The things that pass for civil society

Crossposted from Grand Trunk Road

Consider this column today by retired bureaucrat Roedad Khan:

When politics or politicians fail to resolve or even to address the great issues people face, what often happens is that civil society rises up to change politics. Historians call such moments “great awakenings” which often lead to big changes in society. Today Pakistan may be on the edge of such a time with a younger generation of lawyers and civil society as its cutting edge, ready to face the challenges and issues that weigh so heavily on this great country. The political momentum now rests entirely with the “Black Coats” and the civil society. They can smell the march of their own power. At last, people have found their life mission, something to fight for, something to die for: fight dictatorship, military or civilian. They have also found the tool to achieve this mammoth task: street demonstrations

Roedad Khan was a corrupt right-leaning bureaucrat who served as Yahya Khan’s information secretary during which time he was said to have advised the regime to put the fear of god into the East Pakistanis, and as Zia’s Secretary General of the Interior ministry and about whom Shaheen Sehbai wrote:

Who does not remember his role as the leader of the secret election cell in the Ghulam Ishaq Khan presidency in 1990 when he rigged the election blatantly in collaboration with his colleague Ijlal Haider Zaidi and General Rafaqat? His exploits have all been recorded in several books written about those elections. Does that conduct fit into his description of “nothing to die for and nothing to live for” or was it only for a short-term gain?

Today, Roedad Khan has become, like everyone else, an analyst and a member of civil society. Here’s a column by Roedad Khan 7 years ago, entitled “Threat to the Islamic World”:

We are told that Pakistan would have ceased to exist if it had resisted US demands and not cooperated in the war against Afghanistan. “When you are face-to-face with a wolf, your only option is to work with it, until it becomes a pet”. Unfortunately the American wolf does not make a very good pet. There can be no friendship between the cat and the mouse. There can be no friendship between the strong and the weak or between unequals. By succumbing to American pressure, we managed to secure a temporary reprieve. But at what price? Pakistan is splattered with American fortresses, seriously compromising our internal and external sovereignty. Foreign troops stationed on our soil move in and out of the country without any let or hindrance. Pakistan has become a launching pad for military operations against neighbouring Muslim countries. We have been drawn into somebody else’s war without understanding its true dimension or ultimate objectives.

Which was a good summary of the reasons for Roedad Khan and his kind’s (Aslam Beg, Hamid Gul, etc) break with the army from that point until Musharraf’s dismissal last year. It was not a principled break but a tactical one due to a difference in perspective which today, with the help of some unimportant leftie lawyers, has been resolved in their favour. So we should be worried. In Pakistan it doesn’t really matter what people are saying because more often than not they all talk the same old shit: about human rights, and dignity, and the glory of Islam. What matters is who is saying it, and why.

The views are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by PTH.

16 Comments

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16 responses to “The things that pass for civil society

  1. yasserlatifhamdani

    This is one of the most pointless rants I have come across…

    The evidence presented is flimsy… if Roedad Khan advised military operation, so did Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the PPP… we are all guilty for 1971. So what the frikkin’ hell is your point? The only Pakistanis who were not guilty were Pakistanis who are no longer Pakistani.

    The rest is just hogwash. I am not aware of any charges of corruption against the man… and he did not become civil society last year… Roedad Khan has been active in civil society for things like Margalla Society for over a decade… and his book “a dream gone sour” came in the late 1990s.

    Neither have I found any real evidence of “right wing views”…. Roedad Khan has spoken about a democratic and progressive Pakistan … based on rule of law and constitution consistently ever since I’ve heard the man… which is evidently longer than the author of this misdirected, unfortunate piece of libel.

    Please stop stabbing the people’s movement in the back. Please stop it … this movement has its own left wing and liberals. Don’t discredit liberalism by acting like a buncha sore losers at this time when the country should come together in wake of grave dangers to its polity and people.

  2. rws

    Raza,

    I just put in bold the quotes from Roedad Khan’s and Shaheen Sehbai’s columns, just so it’s a bit clearer.

    Consider this column today by retired bureaucrat Roedad Khan:

    When politics or politicians fail to resolve or even to address the great issues people face, what often happens is that civil society rises up to change politics. Historians call such moments “great awakenings” which often lead to big changes in society. Today Pakistan may be on the edge of such a time with a younger generation of lawyers and civil society as its cutting edge, ready to face the challenges and issues that weigh so heavily on this great country. The political momentum now rests entirely with the “Black Coats” and the civil society. They can smell the march of their own power. At last, people have found their life mission, something to fight for, something to die for: fight dictatorship, military or civilian. They have also found the tool to achieve this mammoth task: street demonstrations

    Roedad Khan was a corrupt right-leaning bureaucrat who served as Yahya Khan’s information secretary during which time he was said to have advised the regime to put the fear of god into the East Pakistanis, and as Zia’s Secretary General of the Interior ministry and about whom Shaheen Sehbai wrote:
    Who does not remember his role as the leader of the secret election cell in the Ghulam Ishaq Khan presidency in 1990 when he rigged the election blatantly in collaboration with his colleague Ijlal Haider Zaidi and General Rafaqat? His exploits have all been recorded in several books written about those elections. Does that conduct fit into his description of “nothing to die for and nothing to live for” or was it only for a short-term gain?

    Today, Roedad Khan has become, like everyone else, an analyst and a member of civil society. Here’s a column by Roedad Khan 7 years ago, entitled “Threat to the Islamic World”:
    We are told that Pakistan would have ceased to exist if it had resisted US demands and not cooperated in the war against Afghanistan. “When you are face-to-face with a wolf, your only option is to work with it, until it becomes a pet”. Unfortunately the American wolf does not make a very good pet. There can be no friendship between the cat and the mouse. There can be no friendship between the strong and the weak or between unequals. By succumbing to American pressure, we managed to secure a temporary reprieve. But at what price? Pakistan is splattered with American fortresses, seriously compromising our internal and external sovereignty. Foreign troops stationed on our soil move in and out of the country without any let or hindrance. Pakistan has become a launching pad for military operations against neighbouring Muslim countries. We have been drawn into somebody else’s war without understanding its true dimension or ultimate objectives.

    Which was a good summary of the reasons for Roedad Khan and his kind’s (Aslam Beg, Hamid Gul, etc) break with the army from that point until Musharraf’s dismissal last year. It was not a principled break but a tactical one due to a difference in perspective which today, with the help of some unimportant leftie lawyers, has been resolved in their favour. So we should be worried. In Pakistan it doesn’t really matter what people are saying because more often than not they all talk the same old shit: about human rights, and dignity, and the glory of Islam. What matters is who is saying it, and why.

  3. rws

    yasserlatifhamdani, most of the post is simply excerpts from Roedad Khan’s own columns. I am curious if you agree with the substance of what he is saying, especially the second one. I was under the assumption that you did not consider Pakistani collaboration with the US war on terror in the same terms as Roedad Khan describes.

  4. yasserlatifhamdani

    I may or may not…. but you are twisting his point of view and I have pointed out why.

  5. rws

    Not really. You just claimed that you’ve heard him speak about democracy and consitutionalism since the 90s. Big deal. The proof of someone’s commitment to democracy is not speeches after retirement, or Hameed Gul would be the biggest democrat around. RK was Yahya Khan’s information secretary and secretary general of the interior ministry under Zia. Anyone who’s lived through the 80s will tell you that he played a very prominent role in the Zia establishment. As for the matter of election rigging under GIK, that is a quote from a Shaheen Sehbai column. Cowasjee has also written about this in several columns http://www.dawn.com/weekly/cowas/20020721.htm.

  6. yasserlatifhamdani

    All of this might be true… ostensibly one could accuse Roedad Khan of damaging the country by refusing to resign from his cushy post… as one could accuse similarly the countless other beaurucrats and civil servants… the list is endless.

    But lets take it a step further. Would you enlighten me as to the role of one Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Iskandar Mirza’s cabinet and then Ayub Khan’s cabinet…while you are at it… please also shed some light on Mr. Bhutto’s role in getting Bhashani away from the combined opposition or his role in Yahya Khan’s cabinet … or hob nobbing with the military to deny Mujeebur Rahman his rightful due?

    But Mr. Bhutto was – despite his role which is infinitely uglier than some civil servant like Roedad Khan- a great democrat and a leader of the people.

    Do you get my point? I have no reason to believe what you say anymore than I have reason to doubt Mr. Bhutto or PPP’s claims to democracy.

  7. rws

    I am afraid that your constant references to Bhutto are a complete strawman since I have not once mentioned Bhutto’s role in 71 in my post. Also going by your logic, all Pakistani politicians are to blame for a lot of things so we should never criticize anyone or take sides. Not very conducive to a political discussion!

    Anyway, why aren’t you willing to discuss the contents of Roedad Khan’s writings that I have excerpted? Specifically, let’s discuss some quotes from the last column:

    http://www.dawn.com/2002/03/08/op.htm#3

    “The notion of church and state as distinct institutions, each with its own laws, hierarchy, and jurisdiction is characteristically Christian and is alien to Islam. In Islam, religion is not, as it is in Christendom, one sector or segment of life regulating some matters and excluding others. It is concerned with the totality of life. In such a society, the very idea of separating church and state is meaningless, since these are not two separate entities to be separated.”

    Do you agree with what he’s saying here? Do you agree that someone who puts forward a view like this, not simply as a statement of Islamic history but as a prescription for the future of Pakistan, is a good ally for a leftist secular movement?

  8. RWS
    My apologies for messing up the formatting of the post. I do commend your ability to be direct and forthright.
    I support you in this mission of giving a reality check to the new civil society divas.
    regards, RR

  9. yasserlatifhamdani

    The reason I brought up Bhutto is that the country owes to the man a constitution and a truly federal party …

    The contents you’ve excerpted don’t prove anything that you want to prove. You clearly have your own vendettas… whatever they might be.

    Your claims were:

    1. Roedad Khan is corrupt.

    2. Roedad Khan is right leaning

    3. Roedad Khan is fighting for the glory of Islam.

    4. Roedad Khan is like Hamid Gul.

    And your basis for these claims are :

    1. Roedad Khan was a serving civil servant in all governments from the 1960s to 1980s.

    2. Roedad Khan advised in favor of the military operation in Bangladesh (who didn’t btw?)

    And based on this flimsy evidence, you want us to conclude that he has no right to take part in any movement based on his conscience… or worse still … you are privy to the unseen and know that Roedad Khan is the devil incarnate out to get all liberal and decent folk like yourself.

    The excerpts you produce might well have been from Tariq Ali… would he be right leaning as well?

    “The notion of church and state as distinct institutions, each with its own laws, hierarchy, and jurisdiction is characteristically Christian and is alien to Islam. In Islam, religion is not, as it is in Christendom, one sector or segment of life regulating some matters and excluding others. It is concerned with the totality of life. In such a society, the very idea of separating church and state is meaningless, since these are not two separate entities to be separated.”

    No I don’t agree with this … but that doesn’t mean I go about bad-mouthing the guy now… does it?
    Many have pointed out the lack of an organized church which may be separated from the state.

  10. rws

    ylh,
    corrupt is covered by Cowasjee and Sehbai’s columns about the kickbacks he took while heading GIK’s election cell. If you think those allegations are libelous, you need, you can take that up with those two writers. 2., 3., and 4., I conclude based on what I have read of his writing which I have excerpted here and which you refuse to comment on the substance of.

    Again, am not sure why you bring up Tariq Ali. I am extremely critical of his support of the “neo-Taliban” and Hezbollah which he deserves to never be allowed to forget in the future.

  11. yasserlatifhamdani

    Can we get to the bottomline please? Roedad should not speak about constitution and law and civil rights because

    a. He allegedly took kickbacks

    b. Was a civil servant from 1950s to 1990 give or take?

    Is that your view?

  12. rws

    This is ridiculous. I am not basing any allegations on the fact that he served in the civil service, but on his senior role in the Zia establishment, his senior role in the Yahya Khan establishment while it committed some of the most critical mis-steps in our history, his links with the GIK election cell in 1990, and most importantly on his OWN WRITINGS.

    Please read some of his columns:
    http://roedadkhan.com/dispdtls.php?CID=103
    “As we parted, I pondered over what these two young Taleban had to say. There is obviously a yearning among the people, especially the poor, the lumpen proletariat, for a true Islamic society, a haven in the words of Shariati, for the plundered and the oppressed. Therein lies the danger to the established order. It is becoming increasingly clear that Islam with its own code of egalitarianism, morality, economic and social justice is emerging as a challenge to liberal democracy, narrow nationalism, socialism and military dictatorship which have all been tried in different Muslim countries and found wanting. Will it be the scholastic, institutionalized, fossilized Islam co-opted by corrupt rulers or the true, dynamic, pristine, revolutionary Islam of its early years with its emphasis on egalitarianism, social justice and accountability? The answer will affect the course of history and politics in the entire Islamic world. We have to wait and see.”

    This column:
    http://roedadkhan.com/dispdtls.php?CID=110

    written after the Musharraf coup is also worth reading in its entirety for its passive acceptance of the military’s role in politics as well as how unrealistic it is to expect the judiciary to stand up to a military dictator. Amazing how he’s changed his tune since then, right? You have to wonder why.

    Here’s another column lambasting “liberal democracy” as a failure in the Islamic world:
    http://roedadkhan.com/dispdtls.php?CID=79
    “Today the number of choices that are available to Muslims are fast diminishing. Hereditary monarchy, narrow nationalism, socialism, military dictatorship, liberal (and illiberal) democracy have all been tried in different Islamic countries and found wanting. Islam – not the scholastic, institutionalized, fossilized Islam coopted by corrupt rulers – but the true, dynamic, pristine, revolutionary Islam of its early years with its emphasis on equality, egalitarianism, social justice and accountability is emerging as a challenge to western concepts of governance, and is perceived by the west and the Muslim elite as the greatest threat to the established order based on exploitation, injustice and inequality of opportunity. It is now abundantly clear that the west, in its own interest, will not allow the emergence of truly Islamic governments anywhere in the Islamic world.”

  13. yasserlatifhamdani

    We’ve already discussed why the “senior position” argument is not a valid one.

    As with your criticism of Imran Khan (I am guessing it was you), your criticism here of Mr. Khan’s writing seems to be ironic.

    I don’t agree with Roedad Khan’s idea of an “islamic government” but I read the article you linked here and he is clearly not speaking of Mullah-inspired scholastic straitjacket.

  14. rws

    “As with your criticism of Imran Khan (I am guessing it was you), your criticism here of Mr. Khan’s writing seems to be ironic”

    How was my quoting of Imran Khan openly calling for Shariah in Pakistan and Swat “ironic”? It’s not my fault that you choose to ignore the substance of what people say and write in favour of their current stance on the lawyer’s movement.

  15. yasserlatifhamdani

    It is ironic because you criticize Imran Khan for his stance on Swat but not the parties actually responsible for it.

    It is you who shoots the substance for the form. Imran Khan’s quote about “sharia” in general was revolutionary because he refused to accept the existing Islamic schools of thought. Similarly what Mr. Roedad Khan says speaks of the substance not form while I may not agree with it…

    You on the other hand want to show them up to be Islamists or taliban when they clearly are not.

    The result is polarization…which is why we are where we are.

  16. rws

    yasser,

    I really feel like this argument is just going around in circles. I don’t know what you mean about substance vs. form. I am just quoting what Roedad Khan has said and what Imran Khan said. Both of their views sound extremely right-wing to me. Maybe you are willing to cut them a bit more slack because they don’t look like mullahs and are from an elite background.