Author Archives: iFaqeer

About iFaqeer

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Whither the PPP?

In all the angst that is turning up in the chattering and protesting classes in Pakistan, one question is coming up pretty often: whatever happened to the PPP? Others express a complete disdain for it. And I don’t want to sound naive; the PPP and its founders and others since have done much to deserve all the reactions they get: both positive and negative.

But too often today, too many people talk only of Zardari. Or, if they want to discuss politics just a wee bit more, of the group that was close to BB herself as the counterpoint. But the PPP today remains the largest grouping in the country and, as such, consists of, and has always consisted of, a coalition of groups. It was set up as a left-of-center vehicle that, if you believe some of the very first die-hards, very rapidly was dominated (taken over, if you believe some folks) by the personality of the charismatic (evil genius, if you believe others) of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. There were the left-of-center (and some outright “Left”) activists. There were the urbane, well-read, (and, in some cases, most nobtably and visibly nowadays Aitzaz Ahsan) Leftist lawyers and intellectuals. There were the gritty, “awami” activits, not least those from Karachi’s Lyari section and it’s Afro-Pakistani/Baloch community, but others as well. There are the Sindhi nationalists, both inside and, on-and-off, supporting from the outside. And, of course, there were those who were just taken by the charisma of the man–either because he convinced them that he would carry their causes to victory or because of the sheer electric power of his personality. And there were other such components–not least the professional politicians, the feudal lords, the industry-walas, and the military folks that hitched their stars with a rising star. The opportunists, if you will.
The amazing thing is how long the coalition that Zulfi built has lasted. I often tell the story of a colleague of my father’s (they were both college professors) who, in the late 80’s still had a larger-than-life picture of the man in his “drawing room”, even as he shook his head with disappointment written all over his face and said “He had such a dynamic start; but power went to his head. For a man who had risen on street power to get to where he said ‘I can crush street power with state power’…”
The morning after Benazir was assasinated, I was on KQED San Francisco’s Public Radio Station and halfway into the discussion, after everyone had discussed the personality of the heir not-quite-apparent,Makhdoom Amin Fahim, and the modalities of how a successor will be picked, I had to pull everyone back and say, “Wait a minute; y’all are forgetting one person. The husband. He’s paid his dues; spent a decade in jail (whatever the conditions of his incarceration)–and he has always been a smarter person–and speaks much better English–than caricatures of his have given him credit for.”
Of course, we all know what happened next. To cut a long story short, Zardari took over the party at the head of the opportunist wing, and that wing is now dominant.
Personally, in terms of discussing the internal dynamics of the PPP, I think what is interesting to follow is whether the Uncles (Mirani and that generation that worked directly with ZAB), or the Young Turks (the above-mentioned Amin F & Co., which, as in the case of Amin Faheem himself quite literally, are either children of that first generation, or younger people who joined later) or the Leftist Lawyers (the aforesaid Aitzaz, et al), or anyone else can throw up a leader that can bring together and hold a coalition…
Otherwise, as I also often say, it might be time to build a new political movement, a new coalition in Pakistan; something that has only been done twice since indepence–once by Mr. Bhutto himself, and once, on a regional level, by Altaf Hussain and the MQM…but more on that another time.
[First published at]


Filed under Benazir Bhutto, movements, Pakistan, Politics

30 Years Since the Iranian Revolution

The 30th anniversary of Khomeini’s return to Iran should be something we all take the time to reflect upon. From thinking about what the role of the US–and the West generally–has been in Persia, (supporting the Shah; hosting Khomeini…), to what the Iranian model and experience says about what the possibilities are in Pakistan, to what neo-purist interpretations of Islam have meant for the world at large today, the list is endless.

Here’s a flashback from a BBC journalist:

[First published at]


Filed under Colonialism, Democracy, History, Islam, Islamism, Politics, Religion, World

Erdovan, Davos, and Dealing with Israel

This mornings Stratfor Podcast is titled “Erdovan’s Davos Walkout Lays Down the Marker“. I haven’t heard it yet (hoping to, on the exercise machine), but just from that title, you can see one thing: the recognition of Israel has been anathema in the Muslim world, but if you had wondered if any good could ever come out of recognizing them, this is it. The fact that Turkey is seen in the Western World as a “moderate” Muslim state and has respect for being one of very few Muslim states to recognize Israel gives Erdogan’s action much more weight than, say, a Pakistani or Indonesian leader doing the same. I am not saying Pakistan should up and recognize Israel, but it’s something for Pakistanis to think about in the debate of whether and when to think about “normalizing” relations.

Folks not related to Pakistan might ask: Why Pakistan, specifically? Why not Saudi Arabia, or Indonesia? Well, Pakistan IS the 2nd largest Muslim nation in the world–and it’s not Arab, and it’s the only nuclear power in the Muslim world. Not to mention that ideologically and socially, it’s a center of much that happens and affects the rest of the world–both Muslim and otherwise. This IS the “most dangerous country in the world” if we are to believe the conventional wisdom in the West; this is the “training ground of terrorists”, no? Of course, it is a country I identify with (together with the US and Nigeria), and therefore it’s my job to raise the issue in its context; others can chime in with the view from their corner of the globe.


Filed under Pakistan, World

My Brother Barack Hussain Speaks to Al Arabiya

When my son started First Grade, come the start of African-American History Month, he coolly informed his (predominantly East and South Asian) classmates that his otherwise very Pakistani-looking, and sounding “dad is an African-American”. I do not remember ever having used that phrase within earshot of him. But he knows that I was born in same region of Africa that is the origin of most of the people who came to this country as slaves. And thus I came to this country as an African-born grad student much like Barack Obama Sr.

So don’t get me wrong; I love my brother Barack Hussain. I have been following his presidential ambitions almost form first buzz around a possible run–and have discussed it in my blogging and even Urdu podcasting. I am joyous at seeing him in the White House. To repeat the cliche, it tells me that my now 8-year old son and, even more possibly, my 4-year old daughter can really follow in his footsteps.

And I am actually one person who did NOT hold his staying mum even about the events in Gaza over the last month or so against him. Speaking out would only have used up political capital that he didn’t need to spend for no substantial gain. Whichever way he chose to lean, it would have have cost him; either in terms of political support at home, or in goodwill that he still has on “the Muslim street”.

But when my brother Barack Hussain says: Continue reading


Filed under Politics, USA

The World is a Circular Firing Squad

There’s a line in one of the greatest “Bollywood” classics, written by the scions of a couple of the greatest South Asian literary families–sons of Urdu poets, to be precise–and delivered by a minor but unforgettable character, “Surma Bhopali” that goes “Yahaan hamaaree kya zaroorath hai; yahaan tho waisay hee aap kay naam ka warrant nikla huwa hai.” [Who needs me? There’s already a warrant out for your arrest.]

And that’s the thought that’s being going through my head as South Asia spirals downwards, some folks caution against jumping to conclusions, and others rally for peace. And I include the arguments over “Islamists did it. No, wait! Let’s not jump to conclusions; it could be home grown!…” in that

How is it realistic to look at everything as either-or? The mess South Asia is in–not to mention the rest of the world–there’s enough blame to go around. Neo-purist fanatics (our Islamist/Jihadists; their Sanghis; our–speaking from North America–Christian and Jewish fanatics); civilizing imperialists; ethnic militants (Sena, MQM, racists of white and other hue); everybody’s jingoistic nationalists; everybody’s military-industrial-intelligence complexes…all feed off each other. In some cases, they work with each other. Just for example, Is it too much of a stretch to believe that what is happening in Karachi (in case either of you missed it) is being helped along by Indian Intelligence (and who knows who else) as a counterpoint to what they see as Pakistani Intelligence “doing Mumbai”? From where I sit, what’s happening in the NW of Pakistan also has elements of a turf battle.

And as we all participate in this circular firing squad–including the agonizing over Muslims being targeted or profiled–the folks I list above make leaps and bounds in the struggle for the hearts and minds of their respective target constituencies…

And PS: how many noticed there were riots in the prettiest town in Africa’s largest nation, too? Rally anyone?

Cross-posted on the iFaqeer, Wadiblog,, Pak Tea House, Urdu ke Naam, Doodpatti (by Tohfay) blogs.
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Filed under FATA, India, Islam, Islamism, Karachi, Pakistan, Politics, Society, south asia, Terrorism, Urdu, USA, violence, war

Who Cares about Education in Pakistan?

You know, it’s a good time to talk about education in Pakistan–especially with the op-ed in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristoff a couple of days ago that’s been so much the talk of the Pakistani chatterosphere (online and off) since.
But this morning, the talk of the town is a piece of news that the Chief Justice (not Iftikhar Chaudhry, the person currently occupying that office) used his influence to get his daughter’s grades/marks in High School “improved”, to give her a better shot at various things one wants to do after High School and which are based, in Pakistan, often even more on that performance than it is in other places. [I pretty much started my journalistic career with a piece about that process; back in … oh, another lifetime.]
As usual, you can read a good intro to the topic by Dr. Adil Najam on He also quotes, in full, the editorial from The News that he very aptly calls “even more dramatic than the story itself“.
Now, since Education in Pakistan was pretty much the family business in my parents’ generation, and having spent an agonizing 7 years at the receiving end of the government-run part of it myself, I have only one comment on the whole brouhaha; and to express it, I can only quote, with a small amendment, Amrita Pritam‘s tour de force:
ik ro’ee si dhi Punjab dhee thoon lakh-lakh maray veen;
jub lak-haan dhiyaan rondhiyaan tho kith-hay Waris Shah?

[One daughter of Punjab wept, and you wept millions of tears;
When thousands weep, where are you to be found Waris Shah?]
Why is this specific case of malfeasance news? Our education system was all hunky-dory till now? I remember one particular time in my own life, the night before an exam at the end of 12th grade when it first hit me up-front, and personally, where it really hurt, how messed up the system was–and I was doing rather well in it till then. But back then, I was just the son of a Professor in the sarkari system; I as just a middle-class kid in a middle class neighbourhood. Today, well, today, you’re reading my blog post, and The News, and Naeem Sadiq–who, like I do now, lives “uptown”–and all the nice English-medium Brown Saahibs Imran Khan talks about, and maybe even the New York Times, care about the system that none of them or their kids partake in. [Which reminds me of another story, but I’ve gotta get back to my day job.]


Cross-posted on the, Pak Tea House, Doodpatti, by Tohfay blogs.
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Filed under Education, Justice, Law, lawyers movement, movements, Pakistan, Politics, Society, state

Zardari Meets Palin; a Different Take

I am not sure I completely agree with, or endorse the thought, but this bears quoting. It’s something Nowsherwan Yasin said on a mailing list this morning about the whole Zardari hits on Palin brouhaha (in case you’ve not followed it, check out the post and discussion Teeth Maestro’s blog here.):

Although I agree that such statements are inappropriate in foreign relations, I can’t help but see an unintentional advantage (of sorts) of Pakistani chauvinism in dealing with such a character. The politically correct, hidden misogyny of the American politician really has no answer for the snide, smart @ss, belittling demeanor that Palin seems to exhibit. She reminds me of the typical sitcom girlfriend, you know the one that will not let passive guy X go out with his friends and Y humiliating him to a laugh track, constantly nagging and yelping without any real knowledge of anything.

But good old sexism, in societies where it is acceptable, such as Pakistan, provides a trump card.

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Filed under Democracy, Pakistan, Politics