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

What Pakistan Wants from Afghanistan...?

Published by Global Affairs / July 2017


In the aftermath of the deadly attacks in a diplomatic enclave and a funeral, Afghanistan’s fate now hangs in the balance, while experts mull over the merits of potential troop surges and worry about the endemic corruption, plummeting morale and ensuing chaos. Afghan President Ghani’s statement that his nation suffers from an ‘undeclared war of aggression from Pakistan’ delivered at Kabul Process meeting sums up the problem.

Interestingly, a week before, he expressed the exact same sentiment – only the words were ‘undeclared war of aggression from non-state actors.’ Later his Twitter feed regurgitated the passive aggressive plea from the speech that by turns call for dialogue and apportions blame to its neighbors.

What is it that Pakistan wants is the question foremost in his mind. He also wonders what the Taliban want.

The first question is easily answered. The Pak Army COAS wants Afghanistan to look inwards. Probably at the safe havens …

Pakistan’s Neutral Stance on Qatar

Written right after the Qatar embargo

Published Global Affairs Jul 2017


Qatar recently found itself in hot water based on comments attributed to its leadership – comments that had been categorized as fake news. As a pretext it served its purpose. The oil-gas rich nation has been placed in a diplomatic stranglehold though it renounced charges of funding terrorism and being a destabilizing influence the region. These may be pressure tactics meant to put Qatar in its place, cut it down to size, make it tow the GCC line whatever that might be at the moment. The definition of terror in this case is open to interpretation. Qatar fights ISIL alongside coalition partners. But its support for proscribed groups like Muslim Brotherhood for instance and relationship with Tehran keeps it in the doghouse.

Washington remains ambivalent. The American President endorsed the move. The Secretary of State cautioned against boycotts. But GCC nations seem clear-sighted. The small state houses US CENTCOM, t…

BOOK REVIEW: Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle With Militant Islam (2007)

Author: Zahid Hussain

PUBLISHED IN THE POST JUNE 14, 2007

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Frontline Pakistan: the struggle with militant Islam goes for the jugular with an insiders look at a deformed culture borne of a dated ideology, fueled by vested interest and driven by intolerance; and a nation’s complicity.

Not surprisingly, the legitimacy granted jihadists by ISI-CIA ran out soon, as did the sympathy for their jihadist actions formally perceived as heroic. Once used to counter the threat of communism, the rapid shift in their objectives that placed Pakistan’s national interest on a collision course with its security rendered them an anachronism.

This led to a parting of ways with the ISI; consequently, the deadliness of operations and depth of penetration in society seen in the context of 9/11 forever breached the line between liberators and terrorists.

Veteran journalist Zahid Hussain, Pakistani correspondent for the "Times of London", "The Wall Street Journal", …

The Importance of Being Pakistan

Published in Global Village Space / July 2017

Implications of a Modi – Trump style ‘meet and greet’

As Mr. Modi descended upon Washington, armed with Kashmiri shawls, tea, honey, and personalized invites for the first family to visit India, the U.S. media hastened to find parallels between the two nations. Democracies both (biggest / oldest), led by men with a degree of social-media savvy, men indifferent to public opinion and sporting unique greeting styles - hugs from Modi, handshakes from Trump.

Seen from afar, the show stopping performance yielded significant results, strengthened defense cooperation and secured 22 shiny new Guardian drones. Commentators noted that contentious issues like H1-B work visas and climate change etc were reportedly left out in the cold while detractors brooded over the symbolism that signaled the arrival of a new world order. As with all these visits, Pakistan wasn’t far from India’s thoughts and opinion makers now wonder at the extent Modi can shape…

OPED: Radd-ul-Fassad – An Urgent Revision in the Wake of Mashal Khan's Lynching

Published Global Affairs / June 2017

Written in the immediate aftermath of Mashal Khan's lynching

On December 2014, 148 people, mostly school kids were murdered by terrorists in the APS (Army Public School) school massacre. In April 2017, a university student was lynched in Mardan. One tragedy marked a turning point. Another opens a Pandora’s Box.

APS happened while Operation Zarb-e-Azb was underway. It shook the nation to its very core; and pushed the armed forces to expand the scope of its offensives. Military courts were set up in the aftermath. A death row inmate (Qadri), once lauded by clergy and lawyers for killing a Governor, was finally executed along with scores of militants.

And soon another operation would come into effect after shrines, rallies and public places were targeted in a resurgence of terror in 2017. If the first was driven by vengeance, the second came from desperation. Pakistan’s survival was at stake – unless it tackled the darkness head on. But the dark…

OPED: Why the World needs to see Pakistan’s Dark Side

Published by Global Affairs / June 2017


Because the dark side does not get enough exposure. Though this is where all the good Samaritans, the creative giants, crusading angels and intellectual powerhouses reside. It is where genius flourishes hoping to break free of type casting. It is where Oscar winners and Nobel laureates go once they have scaled the summit and conquered cultural biases and social disparity.

A vat of vice and wickedness amid a sea of green turbans?

But their victories are somehow viewed in isolation. They are seen as outliers - their great accomplishments relegated to the shadows in favor of unflattering headlines beamed across the globe that slyly remove the context and reduce the country to one giant misogynistic, intolerant, vat of vice and wickedness amid a sea of green turbans. While the worst of humanity hogs the limelight – our most prized assets go unheralded. And tragedies like Mashal Khan and mafias in religious guise along with shady men with offshore acc…

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…