabia. In ‘Quaid’s concept of Pakistan’ Jinnah’s views on minorities have been compared to the Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) pledge made during the founding of Medina when Jews were granted equal rights. The first two articles about ‘Iqbal‘s concept of a Muslim homeland’ - (I & II) appeared in different publications five years apart but are essentially the same, so one can be skipped. Portions from ‘democracy and party organization’ (Reality) also re-appear in ‘the parliamentary system and political parties’ (Reforms).

If ‘Concept’ shows visions of the professed destination for a ship at anchor, ‘Reality’ highlights the gradual shifts brought on by failures of parliamentary democracy in Pakistan among other things, due to the short-sightedness of its leaders who did not exploit their party’s strength or build ‘well organized and strong political parties’. It laments PPP’s U-turn that led them to make wrong choices on various pretexts. He wonders if ‘politics of consensus is possible’ in the year 2000 and comments on ‘Prospects after Agra’ where the author has on good authority that Indians will not compromise on Kashmir whatever else they may agree on. In ‘military rule with a difference’, he hopes Musharraf would get a consensus because ‘politicians matter’ and ‘cannot be ‘wished away’ and admires Musharraf’s restrained approach towards Indians in the face of open hostilities in ‘Prospects in New York’.

An analysis of the 1958 coup in light of American and British papers appears in the ‘…genesis of 1958 coup….’ The British papers – secret confidential documents relating to Ayub era (1958-69’), have been complied by Roedad Khan and recap the British High Commissioners conversation with President Mirza - the man disdainful of democracy, elections and constitution despite the HC’s observation of a ‘widespread demand of elections’. The American papers – secret/confidential dispatches between US embassies and State department reveal the American’s kindly stance towards Ayub and Ayub/Mirza’s joint opinion that ‘only dictatorships work in Pakistan’.

The author notes the contrasts between the Brits and the Yanks; Ayub did not confide in the British who stayed on the fence, he did however get the Americans to give a green-light to the projected future.

‘Reforms’ takes charge of an off-course nation by proposing requisite administrative/political reforms. ‘’Reforming the bureaucracy’ (I, II) is about the interchangeable nature of the assignments of political leaders and bureaucrats with one responsible for policy formulation and the other dealing with its execution and neither sticking to their designated roles. ‘Pakistan needs a truly federal democratic system’ details the anomalies in the territorial division of Pakistan . Here the writer draws his own conclusions that go against the set up of a centralized government in a country where regions have distinct identities and governance should be under a truly democratic federal system that respects the political, economic and cultural aspirations of its people without trying to ‘steamroll their diversity in the name of ideology’. He believes in ‘the process of devolution/decentralized power to ensure participation of people, only made possible when organized, broad based political parties act as ‘conduits between society and state’.

‘Power aspect of devolution’ examines the limitations of the devolution plan in light of certain obvious truths and disturbing practices by powerful MNA’s, MPA’s and bureaucrats where neither wants elected representatives of local bodies to run the districts. ‘Administrative reforms: an elusive goal?’ where experts tasked with producing a lean and effective bureaucracy in the 90’s considered cutting federal governments 5 tier system down to 3 by removing the deputy secretary and offering additional secretaries a golden handshake. He refers to his own involvement in Civil Services administration as a Member/Secretary of Anwar-ul-Haq Commission on civil services (1978-79) where he formulated recommendations which differed in the approach taken by the Ijlas Haider Zaidi Committee in later years.

Dr. Aftab Ahmed was a scholar of the Urdu literature, has written on contemporary and classical Urdu poets and received the Prime Ministers literary award in 1998 for ‘Bayad-e-Suhbat-e-Nazuk’ - a book of sketches of renowned literary figures from our times. This is a posthumous publication of his works. Political impressions may not be every ones cup of tea. It could, however, be served as a remedial draught to an ailing system.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

BOOK REVIEW: Women and the Weight Loss Tamasha

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, February 26, 2011
Under the Title: A Play-book for Losers
Reviewed By: Afrah Jamal
Author: Rujuta Diwekar

Master: “You are free to eat.”

Po: “Am I?”

Master: “Are you?” —
Dialogue from Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Po, the Kung Fu Panda, doubted his mentor/master much like readers will doubt a nutritionist guru when she hands over an exclusive pass to eat and, yet, maintain a strategic advantage in the fight against fat.

They need not.

A thriving industry feeds off of ignorance about weight-related issues. And when health and happiness become collateral damage in the mad dash for the finish line, it is time to alter the game plan.

‘Nutritionist to the stars’ Rujuta makes this lonely trek to the promised land a joyful experience where food is not the enemy, and learning the art of making better judgment calls is on the menu. Since she labels the struggle with weight loss a tamasha (spectacle) at the very outset, r…

OPED: The Great Exodus

Published, Global Affairs Feb 2017

The MIG 21 parked in the Pakistan Air Force Museum Karachi is not exactly a war trophy – it belongs to an Afghan defector who flew by one day and landed at Peshawar air base sometime in 1989 / 1990. He was seeking refuge in Pakistan. There had been others before him. Three decades later, young Afghans are still seeking greener pastures – and making headlines because among them is a trailblazing female pilot who had made her nation proud but preferred to stay behind in the United States while on a training tour.

Pakistan has been doubling as Afghan nationals’ second home for over three and a half decades – hosting some 1.5 registered and 1 million unregistered. It ranks amongst the top three largest refugee communities in the world. The stream of defectors, asylum seekers, migrants and refugees kept flowing while the Reds retreated, Taliban invaded and all through the American occupation.

That surge has been unexpectedly quelled.

There’s a migr…

BOOK REVIEW: Outclass Teams: Secrets of Building High-Performance, Result-Oriented Teams / Author: Qaiser Abbas

Thanks to Possibilities Publications for the review copy

Published by Daily Times / Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Runaway Teams beware. Qaiser Abbas is an organisational psychologist, author of books like the Tik Tok Dollar and the upcoming Leadership Insights — and one canny facilitator who introduced Pakistan to the concept of ‘Management by Adventure’, or as he likes to call it, MBA. His mission of rescuing wayward teams from doom makes him dash in and out of companies on a regular basis. Prompted by the success of such expeditions, he proceeds to refine these insights for a book on team-building and a lecture on group dynamics.

As someone who specialised in using experiential learning methodology in outdoor training, Abbas swears by well-structured one-day team-building programmes over time spent bonding over social activities. His recent book takes an in-depth look at this phenomenon to determine the value of team-building, show the expertise needed to ensure…

KARACHI DIARIES: MASTERCHEF Comes to Pakistan

Published in Economic Affairs / May 2014 P-20

Last year ‘MasterChef Australia’ S04 contestant came to town. Amina Elshafei, described as an ‘unassuming young lady from Sydney’, had been brought in by the Australian High Commissioner’s office and spread the joy of fusion cooking as part of her good-will mission. Around the same time unconfirmed rumors that MasterChef was headed to Pakistan were floating around. By April 2014, the rumors had officially been laid to rest.


‘MasterChef Pakistan’ is set to go on air by 3rd May 2014. The press conference in AVARI (Karachi) threw together an elegant presentation topped off by a divine hi-tea. The MasterChef franchise is already a household favorite, and makes everyone a judge of culinary prowess, and the lead authority on cuisine. Sidra Iqbal, the host for the evening, had also noted this amusing trend, listing Pakistani food as the ultimate source of drama.


His Excellency, the Australian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Peter Heyworth while …

VIEW: The Man Who Made A Desert Bloom

Published inDaily Times / Saturday, January 01, 2011

By Afrah Jamal

“O Lord! We have crash-landed!” was Hafeez Khan’s first reaction when his aircraft touched down in what appeared to him the middle of nowhere. The plane was one that could land on unprepared surfaces, which is just as well since there was nothing remotely resembling a proper airstrip at that time in Abu Dhabi. Awaiting him was a king with a dream, a desert starved for greenery, and a dusty blueprint of a future that appeared far-fetched.

Today, three things strike first time visitors to the beautiful city of Al Ain — tree lined avenues, roundabouts and the absence of tall buildings. Al Ain, which is the other city in the state of Abu Dhabi, in the past bore an unfortunate resemblance to a gigantic sandbox.

It was not that long ago and Abu Dhabi state had just struck it rich with black gold. But no one could mistake any part of the Trucial state of the 1960s for the ‘garden city of the Gulf’. Khan may have felt that he …