Monday, March 5, 2018
In a condolence message, the PPP Chairman saluted the valiant political struggle and sacrifices of Jam Saqi adding that he had been fighting for democracy and democratic rights for his whole life.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari termed the death of Jam Saqi as a big loss of the democratic forces of the country including the PPP.
He said that PPP family shares the grief of Jam Saqi family and prayed to Almighty Allah to rest the departed soul in eternal peace and grant courage and fortitude to the members of bereaved family and his fans to bear this irreparable loss with equanimity.
But there was one aspect in her tale of heroism and valour that has entirely escaped elaboration. And those that have mentioned it, have done so fleetingly. Yet that is the side on which the ‘Jahangir’ of ‘Asma Jahangir’ lived.
In our society the role of a woman as a domesticated home-bound mother, is chiselled in the stone of tradition and custom. It can only be an exceptional mother-in-law who will not complain to her son about his activist wife. Most will make the point unceasingly. The grievance is that in her activism the wife is ignoring the complainant’s grandchildren. Even if the husband continues to stand by her, his resolve will be tested by pestering parents.
The parents of Mian Tahir Jahangir, Asma’s husband, were of a different mould. And he, too: unique in his attitude, acceptance, solidarity and support.
They could have perceived her as a bull in the Fazl-e-Ahmed china shop. But they did not.
Mian Fazl-e-Ahmed and his wife, Begum Tahira, both belonged to conservative business families who normally shun politics of any variety.
Mian Fazl’s preoccupations were industry and philanthropy, presiding over one of the largest industrial groups in the country, the Premier Group with its flagship, the Premier Textile Mills Lyallpur. But even the time he spent at the Mills, was mainly consumed by his first passion in life: the eradication of tuberculosis from Pakistan.
Then there was the administration of the Mian Mohammad Trust Hospital named after his late father. This 200-bed hospital thrives to this day in the heart of Faisalabad where land is valued as if it were paved with gold. Yet the family, and now Tahir, continue to run it exclusively as a charity hospital with a better environment and services than any other hospital in Punjab. A much-needed nursing institute has been added to it by Tahir.
Tahir’s family thus lived in a quiet, peaceful and idyllic haven of their own. Cocooned in luxury, they stepped out only to engage in voluntary and non-profit public service. They had a large circle of friends in Lyallpur and Lahore, none of them politically minded. Agitation was not a word in their dictionaries.
Tahir too, had led a life of luxury. He had had a swimming pool, horse stables and fleets of cars in his father’s homes in Lyallpur and Lahore since his childhood. He was an alumni of Aitchison College and Cambridge University. From school to completion of our Master’s degrees at Cambridge, (the Tripos), Tahir and I were classmates and friends. But Tahir throughout was the topper: winning the gold medal for the best academic in school in our final year at Aitchison. Tahir (TJ to friends) was a prince and had been brought up like one. Even when Cambridge closed for as little as a few days, TJ would fly home or to an exotic holiday venue as we, the plebs, slogged on in our digs in a deserted university town. Back in Cambridge, Tahir drove around in an MGB Convertible. In winters he spent time in Switzerland’s ski resorts rubbing shoulders with the world’s rich and famous. His wardrobe was all from Cambridge’s most expensive shop, Arthur Shepherd. He spent sunny days punting on the Cam, the scenic river that gave its name to the town, or speeding around in the MGB, hood down, and blonde hair flying from the passenger seat.
Since he usually ate at the most expensive restaurants, and in elite company, he was witness to the first meeting between Rajiv Gandhi and his future wife, Sonia, as they sat on different tables in The Varsity eatery and Rajiv asked a waiter to deliver a bottle of wine to her as a token of his admiration. The rest is history.
Then in the quiet serenity of the Fazl-e-Ahmed clan entered the whirlwind! TJ married Asma.
Back in Pakistan and focusing primarily on running a family ghee mill in Lahore, the prince married a woman who would always live precariously and on the edge. But he never crossed her path. The entire Fazl-e-Ahmed family, including Tahir’s sister Nageen and her husband Ayaz (Jajji), remained, much against their grain, highly supportive. They sought to impose no constraints upon Asma. She had married into a law-fearing business family and brought with her the vigour and pugilistic character of her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, a political jail bird. They could have perceived her as a bull in the Fazl-e-Ahmed china shop. But they did not.
Each member of the Mian Fazl clan was devoted to Asma’s endeavours. Even when she was campaigning for bonded labour, TJ would be explaining to his industrialist friends, business magnates and the elite, how necessary that campaign was. TJ has a sharp sense of humour and a close circle of friends who took time understanding or appreciating Asma’s great potential. But he continued to stand by her like a rock. His parents also bore the constant jeopardy of unannounced police raids with unmatched equanimity, never insisting that Asma give up and ‘domesticate’ herself.
Asma’s own children grew up in a world of extreme tension and trepidation not knowing when, and for what, their mother would be attacked or taken to prison. But Munizae, Sulema and Jilani Jahangir also stood steadfast by their mother like rocks on which she could anchor her life. And yet they resolutely made space for themselves. At a young age Munizae is a very competent and nationally acknowledged television anchor. Sulema, an accomplished lawyer has decided to move back to Pakistan to fill the place left vacant by Asma in her law firm, the AGHS. And Jilani Jahangir now runs his father’s business of textiles, allowing respite to TJ to pursue his passion for hiking, mountaineering and photography.
Would Asma have been ‘Asma’ had her in-laws, husband and children been narrow-minded pestering bigots and not as enlightened and broad-minded as they in fact were? They deserve to be acknowledged for what they were.
Beyond the rhetoric on anti-corruption, the PTI chief has still to present a cogent and comprehensive plan to the voters, especially in the Punjab.
After the Panama verdict in 2017 that ousted Nawaz Sharif as the Prime Minister, it was viewed by many as the boost for the fortunes of Imran Khan and his party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). Eight months later, it is unclear if the judicial knock-out of Nawaz Sharif has benefitted Khan. In fact, the Sharif brothers are still in the arena with the elder building a public narrative against the unjust decisions of the courts and the younger heading the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) and tipped as the future PM.
To begin with, the PMLN still enjoys power in Islamabad and Lahore and has remained intact contrary to the past trends where the signaling by establishment was enough for the backbenchers to jump ship. They might still do before the general election but the popularity of Nawaz Sharif in the Punjab will discourage many from taking the risk. Second, once out of power, Nawaz Sharif has acted like an opposition leader mobilising public sympathy. A senior member of PMLN rules Islamabad, while its Quaid Nawaz Sharif acts as the opposition leader and the younger Sharif flaunts the infrastructure projects that he is determined to complete in the Punjab. This has evidently reduced the space for Imran Khan as the opposition leader. Third, beyond the rhetoric on anti-corruption, Imran Khan has still to present a cogent and comprehensive plan to the voters especially in the Punjab. Overarching narratives of turning Pakistan into an Islamic welfare state sound good but what that will translate into for an average voter is unclear.
Two recent events were instrumental in both shifting the public narrative and reminders of Khan’s flawed politics. The Lahore jalsa held in January by combined opposition was an embarrassing show to say the least. Images of empty chairs on TV screens indicated that PMLN had not lost the support in its bastion i.e., Lahore despite the serious charges of Model Town ‘massacre’ and corruption. The case of young Zainab, exploited for purely political ends, was handled with unusual alacrity by Punjab administration and it could not turn the tables. This was followed by the Lodhran by-election that even surprised the PMLN with the margin of victory. A relatively unknown candidate defeated PTI’s central leader who has invested for years in that constituency.
It is hoped that Khan will learn from Lodhran debacle. His party awarded ticket to the son of a ‘disqualified’ legislator that negates all that PTI has stood for.
It is hoped that Imran Khan will learn from Lodhran debacle. His party awarded ticket to the son of a disqualified legislator that negates all that PTI has stood for. After years of sermons on dynastic politics and the hold of ‘corrupt’ families over power, the public image of Khan and his party took a hit. And even at the local level, where such factors are less important, the party decision did not find widespread favour. PMLN has won all the by-elections in the Punjab including Lahore and Narowal and its hold over the electoral game remains unscathed by Panama papers scandal and the trials in courts.
Mr Khan has also married again. Now that is purely a personal matter but with a probing media, questions were bound to be raised. Vociferous denials and then a sudden confirmation. Khan like any other person is well within his rights to choose his partner and deserves personal happiness but the media debates about the wedding were quite negative. Pakistanis have traditional values, and Khan has been an ardent advocate of them. His rather unconventional marriage was bound to raise questions. Leaving that aside, the timing was also reminiscent of his earlier marriage when right in the midst of an anti-government movement he announced his wedding. Even then denials were followed by public announcements.
Not unlike other popular leaders, Khan has also followed the route of ingratiating himself with the powerful establishment. The route to Islamabad lies through Rawalpindi as any student of politics knows in Pakistan. But things are changing fast in Pakistan. His archrival is building an anti-establishment political narrative while Khan’s policies and statements are almost always in sync with the worldview of the deep state. This is why he lashes out at blood-thirsty liberals who actually want a reorientation of state policies especially the reliance on Islamic extremist proxies. The deep state terms ‘liberals’ traitors and threats to national security; and Khan happily endorses that. He has even used the blasphemy and national security card against Nawaz Sharif in recent weeks. Doling out funds to Haqqania seminary is yet another move in this direction. It garners support for his party and also gives the right signal to the establishment.
The truth is that Pakistan has moved on from the politics of the 1990s. Nawaz Sharif did the same against Benazir Bhutto and then realised after a decade of active politics that this was counter-productive. Of course by the time Sharif understood this, the junta threw him out in 1999. It was easy to control information and create villains but in 2018 Pakistan’s media is relatively freer and the urban population has access to many sources of information. This is why Nawaz Sharif’s branding as a corrupt looter is not having an impact on his support base. PMLN is fighting it out.
Khan wants to become the Prime Minister. Yet, he curses the Parliament that will elect him to the premiership, assuming his party wins. He rarely participates in parliamentary business and refuses to cast his vote in Senate elections. Populist rhetoric is not enough to appear a committed democrat. For that one needs to engage with democratic institutions such as the Parliament.
If Khan wants to create an electoral ‘wave’, to use popular parlance, before the next election, he needs to reflect where he went wrong over the last few years. What is even more important is to assess why his anti-corruption narrative is not working outside the urban, social media-savvy spaces. As a colleague mentioned the other day, Khan has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. It is time that some of the more astute advisers around him help change the course.
As U.S. influence in Islamabad wanes, Pakistan’s former adversary Russia is building military, diplomatic and economic ties that could upend historic alliances in the region and open up a fast-growing gas market for Moscow’s energy companies.
Russia’s embrace of Pakistan comes at a time when relations between the United States and its historical ally are unraveling over the war in Afghanistan, a remarkable turnaround from the 1980s, when Pakistan helped funnel weapons and U.S. spies across the border to aid Afghan fighters battling Soviet troops.
Though the Moscow-Islamabad rapprochement is in its infancy, and it is neighbor China that is filling the growing void left by the United States in Pakistan, a slew of energy deals and growing military cooperation promise to spark life into the Russia-Pakistan relationship that was dead for many decades. “It is an opening,” Khurram Dastgir Khan, Pakistan’s defense minister, told Reuters.“Both countries have to work through the past to open the door to the future.” The cozier diplomatic ties have so far focused on Afghanistan, where Russia has cultivated ties to the Afghan Taliban militants who are fighting U.S. troops and have historic links to Islamabad. Moscow says it is encouraging peace negotiations.
Both Russia and Pakistan are also alarmed by the presence of Islamic State (IS) inside Afghanistan, with Moscow concerned the group’s fighters could spread towards central Asia and closer to home. In Pakistan, IS has already carried out major attacks. “We have common ground on most issues at diplomatic levels,” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told Reuters.“It’s a relationship that will grow substantially in the future.”
During a trip to Moscow last month by Pakistan’s foreign minister, Khawaja Asif, the two countries announced plans to establish a commission on military cooperation to combat the threat of IS in the region. They also agreed to continue annual military training exercises that began in 2016 and followed the sale of four Russian attack helicopters to Pakistan, as well as the purchase of Russian engines for the Pakistan Air Force’s JF-17 fighter jets that Pakistan’s military assembles on its own soil. The detente has been watched with suspicion by Pakistan’s neighbor and arch-foe India, which broadly stood in the Soviet camp during the Cold War era. In the last two decades, the close Russia-India relationship has been underpinned by huge arms sales by Moscow to a country it calls a“strategic partner”.
“If the Russians start backing the Pakistanis in a big way at the political level, then it creates a problem for us,” said Sushant Sareen, a leading expert on India’s relations to Pakistan and Afghanistan with New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation.