Posts Tagged ‘ BABAR AWAN ’

Military Puppet. Or Rising Star?

By Rubab Shirazi for Tehelka Magazine

If The unfolding political crisis in Pakistan does not upset junior foreign and economic affairs minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s elevation as full-fledged foreign minister, she appears all set to travel to New Delhi for meeting her Indian counterpart SM Krishna this month for the ministerial meeting of the resumed dialogue process. Her promotion is needed to remove the protocol hitch for the ministerial meeting.

When Khar, 34, became the minister of state for foreign affairs in February, hardly any eyebrows were raised — more so because the ceremonial position has been used since 2004 to accommodate scions of influential families in the Federal Cabinet. Khar’s entry was instead seen as a bid by the government to prioritise the economic aspect in its diplomacy.

But the news of her elevation was met with strong criticism because she was seen as being too young and raw to handle complex foreign policy issues, even though she had been part of the Cabinet since 2004. For a good part of her political career, which started with her election as member of the National Assembly in 2003, Khar has been a low-key politician.

In a country that already has an accidental president (Asif Ali Zardari) and prime minister (Yousuf Raza Gilani), it wouldn’t be a surprise if the foreign minister is also accidental. If things go as planned, she would take oath this month as Pakistan’s 26th foreign minister and bag the honour of being the first woman to hold the post. But, Foreign Office (FO) bureaucrats, who derisively refer to her as “the girl” in private, say that she is no match for most who have occupied this crucial post.

Khar comes from a privileged background, being the daughter of well-known politician Ghulam Noor Rabbani Khar and niece of infamous playboy and former Punjab governor Ghulam Mustafa Khar. The latter’s wife Tehmina Durrani wrote My Feudal Lord, which caused controversy by describing her abusive and traumatic marriage with Ghulam Mustafa and her experience of life in a patriarchal society. Despite her feudal upbringing, Khar graduated from Pakistan’s best business school, Lahore University of Management Sciences and obtained her masters in hospitality from the University of Massachusetts.

Khar’s likely appointment is coming at a time when the country’s foreign relations are not in the best of shape — the alliance with the US is withering away fast; cross-border controversies are marring Pak-Afghan bonhomie; and though the Indo-Pakistan dialogue is progressing, the Thimphu spirit is fading as indicated by recent bilateral meetings.

Even if Khar succeeds in getting the post, diplomatic observers think she will not be the real decision maker — the power would still lie with the military. Having an inexperienced person like Khar as the FO boss, who would depend heavily on bureaucracy for policy as well as administrative matters, suits the military establishment at Rawalpindi GHQ in maintaining its control over Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Unlike her predecessor Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who lost his job for taking a hardline position on immunity for CIA operative Raymond Davis (involved in fatally shooting two youth in January), Khar isn’t thought to be independent minded.

No one at the FO knows about Khar’s views on important issues like relations with the US, Europe, India, Afghanistan and about the War on Terror. She hasn’t given any interviews or delivered speeches on foreign policy ever since she moved to the FO in February, even though she was the de facto boss during this time.

Though much has been written about her meteoric rise in politics, she still remains an enigma. Her credentials for being considered for the crucial post are her two stints as minister of state for economic affairs; a brief assignment as special assistant to the prime minister on finance, revenue and economic affairs; and more lately her FO job.

No one knows Khar’s views on important issues like the war on terror, Indo-Pak relations, or the strained partnership with the US

According to her curriculum vitae, foreign affairs was not a subject of interest until lately. She avows interest in finance, economic affairs and agriculture development. But, quite contrary to her fondness for the three subjects, she runs an upscale restaurant in Lahore. Her husband Feroze Gulzar is a textile industrialist. For most of her career, Khar had been dealing with international loans and grants. Foreign Service officials, who don’t want to be named, caution that real-time diplomacy is a different ball game.

Administrative chaos at the FO, another officer says, grew under the overachieving lady, who had been promoted by the PPP government as an astute manager. Khar was responsible for economic affairs during Gen Pervez Musharraf’s regime. Economic mismanagement turned out to be the major cause of the defeat of her previous party, PML(Q), in the 2008 elections. Fearing that she wouldn’t be given a party ticket, she changed her loyalties weeks before the polls and joined the PPP.

IF SUCCESSFUL in achieving the prized foreign ministership, it would not be the first time she would be filling someone’s shoes. In 2003, she contested elections in place of her father, who couldn’t run for National Assembly as he was not a graduate; in 2009 she became the first woman minister to present the federal budget because former finance minister Shaukat Tarin was not an elected Parliamentarian.

Her inexperience aside, party colleagues say that Khar is deceptively wily and ambitious as they point to how she smartly outmanoeuvered other contenders in the race for the foreign ministry, including former law minister Babar Awan, former foreign minister Sardar Assef Ali and National Assembly speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza — all political heavyweights.

One of her weaknesses is that she isn’t a media darling. Searching online for her interviews turns up a little-known Saturday Post article, that too dated several years ago. On this count, she would turn out to be a weak and ineffectual representative of her country’s foreign policy. In her first media appearance alongside a visiting US functionary Thomas Nides, Khar was unimpressive. Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir hurriedly scripted a few lines for her to deliver before PTV cameras, but according to one official, she struggled with it. Days later, when speaking to the media alongside UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, when she was asked about the prospects of a peace deal with Afghan Taliban, Khar started speaking about a failed peace deal with militants in Swat to prove Islamabad’s commitment to peace with militants. Pakistan, she probably forgot, does not equate Afghan and local Taliban. The government has been treating the two entities differently.

Online discussion boards have been filled with negative comments on her expected elevation. “What a farce. We are at one of the most critical junctures in our foreign affairs, so we decide to hand out perhaps the most important portfolio to a 34-year-old with a degree in hospitality management!” reads a posting on a discussion platform called Pakistan Defense.

What goes in her favour is that apart from allegations by her critics of tax evasion, something normal for a Pakistani politician, she has no major controversies attached to her name.

The Real Blasphemers

As Reported by Cafe Pyala

Mera azm itna buland hai ke paraye shaulon ka dar nahin

Mujhe khauf aatish-e-gul se hai, ye kaheen chaman ko jala ne de

[My resolve is so strong that I do not fear the flames from without

I fear only the radiance of the flowers, that it might burn my garden down] 

— Shakeel Badayuni couplet referenced by Salmaan Taseer on Twitter, 8 hours before his assassination 

I had been hoping that I could post something light-hearted, more entertaining at the start to the new year, but today’s Pakistan it seems is not the place for these sort of things any more. Four days into January and we already have yet another tragedy that has evoked not only pain and sadness but also immense amounts of disgust at the depths to which we, the unfortunate inhabitants of this blighted country, have sunk.

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer‘s brutal and senseless murder in Islamabad today (Tuesday) is not only an intensely heavy blow for his family and friends – to whom our thoughts go out to – but also to the hopes for a saner public discourse about issues that certain people endeavour to keep out of the conversation altogether. He often said things that many think but are unwilling to say in public out of fear or aversion to stoking argument. Whatever anyone may have thought about Taseer’s personal life (not that it’s any of anyone’s concern) or his business practices, there is absolutely no doubt that he was a brave and outspoken man who did not compromise his personal beliefs for the sake of cowardly politics. Along with barely a couple of other politicians on the national level (Sherry Rehman being one), his was a rare voice that was willing to take on the rightist mullah mindset in the public domain.

And contrary to what his detractors claimed, he did so with full awareness of the moral responsibilities of a public figure. In a recent interview, he was asked why he chose to raise the issue of the unjust blasphemy laws when he knew that he would receive brickbats from the rightist parties and become the target of the extremists. He replied: “Because if even I don’t, how will others get over their fears?” On December 31, he tweeted: “I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy.Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing”

In Salmaan Taseer’s untimely death we have all lost a truly courageous individual. Those within his party who opposed his just stand on the abhorrent misuse of blasphemy laws, moral pygmies such as Babar Awan, should hang their heads in shame.

At the same time, one must also feel disgust at those who have either valourized Taseer’s self-confessed lunatic murderer Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, or used their weasely arguments to somehow try and justify the outrage. So-called-intellectuals like Irfan Siddiqui and bigots like Jamaat-e-Islami‘s oily Fareed Parachaand the ever-slimy Ansar Abbasi tried their best to claim (on Geo) that Taseer was somehow himself responsible for his fate because he had raised a “sensitive” issue.

I am not of the opinion that one should not speak ill of the dead only because he or she is dead, curse Zia ul Haq with every breath as far as I am concerned. But these gentlemen’s basic argument was this: even expressing your opinion about a warped law made by a warped dictator and endorsed by his warped proteges is enough to condemn you to death, so everyone should keep quiet about the misuse of religion and leave it all up to the mullah brigade. It’s time to tell them to shut the hell up themselves.

But the disgust does not end with a couple of morons trying to silence all discussion about religion to and other fanatics praising a criminal. The bigger issue, as we have been saying all along, is the refusal of society to see the inter-linkages of such acts of terrorism with the mindset that has been cultivated through the military establishment’s promotion of jihadi outfits, the propping up of so-called religious parties whose only agenda is bigotry, the pusillanimous and opportunistic silence over the treatment of minorities such as Ahmadis, Shias, Hindus and Christians and indeed all dissenters (religious scholar Javed Ghamdi being one), the valourization of criminals such as the illiterate Ilm Deen (dubbedshaheed [martyr] because he was hanged in 1929 for murdering a publisher), the rejection of rationality and logic, the marginalization of the arts and cultural traditions as something alien to our society, and the tolerance for hate-speech and incitements to violence such as that of this monkey.

It is this mindset, which has been cultivated by the state looking the other way at – if not directly promoting – acts of radicalization, that allows an entire police squad to see nothing wrong in one of their own planning to commit the murder of someone they are assigned to protect. (We now hear via Geo that Qadri had in fact confided to his colleagues in the Punjab ‘Elite Force’ about his plans and had even requested them not to shoot at him, a request they honoured.)

Our real disgust should be directed at all those parts of society that cannot put two and two together despite the evidence staring them in the face. We will inevitably hear a lot in the media about security lapses and administrative efficiency lapses that led to a criminal being part of a protective force (incidentally, Geo is also reporting through its sources that Qadri had been sacked from the Punjab Police’s Special Branch a few months ago because he was dubbed a ‘security risk’). But the only void that I think we really need to focus on is the one in our society’s collective brain.

So how do we deal with all this? I have heard a lot of dismay and hopelessness today and I can completely understand the feeling. For many people, this is another nail in the coffin of the idea of a viable future for Pakistan. The only option to counter this feeling of despondency, in my opinion, is to become more assertive and louder and to shame those who would stifle dissent.

The problem of course is that wishy-washy liberalism cannot fight fanaticism. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Simply put, we can either shut up, resign ourselves to our fate and disconnect from this country and society or we can fight back and refuse to cede the space that the bastards want us to. Nobody ever said it would be easy.

As a start, let us declare Qadri, all those who support Qadri and murderers like him, the Khatm-e-Nabuwatmovement and its ilk as outside the pale of Islam. Let’s see how they like being referred to as blasphemers andmurtids

Nobody said this fight would not be dirty.

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