By Dr Arif Azad
The US presidential nomination for the Democratic Party seems to heading for a nail-biting finish due to two hugely talented politician in the field: Hillary Clinton, ex-first lady and Democratic Senator from New York, and Barack Obama , an Afro-American Senator from Illinois.
By virtue of his untiring and graceful campaign for the Democratic nomination, Obama has created a phenomenon being dubbed as 'Obama-mania.'
The first sign of this phenomenon came with his upset win in the Iowa caucus, in the first week of Jan 2008, when he pushed Hillary Clinton on to third place -- almost unthinkable for the young black politician (Obama is 47) a week ago. From then on, Obama has been on a roll, finishing neck to neck with Hillary Clinton in the crucial Super Tuesday primaries on Feb 5, followed by a string of wide margin victories in Virginia, Maryland and Washington in Potomac primaries on Feb 12.
The string of these victories has placed Obama, for the first time, ahead of Hillary Clinton in term of pledged delegates for the nominating convention. More significantly, Obama's Potomac victories unveiled a unique trend for a black politician. On that day, Obama ate into the decisive edge Hillary Clinton has enjoyed so far among women, white working class and Latinos and Hispanic voters; he made significant inroads into each of these voting blocks, showing that a black politician is capable of winning a cross-over of voters to bring him close to the White House.
The most convincing evidence of this was confirmed on Feb 21, when Obama swept Wisconsin and Hawaii by a comfortable margin, scoring 11 successive victories. This was followed a day later by Obama's win in a 'Global Primary' constituted by Democrats living outside the USA. Not surprisingly, Obama's strong showing has sparked a vigorous analysis of how a black politician has managed to get this far by holding together disparate voting constituencies despite the wide-spread racism in American society.
The secret of Obama's cross over appeal lies in his background and the style of new black politics he espouses. According to Gary Younge, the Guardian's US correspondent and perceptive writer on black politics and race, Obama remains untainted with the rhetoric and language of civil rights and Black Panther movement that formed the template of black politics in the US, as he was born after the heyday of the black power movement.
Until now, being black has always meant a serious political handicap in US politics. While black politicians, Jessie Jackson and Al Shaprton originated from civil rights -- church led black politics with racial issues at its core -- Obama represents a new kind of post racial politics which tends to downplay race in politics. In pursuing his dream of being the president, Obama has re-invented himself as a black who is non-threatening to the majority white population. In addition, he appeals to cross-over voters in a new language unlike black politicians of old vintage. This appeal is further spiced up with his delicately phrased constant references as to how he made it so big in America, despite the colour of his skin, and this taps into deeper vein of American dream.
As Angela Davis, the great black radial America thinker on race, points out "Obama is being consumed as the embodiment of colour blindness .It is the notion that we have moved beyond racism by not taking race into account. That is what makes him conceivable as a presidential candidate."
More importantly, his mixed race heritage -- his father, a Kenyan Muslim and mother, a protestant American -- contributes to his appeal augmented by his carefully crafted strategy of transcending existing political categories. All these made him a force to reckon with in the race for the Democratic Party nomination. In fact, Obama represents a group of ten talented young black politicians.These 'talented ten', holding different top-level elective positions in US politics , have been in the vanguard of a new look mainstream black electoral politics which makes a decisive break with the language and political priorities of Church-led black civil rights of the sixties symbolised by leaders like Martin Luther King Jr, Maclom X, Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young .
This group of new black politicians -- which include Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, Newark governor Cory Booker and Harold Ford Jr. -- beneficiaries of civil rights affirmative action plan, attended elite universities and see themselves as harbinger of post-racial black politics. The group so jealously guards its new style of race free politics that it does not consider Jessie Jackson Jr (probably due to his being son of Jessie Jackson), despite being in the same age bracket, as part of talented group. Moreover, the group does not contain any talented black woman politician according to Gary Younge.
From his strong showing at February primaries, Obama's new style of post-racial black politics seems to be winning acceptance among a wide array of voting blocks. The big question is whether the establishment of Democratic Party is going to throw its weight behind Obama at the democratic nominating convention, if Obama continues to run neck and neck with Hillary Clinton till the end.
In the event, casting vote shall be exercised by a group of the super-delegates that is formed by grandees of the Democratic Party. If he clinches the nomination it would represent a sea change for the Democratic Party and general voting public alike. Failing that, the newly energised black community may relapse into old style black politics confirming, perhaps, the suspicion that there is a glass ceiling in so far as black politician are concerned and that race remains the most potent political factor in the retardation of black life in the US.
By Nadeem Iqbal
On Feb 14 2008, several Danish newspapers reprinted one of the so called several caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) which in 2005 had sparked violent protests across the Muslim world.
The reprint seems to have been instigated by an alleged plot to kill one of the cartoonists responsible for the controversial drawings. Three persons -- a Danish citizen of Moroccan origin and two Tunisians -- were allegedly involved in the plan.
The reprinting has prompted sporadic protests in the main cities of Pakistan. Mainly comprising students, hundreds of participants have been chanting slogans such as 'Death to the cartoonist', 'say no to Denmark', 'crush Denmark' etc.
In a symbolic gesture, the Danish Charge d' Affaires was called to the Pakistan Foreign Office to lodge a strong protest saying that the re-publication of the cartoons had deeply offended Muslim feeling and sentiment all over the world.
"While we upheld freedom of the press, freedom of expression should not be taken as a license to insult and malign other religions. In fact, the publication of the cartoons was an abuse and perversion of freedom of expression, which showed disrespect for the beliefs of other people," the Foreign Office statement said.
The Foreign Office further said that the publication of the cartoons was against the efforts of countries and people who wished to build bridges amongst civilizations. Since hurting sentiments of other religions was not responsible behaviour, the Danish Government was obliged as a responsible government to stop the publication of the cartoons.
To this protest, the Danish Charge d' Affaires replied that the Danish Government did not have any hand in the publication of the cartoons and that he would convey the sentiments of the Government of Pakistan to his government.
The overall Danish position remains that of distancing itself from the cartoons and saying that the government cannot intervene in what the media publishes.
These cartoons were first published in late Sept 2005, and the world over protests started taking place in December and reached their climax in Feb and March, 2006. The cartoons were reprinted in many European and Australian papers during that time. International efforts were initiated to resolve the issue such as the Government of Pakistan talking about introduction of an international law to ban such an activity but nothing much happened.
In fact, in Feb, 2006, two young men were killed and 20 suffered injuries when angry mobs turned violent in Lahore. The protesters also ransacked and set on fire a number of buildings, including the Punjab Assembly, and hundreds of cars and motorcycles.
The violence in Pakistan continued despite the fact that Jyllands-Posten sent an apology, apologising not for the printing of the cartoons, but for hurting the feelings of Islamic society.
The then UN secretary General, Kofi Anan called for calm and urged Muslims to accept an apology from the Danish paper that first published the cartoons.
Muslims also resorted to legal recourse but of no avail. In March 2006, Muslim groups in Denmark filed a lawsuit against the newspaper. It said the drawings were published "solely to provoke and mock not only Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) but also the Muslim population."
But in its verdict on Oct 2006, the Danish court dismissed the petition saying, "It cannot be ruled out that the drawings have offended some Muslims' honour, but there is no basis to assume that the drawings are, or were conceived as, insulting or that the purpose of the drawings was to present opinions that can belittle Muslims."
In March, 2006, the Berlin police arrested Amir Cheema, a student from Pakistan, as he entered the office building of Die Welt newspaper, armed with a large knife. Cheema was later found dead in jail in May, 2006. The German police claimed that he committed suicide. A version no one believed in Pakistan. His funeral in Pakistan was attended by 50,000 people.
In June last year, the Pakistan parliament unanimously condemned the British government's act to award Salman Rushdie knighthood for services to literature. Rushdie's book 'Satanic verses' prompted a range of protests in Pakistan in 1989 that killed five people.
The controversy does not end here. The western media is reporting that on Feb 24, 2008, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, (PTA) the telecom regulator, ordered the country's Internet-service providers to immediately block access to a specific YouTube video, which was so incendiary it could trigger riots, disrupted service on Google Inc.'s YouTube around the world.
The PTA clarifies that the decision to the effect came after a meeting held at the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom in Islamabad. Senior representatives from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Religious Affairs, Cabinet Division, FIA and PTA attended the meeting.
YouTube, a video sharing website, has been found to be running highly a provocative and blasphemous anti-Quranic video with references to the Dutch politician, Geert Wilders.
Geert Wilders is a Dutch politician whose an opinion article caused an uproar in Holland in August last year by saying that: "The Quran is a fascist book which incites violence. That is why this book, just like Mein Kampf, must be banned."
In sync, a similar campaign is taking rounds on the web that is pleading Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia to remove objectionable pictures by saying: "In Islam, pictures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) are not allowed. But Wikipedia editors are showing illustrations with the face illustrated -- the face is veiled or white washed.-- but still they are offensive to Muslims. I request all brothers and sisters to sign the petitions so we can tell Wikipedia to respect the religion and remove the illustrations."
By Shoaib Hashmi
In case you too, like me, have been too busy fooling around with the elections, listening to all the most utter balderdash from all your friends for months before, and then listening to even more bull from the same people since, let me get the subject off the plate once and for all: We are, and have been for some time, the third world even though the politically conscious no longer make it a fashion to say so, and are going to remain so for the foreseeable future, and not a word you read in all the papers, or hear on all the channels is going to change that one iota! There!
So let me bring you back to the real reality in one go. Suddenly, and overnight and all over town it is Spring! You remember that? It's the time of the year when the plants and trees suddenly sprout new leaves, and the flowers begin to come out, and there is dappled sunlight on the lawn and you are desperately aware that it is going to look pretty only for a few days before you begin to hate it.
The first sight always is the white rose bushes which, having quietly sat there for months, suddenly throw out bunches of fresh green leaves, and overnight send the tendrils snaking all over and into the bare twigs of the nearby trees -- the shahtoot tree and the taali -- and by next week both will be covered with white blossoms.
I hate to admit that I am made aware of all this for the wrong reason. I am a perennial hay-fever sufferer, and if you are one too, I am sorry to remind you that it will come to you with sneezing your butt off, red watery eyes and general all round misery, but poets have sung about the season forever and it is not going to help thinking that Ghalib was a fool and you hate him "Phir is andaaz say bahaar aaee, keh huay mehr-o-mah tamashaaee; Dekho ai saakinaan-e-khittaa-e-arz, is ko kehtay hain aalam aaraaee!"
As we are on the subject, I have always felt that Faiz somewhere at the back of his mind was aware that he was to be the last in the ancient tradition of classical romantic poetry, and so many times when tackling some subject matter, which others of his line too had dealt with, his own endeavour was always to say the definitive words, to sum up as it were all that had been said before. Faiz's own foray into spring is a case in point and here it is
and then came Spring
And it was as if, with the
There returned, from the world
All the dreams and all the
All the dreams, and all the
passions which had
Lived for love of you,
And which, in death, had found
And, once more, there bloomed
all the roses
Perfumed still with memories
Crimson still with the blood of
And Spring came too, to all the
The remembered sufferings of
The forgotten pleasures of the
nearness of love.
And then came Spring, and
opened once again
All the buried chapters of the
book of Life!
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
While the success of PML-N and PPP in the recently held general elections has been dubbed victory of democratic forces,there is a group of stakeholders -- the top local government representatives -- that hasn't had a night of sound sleep after Feb 18, 2008. They fear their co-existence with PPP and PML-N governments in place is a remote possibility. Chances are ripe that there will be no-confidence motions tabled against PML-Q backed district nazims, their external recalls by the provincial chief ministers or even the winding up of the very system 'put in place to strengthen a dictator.'
Late Benazir Bhutto was so wary of these local governments that she repeatedly demanded the suspension of the district government system before general elections in order to prevent rigging by the nazims and their subordinates. PML-N President, Mian Shahbaz Sharif on the other hand hinted before the holding of general elections that there could be re-elections to local governments if his party was voted to power in the elections. Sharif did not oppose the local government system per se as, according to him it was formed for development purposes. What was wrong with these governments was that the Musharraf regime had corrupted them.
The local government elections were conducted for the first time in 2001 and then in 2005 on non-party basis. But actually all the candidates were backed by the political parties. Their role became so important, especially because of the patronising attitude of President Musharraf, that during the local government elections of 2005, some of the MPAs and MNAs resigned from their legislative seats to contest the elections of district and tehsil nazims. The main attraction for these legislators was the huge public funds at the disposal of the local government representatives and control over the district bureaucracy barring police.
Being an emblem of power for long, the district nazims are now feeling insecure mainly because of the defeat of PML-Q and President Musharraf's apparently weakening grip of power. The country's history shows that only military dictators have introduced local government systems in the country. Every time democracy has returned to the country, the local government system has come into direct conflict with the democratically elected institutions at the federal and provincial levels and were even abolished. The situation todays is hardly different.
Raza Karim Advocate who was elected Union Council Naib Nazim in 2001 tells TNS that under the amended Local Governments Ordinance the district and tehsil nazims can be recalled by the provincial chief executives -- the chief ministers. Prior to the amendments, these representatives enjoyed unmatched immunity and protection, he says.
Raza says that Section 23 of the Local Government Ordinance defines the method in which a Zila Nazim can be recalled externally. The said clause, he says, states: "If in the opinion of the Chief Executive of the Province, the continuance in office of a Zila Nazim is against the public policy or interest of the people or he is guilty of misconduct, the chief executive of the province may move a motion in the provincial assembly stating the grounds for the recall of Zila Nazim."
When such a motion is approved through a resolution passed by a simple majority of total membership of the provincial assembly, the Zila Nazim shall cease to hold office immediately on passing of such resolution provided that the Zila Nazim shall be provided an opportunity of being heard by the provincial assembly, he adds.
Raza says that due to these extraordinary power enjoyed by the provincial chief ministers, the district council members have already started lobbying against pro-PML-Q nazims. "They will try to remove these nazims internally through no-confidence moves rather than waiting for the chief ministers to take drastic steps," Raza adds.
President Musharraf, the strongest advocate of this system of governance, is keeping mum nowadays. He had once said that "the current LG system is not simply 'my' system; it belongs to the people of Pakistan. If the LG system is to take root and flourish then the people of Pakistan must be allowed the right to change and modify the system in the manner that they see fit." At the same time Musharraf had said that while the day to day functioning will completely rest in the local governments for devolved functions thus ending the ongoing friction, the provincial governments may intervene in an institutional manner to check maladministration. However, he had not foreseen that the provincial governments will not always comprise his allies and proteges.
PML-N office-bearer, Pervaiz Malik tells TNS that his party definitely plans to come out with a comprehensive reforms package but is currently concentrating on other issues. "It will not be our policy decision to enter into conflict with local governments. We will make the stitch where it is needed. It is on the party agenda to root out corruption, maladministration and ambiguities from the local government system and rationalise the Police Order," he adds.
One can safely say that the local government system may stay in the times to come. What may not survive is its current disposition -- comprising mainly PML-Q backed nazims and other local government functionaries.
By Ali Sultan
"I neither will aspire to nor will I accept -- I repeat -- I neither will aspire to nor will I accept, the position of president of the Council of State and commander-in-chief," said the revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, in effect stepping down as the President of Cuba, (on Feb 19, 2008) ending five decades of ironclad rule of the island -- Castro assumed power in 1959 -- marked by his resilient defiance of the United States.
Castro has also been described as an example of the rise of a distinct 'charismatic leader' common to developing nations, and of encouraging the 'personalised political regime.' With his trademark military-style uniforms (which later he traded in for track-suits), and expensive cigars, Castro would lead mass demonstrations, where large number of people would gather to cheer his fiery speeches which would typically last for hours.
Many analysts believe that Castro has maintained power largely through highly visible, charismatic leadership and popular appeals to the Cuban people, though the administration is successful only as long as the leader's charisma lasts.
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born in 1926, to a wealthy landowning family. He grew up in comfortable circumstances amid poverty. A peasant rebellion during Castro's youth shocked him -- the contrast between his own comfortable lifestyle and the dire poverty of so many others -- and he became a Marxist.
In 1952, at the age of 25, Castro ran for the Cuban parliament. But just before the election, the government was overthrown by Fulgencio Batista, who established a dictatorship.
Castro was one of about 150 fighters who attempted to overthrow Batista in 1953. An attack on a military barracks landed Castro in prison, but made him famous throughout Cuba.
Castro was released in 1955 under an amnesty. He went to Mexico and spent time in the United States, working with his brother Raul and Argentine revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara to prepare for a second attempt to overthrow Batista.
Castro returned to Cuba in 1956, by boat with a band of 81 insurgents. Most of them were killed. The survivors, including the Castros and Guevara, fled into the Sierra Maestra Mountains. There, they mounted a full-scale attack in 1958, forcing Batista to flee the country in January 1959. Castro became prime minister (Later in 1976, Castro became president and commander in chief after the office of prime minister was abolished).
The US quickly recognised the new Cuban government, but tensions arose when Castro, as prime minister, set about far-reaching reforms. He nationalised factories and plantations, ending US economic dominance of the island. He also began to establish closer ties with the Soviet Union.
In 1961, Castro formally declared Cuba a socialist state but insisted that his ideology was first and foremost Cuban.
Thousands of political opponents to the Castro regime were killed, primarily during the first decade of his leadership. Others were imprisoned in poor conditions without trial.
Castro acknowledged that Cuba held political prisoners, but argued that Cuba was justified because these prisoners were not jailed because of their political beliefs, but have been convicted of 'counter-revolutionary' crimes, including bombings. Castro portrayed opposition to the Cuban government as illegitimate, and the result of an ongoing conspiracy fostered by Cuban exiles with ties to the United States or the CIA.
In April the same year, the US attempted to topple the Castro government by recruiting a group of Cuban exiles to invade the island.
The attempt to overthrow Castro ended in disaster. But the U.S. imposed a full economic embargo in 1962. The policy continues to this day.
Cuba's increasing reliance on Soviet aid brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in October 1962. When Soviet Union installed nuclear weapons on the island, American President John F Kennedy demanded their removal and quarantined the island, located just 90 miles off U.S. shores. The Soviets backed down and removed the weapons.
Castro was also the target of CIA assassination attempts (638 in all, according to Cuban intelligence) over the years. He took great delight in the fact that none of them ever succeeded.
The Soviet Union continued to support Cuba. It bought the bulk of Cuba's sugar harvest and in return sent separately needed goods to Cuba to beat the American embargo.
But in the 1980s, by refusing to take its sugar harvest anymore, Soviet Union plunged the Cuban economy in darkness.
With its Soviet lifeline cut off and the American Embargo still in place, chronic shortages, food queues and empty shelves became inevitable. Former civilian liberties were taken away as labour unions lost the right to strike, independent newspapers were shut down and religious institutions harassed. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled Castro's rule, but many stayed back.
Castro has been credited with opening 10,000 new schools, erasing illiteracy (there is 98 per cent literacy) and building a universal health care system.
Undoubtedly many Cubans detest Castro, but others genuinely love him. In the poorest areas of Latin America and Africa, Castro is seen as a hero, the leader of the Third World, and the enemy of the wealthy and greedy, we may remember him as the one leader who stood up to America.
"Castro is Cuba," wrote the playwright, Arthur Miller.
By Omar R. Quraishi
Pakistan, if the hawks in the establishment were to be believed, is literally between the devil and deep blue sea. Of the 10 billion or so dollars that the government has received as part of assisting America in its war against terror, a mere ten per cent has been spent on socio-economic programmes -- the rest going to fund the requirements of the military.
However, over the past few weeks, several stories in some well-known American newspapers have appeared, all more or less suggesting that some sections of the US government were unhappy with Islamabad over the use of the assistance indicating that it could have been diverted to purchasing weapons and financing other requirements of the military. (It has to be said that since the details of any agreement between Islamabad and Washington remain classified it would only be pure speculation to talk about the use of the funds by Islamabad given that one is not aware of any guidelines laid down by the Americans regulating it use).
The implication -- which came across as pretty much blunt in these reports -- was that in some instances, the Americans were of the view that the Pakistan government may well have been inflating the charges payable by Washington for logistical and other support by the Pakistani military. According to these reports, the mechanism which regulates the disbursement of these funds begins with vetting by the American embassy in Islamabad and going through various tiers of the US Defence Department, particularly the US Army's Central Command which is in charge of US military operations in southwest Asia. Then only this past week, a report suggested that around $70 million of the funds that Pakistan charged the US for its support in the war against terror had been held up -- probably as a consequence of continued pressure from Congress to the Bush administration to scrutinise more closely the receipts given by Islamabad.
Following these particular stories, one came across yet another -- and quite an explosive one. Again appearing in one of the main American papers, it quoted US officials (without naming them, of course -- making the job of the reporter and other stakeholders all the more easier) as saying that they were worried what would happen to a recently-developed plan by the Pentagon to engage more intensively with the Pakistani military, especially with regard to fighting the Taliban and their sympathisers in FATA. In passing, the story also mentioned a 'secret base' inside Pakistan from where the Americans launched their unmanned drones over FATA and the surrounding areas. Islamabad, for the record, has always denied any such base on its territory and has also always said that there are no American soldiers on its soil.
However, according to the new Pentagon plan, a significant number of US military trainers will come to Pakistan to train the Frontier Corps. In addition to this, reading between the lines of some of these stories gives one the distinct impression as if around 50 or so military trainers are already based in Pakistan. In any case, there would have to be at the very least some American military personnel at the said 'secret base.'
The officials in the story were quoted as being worried because they were not sure of the relationship between the new government and whether it would allow the US military to play the kind of role that it had achieved for itself with Musharraf in charge. This explains the spate of meetings the US ambassador to Pakistan has been having of late with Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif and the two visits by high-profile members of Congress to Islamabad on the day of the election and after.
Given that one of those who visited -- Senator Jospeh Biden (Democrat from Delaware) -- has actually publicly said that General Musharraf may leave the scene if allowed to do so gracefully, it would be fair to assume that the Americans are now thinking of life after Musharraf. However, in that they will try and ensure that whoever is in charge next -- other than General Kayani of course -- will not move away too much from giving the kind of leeway (at least from the point of view of most Pakistanis) that Musharraf had given them.
In other developments, what else is one to make of a report (and not denied) in this newspaper, according to which, the caretaker prime minister approved a summary for giving lifetime perks to retired chairmen of the Senate. Even in normal circumstances, this kind of largesse would be in poor taste since a substantial portion of the population live below the poverty line and most middle-income Pakistanis find it hard to have a decent life making ends meet. What is particularly offensive is that in this case the person who approved the summary and the beneficiary were one and the same (conflict of interest can go to hell for all the caretaker PM/Senate chairman cares).
According to the report, the following 'privileges/facilities' will be available to former chairpersons of the Senate, their wives and dependent children. The list is long: free medical coverage for life (within Pakistan and abroad!), a private secretary for life, a security guard for life, a driver for life, a cook for life, access to government guest/rest houses free of charge (WHY!!??), installation of telephone free of charge and up to a limit of Rs 5,000 per month (no points for guessing who's going to pay for this -- you and me), free pick and drop with protocol from all airports in the country at government expense (WHY!!??), a staff car for use of former chairman, spouse and dependent children for travel throughout Pakistan (incredible!), security passes for airport entry including two for staff, diplomatic passports for life and apparently a lot more.
writer is Op-ed Pages Editor of The News.