Re-writing Pakistan's history
A professor shares his experience of teaching Pakistan history course in North America
By Richard B. Barnett
I have been teaching the history of South Asia for 35 years. Seeing that South Asian history is dominated by the study of India, at the expense of Pakistan and Bangladesh, I created, 26 years ago, a lower-division seminar called "Pakistan: Islamic Frontier," which is the only history course in North America devoted exclusively to Pakistan.
Some 300 intrepid volunteers have taken this non-required course since then, their numbers limited by its personal and cozy seminar format. I offer herewith some results of this experiment, in the form of tentative suggestions about Pakistan studies, and relate my own and my students' expectations and experiences.
First and second-year undergraduates occasionally bring fixed ideas about Pakistan to such a venue -- especially the heritage students, which in South Asia courses at University of Virginia comprise 15 percent of the total enrollment -- but most of them, South Asian or not, cannot conceive of it beyond media stereotypes, or fleeting references in high school world history classes.
On the first day, I ask them to fill out a survey telling me why they are there, what their backgrounds are, what their biases are, and what they expect to learn most of all.
The first assignment is to write 300 words on "My Image of Pakistan," a frustrating exercise for most, but one that sets a baseline, however modest or skewed, for each classmate to build upon for
Fourteen weeks of reading, discussion, and writing. They look back in astonishment at term's end, seeing, one hopes, ignorance become wisdom.
It's important to start where students already are, assuming nothing, in an atmosphere in which no question is stupid, all source materials are considered biased until proven otherwise, and plenty of time is devoted to explaining things in social, religious, historical and even psychological contexts. Video showings are carefully prepared for, lest they too be interpreted as gospel truth by a visually-oriented generation.
Some of the topics they want to emphasise:
Why Pakistan exists, current events and the role of Pakistan on the world stage, people's daily lives, including etiquette, values, mores, hopes and fears, Sufism and other forms of "popular Islam," the connection between governance and religion, Islamisation and its meanings for minorities, women, and sectarian conflict, the various roles played by women, why Pakistan hates India, Islamic banking and finance, nuclear testing and proliferation, culture, (holidays, dress, food, child rearing, literature, media, sports, architecture), Politics and society after 9/11, regionalisms, human rights, how Pakistani students learn about their history and what Pakistanis think about us, both as a government and as people
The Classroom and the
So what does this class do for these basic undergraduate students? There are no exams, just four papers and a lot of discussion. We quickly learn each others' names --I ask them to call on each another for comment -- and become as non-hierarchical and unstressed as possible. I must struggle, as instructor, to educe their often naive views instead of preferring my own, although some initial orientation by me, to geography and early historical experience, is justified by the time it saves them. Reading loads are light, no more than 100 pages per week. Topics for the first two papers are prescribed, but those for the last two are strictly elective. We all go out for a South Asian buffet, ten bucks for all you can eat, as a reward at the end of the semester.
We have all seen the Kinko's coffee mug, which growls "There's only one way to teach a course: My Way." I use the mug, but disown the snarl. There are basically three ways to assemble a course: let students choose what they want on the basis of curiosity; have the instructor, being much more informed, choose everything; and let students think, have input by asking them, and then going ahead and assigning the best stuff anyway. I prefer option three, but often end up agreeing with suggestions from alert classmates.
Choosing readings is always a challenge, made somewhat easier by the great proliferation of suitable titles during the last ten years. At first, during the regime of the great Islamiser, Zia ul-Haq, before computers, my typed syllabi depended on stalwarts like Khalid bin Sayeed, Lawrence Ziring, Peter Hardy, Aziz Ahmad, Wayne Wilcox, and Craig Baxter. As the years passed, selections from Tariq Ali, Anita Weiss, Md. Umar Memon, Phil Oldenburg, Barbara Metcalf, Kathy Ewing, Mumtaz and Shaheed on women, Sikandar Hayat, Emma Duncan, Chaudhury Muhammad Naim, Shaheed Javid Burki, and Ayesha Jalal were added, tested, and kept, unless they were too complex or simply outdated. A large photocopy packet was compiled, since until recently, there was no single text to provide a consistent and balanced narrative.
This semester, with these considerations in mind, I use four titles:
Owen Bennett Jones, Pakistan: Eye of the Storm (Yale U.P., 2003), Mary Anne Weaver, Pakistan in the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan (Farrar, 2002), Mariam Abou Zahab and Olivier Roy, Islamist Networks: the Afghan-Pakistan Connection (NY: Columbia U Pr., 2004), and Husain Haqqani, Pakistan: between Mosque and Military (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005).
Our photocopy packet has doses of Frances Robinson, Emma Duncan, Shahid Javid Burki, Sikandar Hayat, Rubina Saigol, Katherine Ewing, Phil Oldenburg, Sharif al-Mujahid, and Vali Nasr.
For first-person or fictional readings, Sara Suleri, Bapsi Sidhwa, Tehmina Durrani, and Shaukat Siddiqui add variety from year to year. One of my favorite anecdotes: two years ago a non-heritage student carried Khuda ki Basti as he passed through airport security, where he was detained while the book, whose title in English is God's Own Ground -- was it that scary? -- was thoroughly checked out, and finally seen as benign. Videos abound, but few are good enough to insert into our busy schedule: Earth,. Jinnah: The Making of Pakistan, and Khamosh Pani are examples.
I have not mentioned either Ziring's Pakistan: At the Crosscurrent of History (Oneworld, 2003), Talbot's Pakistan: a Modern History (St. Martin's, 1998) or Cohen's The Idea of Pakistan (Brookings, 2004) while all are superbly written and enormously helpful to me as I equip myself to handle student questions -- with the exception of annoyingly absent gender issues, as pointed out by Chitralekha Zutshi -- these titles are too overwhelming for lower-division undergraduates, who would soon burn out if asked to read more than one chapter from any of these. One must start from where students are and work from there. I summarise the most original arguments from these titles during discussions, and list them for further reading.
The Thematic Choices
What major themes, issues, paradoxes, enigmas, and understandings does such a course emphasise? There are no fully satisfying answers to this question, but it goes to the heart of the process of planning and executing a historically responsible educational experience for our trusting, eager, and bright but malleable students. It is, after all, the academic's task, to raise the level of society's cultural sophistication and appreciation of a varied world, as we move through our overworked and underpaid careers. Also, any answer to this is a function of the theoretical, political, linguistic, and experiential background of the instructor. This said, allow me to plunge into the thematic thicket of Pakistan's historical issues as tailored for a US undergraduate clientage desperate to escape the mainstream media narrative.
The course's title deliberately says more than it appears to, 'Pakistan: Islamic Frontier' on the surface might possibly refer to communal and sectarian confrontation; geopolitical conflict with India; the complicity of the army and intelligence agencies with the religious right; regimes that come and go, flailing about with electoral cynicism and manipulation while flirting with the mullahs; the rise of Shari'ah-based legal, economic and political ideologies; or finally, the apparent freedom of jihadist parties to train madrassa graduates for attacks not only on minorities within the country, but also, and especially, a roster of 'great satans' outside it.
On another level, this course title might indicate Pakistan's powerful role as a seething crucible for not only workable post-colonial politics, but also tolerable and useful forms of Islamic activism, social reform and mystical practice. But if the historian is not careful, students might come away with the image of a society that is utterly dysfunctional and malicious: armed to the teeth, judicially compromised, infrastructurally challenged, ensnared in moral anomie, and beholden almost entirely to outside economic intervention for its daily survival.
The mood running throughout these depressing themes -- dominating the recent historiography of Pakistan -- is one of peril and pessimism. Is Pakistan a failed nation, or a set of murderously hostile and mutually destructive nationalists without a nation? Is it another Yugoslavia? Just how insufficiently has it been imagined? The current crop of academic texts and anthologies seems to focus on the dolorous and disastrous.
I am going to argue that the unbearable lightness of Pakistan's history in the classroom is not only one of being very thin on the ground (or in Zutshi's apt phrase, itself "untrodden ground"), but that the idea of Pakistan itself has been hijacked by fear. In the West, this fear is of the clash of civilisations; In Pakistan, it is the fear that academic historians cannot exercise academic freedom, but must conform to the regime du jour and its paranoia. I have asked department chairmen in Pakistani universities what dissertations are being written by postgraduates, and the roster is limited either to sanitised treatments of Quaid-i-Azam or the treatment of obscure manuscripts taken alone without context. A major freeing up of the historical profession in Pakistan is urgently needed.
On the first class day I explain that this media driven, fear-mongering, distorted and judgmental set of interpretations, however logically and politically appealing in this age of the so-called 'war on terror', is but one of several ways of seeing history. This modest course takes pains to promote, perhaps annoyingly, the following two propositions or typologies: every citizen of Pakistan, whatever her or his ethnic, gender, educational or class-based status in society, is now undergoing an intensely personal struggle to assess and prioritise the multiple, nested loyalties and affinities created by the pasts of Pakistan. Said another way, this is a struggle to engage the truer, nobler, and ultimately emancipating meaning of jihad as a spiritual, moral, and civic commitment. The real "Islamic frontier," in other words, is the inner personal, spiritual, intellectual and moral one, not any frontier in Kashmir, or on the Indian or Afghan border, or toward the West. The outcome of myriad inner jihads will define Pakistan as a nation, if they are allowed to by its political and religious institutions.
The second idea about Pakistan is that their current situation --as the South Asian 'whipping boy' and adoptive home of the Taliban -- is very largely the fault of global historical processes impinging on Pakistani society from outside, which it is doing its level best to address.
Although there is strong evidence that this is just what is happening, at least apparent to visitors who actually talk to Pakistanis beyond the tourist hotels, conveying this is a tall order. Such an understanding is difficult not only for distant and occasionally fearful American students, but for Pakistanis themselves, who may be so immersed in distress -- economic, political, spiritual or psychological -- that all they can think of is lashing out at alleged enemies.
I suggest that we attempt to recast the history of Pakistan without either this overriding fear or its implicit consequence, of essentialising Pakistani culture as irredeemably sunk in violence, fanaticism, corruption and oppression. In other words, the task is historicising hope and appreciation rather than judgmentalism and fear.
Clearly, every course on Pakistan should cover the array of implications from its role in the so-called 'War on Terror' -- this is not a plea for Polyanna history. But we need to focus less on regimes and more on the quotidian; less on dangers and threats, and more on people's capacities to carry on as normal human beings.
Moreover, to expect Pakistan to have developed a tidy, unitary identity by now is asking a lot. We Americans had our defining civil war 75 years after our freedom, but theirs was one-third as far along, and because it split the country apart, much more devastating. We did not have superpowers actively, cynically, and patronisingly manipulating our lives in their quest for global or regional dominance during our 230 years like Pakistan has had relentlessly in its 60.
Finally, at long last it is time for someone higher up in the US to stand up and say sincerely that Pakistanis are nice people. Their hospitality, co-operativeness, warmth, equanimity, creativity, pragmatism, rationality and patriotism all shine forth throughout their seemingly endless series of political crises. This is remarkable and deserves attention in our classrooms. It will take time, of course, but a civil society is in the making, if the world's and Pakistan's domestic bullies will calm down and let ordinary people breathe.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being came out in 1985 and soon became a feature film starring Daniel Day Lewis and a bowler hat. It fascinated readers and viewers with its pained but existentially detached outlook during Czechoslovakia's national meltdown. Students of Pakistan's history should read it -- especially the bits with the bowler hat. Milan Kundera's musings on the banality of despotism are directly applicable in one form or another to civil society's capacity to endure:
Criminal regimes are made not by criminals but by enthusiasts convinced they have discovered the only road to paradise. They defended that road so valiantly that they were forced to execute many people. Later it became clear that there was no paradise, that the enthusiasts were therefore murderers.
Is this not especially true as the histories of not only Pakistan and South Asia, but also of US foreign policy and intervention, continue to be written?
Long live the winter!
By Shoaib Hashmi
It is ever so, and we should anticipate it, but it always manages to catch us by surprise. All through the long days of summer and even longer evenings, we sit around twiddling our thumbs and wagging our ears, because there is nothing happening and nowhere to go. Everyone is secluded in his own cocoon. Then as the shadows lengthen and the sun becomes inviting, they all come out and everything begins to happen all at once, and you sit around twiddling your thumbs and wagging your ears trying to figure out which one to do!
Like Lucy Van Pelt, I want to find a scapegoat, and after much thought I have found one. It is all because of the British and Lord Macaulay; they are the ones who set up the educational calendar! Their experience was of England and Europe which is cold and frozen in the winter and it is convenient to send the kids to school and keep them warm at public expense. When it is warm enough to be outdoors they shut the schools and go off on holidays.
They imposed the same calendar here never thinking that the bright sun of winter here is the time to do things, to muck about in the sun and no one really feels like working. It would be much more sensible to spend the summer months slogging and take off in winter when it is bright and comfortable; but 'summer vacations' has become a phrase and a tradition.
But who wants to study or work while there is an International Festival of the Performing Arts making the place rock and at the same time an International Seminar on Islamic Arts and Architecture hosted by the National College of Arts? This last has dozens of very clever people from all over the world reading papers and generally holding forth on the most interesting stuff imaginable. If you don't want to be serious, there are half a dozen exhibitions in and around the college, including a marvellous one of calligraphy which is quite a revelation!
The other one, the Performing Arts Festival, as I say is rocking the town. For some time we were a bit apprehensive because most of the usual sponsors chickened out citing the world financial crisis; but the Peeroos are not deterred by such stuff and have managed to cull hundreds of performers from as many nations.
They include plays, music and dance and also, surprise surprise, a solo show of characters from Charles Dickens which is a bit of a tour de force, and even more surprising a routine by Shazia Mirza, a Pakistani stand-up comedian coming from Birmingham. That is a genre relatively unknown to audiences here, as was the usual material of stand-up comedy. They took it in their stride! That could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!
A city which did not stop being the hub of news since April 1978 when the Afghan communists captured power is undergoing a fresh round of violence
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
A spate of recent incidents ranging from murders to kidnappings drew attention to the uncertain situation in Peshawar, already under focus as the capital of the troubled North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). For a while it appeared that the government's writ even in the heavily-protected Frontier metropolis had eroded as killers and kidnappers were able to strike at will.
However, there has been no major crime after the sudden rise in violence. It helped calm down the situation even though it is still far from normal. Peshawar is a much-barricaded place with roadblocks at sensitive points and security personnel guarding important places and people. The presence of a growing number of private security guards at offices and homes, the regular patrolling by troops in the city and the body searches at public places and events reminds everyone that we are living in unusual and dangerous times.
So serious is the threat of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks in Peshawar that the road leading to the Governor's House and the Chief Minister's House is no longer a thoroughfare. Police has put roadblocks to check and prevent movement of unwanted people. The once busy road is deserted and traffic jams due to its closure are now a daily occurrence on other nearby roads. The cops allow passage to people once they receive clearance from the staff of Governor of NWFP, Owais Ahmad Ghani, or Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti. Instead of going outside their fortified offices and residences to attend an event due to security concerns, both of them hold functions in which they are invited as chief guest at the Governor's House and the Frontier House, the official residence of the chief minister. This practice was first adopted by former President General Pervez Musharraf and his Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. It has now been introduced in the NWFP by both the governor and chief minister of NWFP.
Due to its proximity to the tribal areas of Khyber, Mohmand and Darra Adamkhel and on account of its political and strategic importance, Peshawar has always been in the news and under attack by bombers, killers and criminals. Kidnappings for ransom and car-snatching are a lucrative business in and around the city because those kidnapped and the snatched vehicles can be quickly and conveniently transported to the adjoining tribal areas. Exploding bombs in Peshawar creates news and causes fear and chaos. The city has suffered immensely due to the fallout of the unstable situation across the border in Afghanistan. Since April 1978 when the Afghan communists captured power to this day when the US-led coalition forces are struggling to contain the Taliban-inspired insurgency, Peshawar and rest of the NWFP had to cope with acts of terrorism, cross-border raids, influx of displaced Afghans, guns and drugs and radicalisation of the society. Peshawar nowadays is bearing the brunt of the home-grown insurgency that spilled over from Afghanistan to the tribal areas and then into the Frontier districts.
The killing of American aid worker, Stephen D Vance, who was a contractor for the USAID on a development project in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), heightened the risks facing foreigners, particularly from Western countries, in Peshawar and elsewhere in the province and raised questions about the practicability of the US-funded programmes for the tribal region. As if on cue, two foreign journalists were then attacked and injured in an apparent kidnapping attempt. This was the second attack on foreigners and if it were something pre-planned, the message was that foreign aid workers and journalists were unwelcome. Though journalists being an intrepid lot would continue to come to Peshawar and some did come after these attacks, it is obvious that their numbers would be reduced and their movement in the NWFP would be restricted for security reasons.
Meanwhile, diplomats continued to be the target of militants and criminals. Afghanistan's ambassador-designate Abdul Khaliq Farahi was still untraceable after being kidnapped by unknown people from Peshawar's Hayatabad locality on Sept 22. The Afghan government is understandably upset over his kidnapping and twice Kabul sent delegations to Pakistan to press government functionaries and even politicians from the ruling coalition parties to make more efforts for his recovery. Two other prominent Afghans including Afghanistan finance minister Anwarul Haq Ahady's brother Ziaul Haq Ahady and a former adviser to an Afghan government minister and one-time BBC Pashto Service broadcaster Akhtar Jan Kohistan were also kidnapped from Peshawar and Chitral, respectively, and remain untraceable.
Though the killings and kidnappings of Afghans in Pakistan is nothing new and such incidents in the past were mostly carried out by their fellow countrymen to settle scores, the new element that threatens to poison ties between Kabul and Islamabad is the likely involvement of Pakistani militants in these incidents. In fact, the Baitullah Mahsud-led Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was apparently involved in the kidnapping of Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan and the subsequent deal to secure his release forced the government to free a number of militants in its custody. Though no evidence has yet emerged as to who kidnapped ambassador Farahi, there is the likelihood that he too has fallen into the hands of the militants, who would use him as a bargaining chip to seek concessions from the Pakistan government.
Another embarrassing and painful incident was the kidnapping of Iranian diplomat Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, who like Farahi was also snatched from Hayatabad in Peshawar and reportedly shifted to the adjacent Khyber Agency. In both these cases and also in the incident in which the American aid worker was killed, the unfortunate drivers or police guards were first shot dead to eliminate any likely resistance on their part. This showed the planning and ruthlessness of the attackers. Attarzadeh is also untraceable and one could understand the anxiety that the Iranian government would be experiencing.
Though one of the kidnapped Chinese engineers bravely escaped from the captivity of his Taliban kidnappers, his colleague tried and failed to do so. He is still in Taliban custody in Swat after sustaining a leg injury in his escape bid. There is little hope that Taliban would show any mercy on him after having failed to prevent the escape of his colleague. The government is unwilling to accept Taliban demands, which include release of their prisoners in return for the Chinese engineers and ransom.
Another foreigner who was kidnapped was a Polish engineer. The Taliban from Darra Adamkhel have claimed responsibility for his kidnapping from Attock and have released a videotape in which the hapless engineer from Poland is urging acceptance of his captors' demands in return for his release. In fact, the Taliban from Darra Adamkhel, which until now was known for its old gun-manufacturing industry, are hardline and ready to go to any length to achieve their objectives. Some of the bomb explosions and kidnappings in Peshawar are also being attributed to them.
At a time when Peshawar and the NWFP are in the grip of violence, kidnappings and acts of terrorism, the ruling ANP and Maulana Fazlur Rahman's JUI-F have become engaged in verbal sparring. Accusations are being made against each other even though the two parties are part of the PPP-led ruling coalition at the centre. The JUI-F this time is in the government at the centre and in the opposition in the NWFP, a strategy that reminds one of the MMA role when it opposed the federal government and General Pervez Musharraf even though it was in power in the NWFP and shared the government with the ruling PML-Q in Balochistan. The JUI-F leadership is facing accusations of using its position as the ruling party in the NWFP to get military land allotted to its workers and supporters in Dera Ismail Khan in return for support to the 17th constitutional amendment that prolonged Musharraf's rule while still in uniform. The JUI-F leaders have accused the military of masterminding these allegations against it. The ANP leadership is having a hey-day in repeating these landgrab allegations. On its part, the JUI-F charged the ANP with promoting a separatist agenda to break away the NWFP from Pakistan and merge it with Afghanistan. It is far-fetched and something stale because such allegations are a thing of the past. The ANP is now enjoying power and co-operating with the Pakistan Army in fighting the militants.
The hapless people of NWFP would like their leading political parties to tackle the problems facing them instead of indulging in mud-slinging against each other. The tussle between the ANP and JUI-F isn't creating any political waves. Instead, it is further exposing politicians who are fast losing their credibility.
The high turnout in the first phase of elections in Indian Held Kashmir has surprised analysts
By Nadeem Iqbal
According to initial reports, the turnout has been close to 50 percent in the first phase of Indian held Kashmir (IHK) assembly elections. These figures have given 'credence' to the officially sponsored perception that majority of Kashmiris are not supporting the recent uprising against Indian rule. Analysts in Pakistan, however, do not see any link between elections and the freedom struggle.
While expressing his happiness over the polling percentage in the first phase, Governor IHK, N.N. Vohra claimed that participation of the people in large numbers despite cold weather on account of the recent snowfall reflected "their deep faith in democracy which has flourished in Jammu and Kashmir during the past six decades."
National Conference (NC) patron Dr Farooq Abdullah said, "a good voter turnout in the first phase of elections doesn't mean that people don't support the pro-freedom leaders, but it indicated that people want good governance." National Conference was voted out in 2002 after remaining in power for more than two decades. The 2002 elections, held over four phases in Sept and Oct 2002, witnessed an average turnout of about 44 percent.
The People's Democratic Party (PDP) took power as the head of a coalition following the last election in 2002, but its government collapsed in July last year over the issue of the transfer of land to a Hindu shrine trust. Although the government revoked the transfer, it triggered a spate of pro-independence protests in the valley. Since then the valley is under direct rule of New Delhi. Over forty protests have been held in the IHK since then.
The elections come after large protests against India in the valley and a crackdown on leaders who oppose the polls. More than 30 leaders have been detained under a law that allows police to hold people for up to two years without trial.
The current elections are being held in seven phases and will go on till Dec 24.
Heavy deployment of security forces presented a curfew-like situation with roads deserted and business and other establishments remaining closed in the entire valley.
It will be the third voting in occupied Kashmir since the freedom movement began in 1989. In the past, Kashmiri freedom fighters had used violence to boycott elections but early this year, the United Jihad Council, an alliance fighting Indian troops in occupied Kashmir, rejected the use of violence to force a boycott of the elections this time. Instead, it urged people to hold peaceful protests against the elections. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), the region's main freedom-seeking alliance, says hundreds of its supporters and activists have been arrested ahead of the polls.
"Elections are ultimately projected as a sort of referendum by India," said Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. "That is why we have called for a complete boycott of such a process."
"Elections will help elect a government addressing the day-to-day problems of people, not the Kashmir dispute," said Omar Abdullah, chief of the regional National Conference, which recognises New Delhi's rule over the region.
Kashmiri media quoted Omar's father Dr Farooq as saying: "Separatists are in the forefront for final solution of Kashmir issue while NC is there for good governance, that is all." Dr Farooq added, " Don't think 70 percent polling means the separatists have no role. No, their agenda is very much there."
PDP President Mehbooba Mufti also said the turnout was to choose representatives to provide amenities and not to settle the larger, unresolved Kashmir issue.
Local newspapers have also dubbed it as a misplaced perception mainly because the reports of 55 percent polling have come from four districts of Leh, Kargil, Bandipora and Poonch, where forces struggling for independence do not enjoy much support. Most importantly the presence of a large number of Indian security forces and non-existence of independent election observers have cast doubts over the veracity of the reports.
"You can't have free and fair elections in the presence of hundreds of thousands of occupation forces," said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of the APHC who has been under house arrest for three days.
Chairman of Hurriyat Conference Syed Ali Shah Geelani accused the pro-India parties of cashing on the weakness of the people of Gurez, Bandipora and Sonawari. "Undoubtedly people of these constituencies face problems of jobs, roads and other basic amenities and the pro-India parties promise to mitigate the problems in lieu of votes. Ironically, when the people cast votes, India links it with Kashmir dispute and plebiscite."
Geelani added: "When a nation fights for freedom its people have to rise above self-interests and be ready to offer sacrifices. I hope people of other constituencies will show sympathy towards the thousands of Kashmiris, who laid their lives for their birth right of plebiscite and boycott the polls."
Elaborating, Geelani said the Government of India has been holding elections in the state for past 60 years. "But the elections have failed to resolve people's problems and above all the Kashmir dispute. Other than imposing Indian stooges, election has been a futile process in the state."
Geelani maintained that, "New Delhi should bear in mind that those people who voted yesterday participated actively in the June uprising. Nobody can take Kashmiris for granted as when their identity or respect is at stake, they always show their resentment."
The big question remains, however: what impact will the turnout have on respective Pakistani and Indian positions on Kashmir?
Fahmida Ashraf, Director South Asia of the government-funded Institute of Strategic Studies (ISSI), told TNS that it will not have any impact as the elections and independence of Kashmir are not linked and are separate issues. The outcome of the elections will not have any impact on Pakistan's stand of calling for a plebiscite to resolve the issue..
Lt. Gen (R) Talat Masood, independent security analyst, agrees and said that the turnout is not high but reasonable, which shows that the Muslim majority in Kashmir and pro-freedom people in the valley have been quite pragmatic. They are not only struggling for freedom but also have reached out to pro-government parties like PDP by remaining part of election process. This way they have also succeeded in influencing the pro-government parties to change their perceptions of pro-independent forces.
Saurabh Shukla, Senior Editor of India Today, told TNS that the high turnout has exceeded even the expectations of the Indian government which thought that the boycott by the separatists and some attempts to disrupt the elections may have an impact. "But it is largely the genuine desire of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to give ballot a chance over bullet that the turnout is on the higher side."
When questioned about the chances of turnout going down in the remaining phases, Shukla said: "it will have some setback to the process, as the development work would be affected as much of the time would be spent on doubting the credibility of the state government by parties that lose the election. It will be also be not good for peace in the valley."
In America there has been much public furore of late over a 700 billion dollar bailout of failing corporations. Of course economists and purveyors of capitalism will argue that this is necessary given the fact that if banks and other financial institutions were to collapse the effect on the economy would be even more disastrous compared to if there were no bailout. They argue further that in the absence of such government-led assistance, the number of jobs lost will be far greater and this is often used as a compelling argument.
However, proponents of such assistance forget two things. One, that while worshippers of capitalism themselves, such a bailout is tantamount to nationalisation, an important tenet of socialism. This is not to say at all that socialism is a bad thing -- although the US presidential election indicated as if being a socialist was even worse than being an atheist in America -- but rather that it goes against the beliefs of capitalists. Second, those who have studied basic college-level economics would remember studying the argument that it is economically sensible to let a firm which is inefficient and not able to perform to die out so that the resources being used for its operation could be better used in some other sector of the economy.
Extended further, this is the well-known theory of comparative advantage which states that countries tend to, or should, produce those goods and services which they can produce at a lower cost compared to other countries -- the idea being that if all countries of the world were to do this, and given that there would be no barriers to trade (another favoured condition of capitalists and proponents of the free market and deregulation), goods and services would be produced cheaply.
In this context, it goes completely against the grain of capitalist thought and action for the government to be spending so much of taxpayers' money to bail out corporations that find themselves in a particularly dire situation that is mainly their own making. The analogy to this is that if a private individual were to set up a business after taking a loan, and went bankrupt because of his own reckless actions and occasional disregard to the law with regard to ethical business practices, it is unlikely that he could approach the government and expect a bailout. Also, given that the US economy is in deep recession, it may come across as downright offensive to taxpayers that 700 billion of their hard-earned-and-then-taxed dollars would be used to prop up corporations that have been making billions of dollars in profits every year. Besides, this massive amount could instead be used to assist those individuals and families who fall on particularly hard times, such as slipping below the poverty line.
Now in the Pakistani context, one already wrote a couple of weeks back in this space that there should be no reason why the government should set up a fund for bailing out major players in the Karachi Stock Exchange. The KSE has on its own set up what in effect works as a price floor, preventing the value of the index from falling any further. However, the reason for this is self-preservation and self-interest, with the KSE management saying that it will only remove the floor once the government sets up a market stabilisation fund worth some several billion rupees. Some may -- and perhaps with some justification -- call this a kind of blackmail, the stockbrokers trying to gently twist the government's arm to bail them out or else keep the stock exchange in limbo.
As if this wasn't enough, newspaper reports on Nov 17 indicated that another industry, not known exactly for transparency, competitiveness or even quality, seemed to be intent on seeking a government bailout. The argument being put forward for the bailout more or less amounted to emotional blackmail and should go unheeded by the government not least because if it is anyone who needs substantial assistance and a bailout, it is the poor and underprivileged of this country.
The fact that hundreds of millions of dollars may - or may not - have been invested in the automobile industry does not (a) mean that the industry must always remain protected or that (b) it should automatically qualify for government assistance at a time of recession. The second point is perhaps more relevant to our case because it's not as if the Government of Pakistan is blessed with unlimited cash and resources and can make good all its spending priorities.
Like any government, and in fact more so, it has to make hard choices and surely propping up an industry which is on the decline basically because incomes are falling -- a normal effect of an economic downturn should not be among them. Going by the logic of the industry, any time an economy experiences recession, the government should bail out business and industry, which is absurd to say the least, because the very symptom of a recession is that certain industries, especially the inefficient and less competitive ones will die out.
Besides, the reason for the downturn in the automobile sector is said to be a fall in demand -- because of the recession -- and hence it is only natural that there will be lay-offs in the industry. In fact, this is likely to happen all across the economy and it makes little sense for the government to selectively come to the aid of one particular sector. The automobile industry will benefit from undue protection and official largesse as long as the government of the day is cowed into submission and cajoled (read forced) into granting such a regime. It is time to say no to such bailout requests. The only bailout request that can be agreed to -- in principle that is -- if it comes from the poor, the undernourished and malnourished, and the deprived and destitute of this country.
writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News.