Phenomenon of decline

By Mubarak Ali

IN world history the rise and decline of a civilisation is a fascinating subject. However, there are different yardsticks to measure the rise and decline of a nation. In modern times, with increasing knowledge of history, experts as well as common people can judge the condition of their society by comparing it with others.

For example, a comprehensive study of Muslim societies shows how different periods saw the rise of the Arabs, the Turks, and the Persians and how they declined one after another. Their accumulated decline is called the decline of the Muslim world.

On the other hand, there is the rise of the western civilisation which ultimately dominated the world. How did one civilisation decline while the other rose to its height? The intellectuals, mainly in the Muslim world, are debating this question and trying to find the right answer. At the same time efforts are also being made to find a way to get out of the circle of decline and compete with the developed world by adopting different models in order to catch up with the West.

Intellectuals present two models for change in Muslim society. One model is the western: it means to pass through the same stages the western society went through, that is, Renaissance, Reformation, and Industrial Revolution. The West liberated itself from the stranglehold of the church which used to completely dominate every aspect of its life. The Renaissance scholars not only learned from Greek and Roman knowledge but created their own ideas and thoughts and changed the basic concepts of art, literature, painting, sculpture, and education. The total result of their philosophy was humanism which meant that man was the master of his own destiny. It denied divine intervention in human affairs. Subsequently, it gave confidence to man that he could change the world for his betterment not depending on any external force. That followed radical change in every aspect of life. It was a triumph of reason which unleashed intellectual creativity in Europe.

The next important movement was Reformation. It not only brought reforms in the church but created nationalism which later on strengthened national identity and pride of national culture. It ended the universal domination of the church and replaced it with the concept of a nation-state.

Industrial Revolution was the result of scientific and technological inventions. It transformed feudalism into the industrial age where ethics of work and merit played an important role in energising society. Further more, it promoted democratic values and individualism which changed the formation of the European society.

The question now is: can the Muslim society follow this model? Those who are its protagonists repeatedly claim that there is Renaissance in the Muslim society. They also urge that Islam should be reformed and reconstructed on the same lines as happened with Christianity. They also believe that industrialisation is the panacea for all our problems – the only solution to get rid of feudalism and inaugurate a new era of progress.

However, it is not possible to follow this model. First of all, movements are products of specific time and space. The same model cannot be repeated exactly in a newer spatio-temporal context. Secondly, the structure of every society is different as it has different values and traditions and while one can learn from the experience of others, one cannot exactly repeat its experiments.

Muslim society cannot accept the concept of humanism in which man becomes the master of his own destiny and refuses any divine intervention in worldly affairs. Similarly, Muslim society cannot apply the method of Reformation as it has no institution like the church. In the absence of any higher religious institution, it is well nigh impossible to reform religion. Then comes industrialisation; It is possible to set up factories and produce commodities, but if the intellectual condition of society remains backward, mere industry cannot change the basic structure of a society.

Antithetical to this is a model from the religious scholars who claim that the Muslim society can solve its problem by reviving its past. When they talk about the past, they have two pasts in mind. One is the past of the early period where religion created an ideal life. The other past is the past of the Umayyad, the Abbasid, the Ottomans, the Safavids and the Mughals who glorified Muslims by conquests. The question is how to revive these past models?

A general response is that these objectives can be achieved by implementing true Islamic teachings. Efforts are made by puritans as well as modernists to review and reconstruct Islam in order to respond to the challenges of the modern world. So far all these attempts have failed. We must keep this in mind that revivalism is just an illusion. Never has such a thing ever happened in history.

Some Muslim countries tried the socialist model by mixing it either with religion or with nationalism. As this method was used by dictators to perpetuate their own rules, it ended miserably without changing the fate of the common people.

This leads us to the question: should we find a third model of our own to reform and reconstruct our battered and fragmented societies and evolve a system which could help us rid ourselves of the present backwardness? Do we have such intellectuals who can give us a new formula acceptable to our society? I leave this question open for experts to respond.

Much to be sorry for

THE allegations could not have been much more serious. The official reassurances could hardly have been more authoritative; nor could they have been more emphatically repeated. Jack Straw, the then foreign secretary, was the first senior minister to make them.

At the end of 2005 he told MPs that no cases had been discovered in which British territory or airspace had been used by the United States to transport prisoners between jurisdictions where torture or other illegal forms of detention or treatment might be practised on them. A few weeks later Mr Straw repeated his assurance that no such “renditions” had happened under the Bush administration.

Early last year Tony Blair added his weight to the accumulating denials. The US had not rendered any individual through the UK or its overseas territories in the period since 9/11, the then prime minister told the intelligence and security committee. The committee duly accepted these high-level assurances.

End of story? Sadly not. On Friday, at least three years after concerns first began to circulate about US rendition policy and about the possible involvement of UK territory and airspace, we learned that all those senior ministerial assurances were wrong. The foreign secretary, David Miliband, announced to MPs that new American researches show that there have, after all, been two such cases.

Both took place in 2002, when US flights carrying detainees stopped to refuel at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Neither of the men was British or a British resident. Neither of them, according to the US, has been tortured or subjected to practices such as the now infamous “water-boarding.” One of the two –– both are still officially unidentified –– remains in the US detention centre at Guantánamo Bay. The other has been released –– and may have a case against the UK for our passing participation in his legally dubious treatment.

Mr Miliband said he was disappointed at having to make the admission. Disappointment is surely an understatement. Embarrassment and even shame might be more appropriate words. After all, ministers in this government have enjoyed famously close relations with their US counterparts. Friday’s revelation apparently took place because the Americans are keenly aware of the British public’s sensitivities.

Why, it must be asked, has the US waited until now to reveal what has been going on? Why have all those official requests from London failed to elicit the truth until now? How serious were the original inquiries on which the earlier assurances were based? It is not just disappointing when ministers repeatedly mislead parliament. It is unacceptable and wrong.

The foreign secretary now says he will compile a list of all the flights “where we have been alerted to concerns regarding rendition through the UK or our overseas territories”. The list will be put to the US for item-by-item assurances. The results will be published and announced to MPs. Why could all this not have been done before? It is hard not to suspect that ministers, here and in Washington, simply lacked the will. Mr Miliband’s willingness to search out and tell the truth is refreshing. But these things could and should have happened long ago.

If the statement Mr Miliband had been made when Sir Menzies Campbell first asked about rendition in 2005, it is a fair bet there would have been louder Commons ructions. — The Guardian, London

Aftermath of NWFP polls

By Khadim Hussain

FOR several decades the NWFP, especially the districts in the north and south, has remained a flashpoint of religious radicalism, terrorist activities and extremist tendencies. Several analysts writing about extremism and terrorism in the province have dubbed the Pashtuns ‘ultra-conservative’ and those who ‘can be easily lured by the Taliban and Al Qaeda’.

The Feb 18 elections in Pakistan vindicate this writer’s contention that most Pashtuns are neither extremists nor terrorists. If anything, they are liberal and secular in nature. Small wonder, the Awami National Party, a secular nationalist party with liberal democratic credentials, achieved a landslide victory in the districts of Swat, Buner, Dir, Peshawar, Swabi, Charsadda and Mardan and performed well in the southern districts of the province. These areas were previously considered the stronghold of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, a religio-political alliance, which had swept the 2002 general elections in the NWFP.

In the aftermath of the MMA victory in the 2002 election militancy and religious radicalism increased considerably in the area. Maulana Fazlullah in Swat, Abdullah and Baitullah Mehsud in Waziristan and Faqir Mohammad in Bajaur Agency started to actively engage in extremist activities that brought the entire state machinery to a standstill.

The MMA government in Peshawar started to block the federal government’s way to prevent it from acting against the armed militants. The MMA also allowed the militants to move around freely by posting those officials in the volatile regions whose sympathies lay with the religious militants.

The Musharraf regime adopted an ambivalent policy vis-à-vis the Taliban. The MMA extended tacit support to religious militancy and the large scale deprivation of the people of NWFP and Balochistan gave impetus to the militant activities of the Taliban. This process helped create an ‘ultra-conservative’ and ‘extremist’ image of the Pashtuns.

Moreover, the spill-over effect of the Afghan war, the Saudi support for Wahabi madressahs throughout the province and the centralised nature of the federation added fuel to the fire so much so that perhaps the most peaceful valley of the country, Swat, became the hub of armed militants for more than a year. The turmoil, though reduced to a great extent, is still a challenge for the government.

Several observers believed that religious radicalism in the province was of a nationalistic nature and has been sustained by the Pashtun culture of resistance. According to them the American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq has fuelled the uprising in the frontier. Both these assumptions were proved wrong in the aftermath of Feb 2008 polls in Pakistan.

The US is still fighting the Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan but the verdict of the people did not go in favour of those who have been challenging American intervention in Afghanistan. The status of the ‘war on terror’ has not changed even a whit but the majority of the Pashtuns in the NWFP voted for those political entities whose stance is clearly against the Talibanisation of this region.

The majority of Pashtuns rejected the thesis that the core of their identity is constructed on the foundations of a narrow worldview. The ANP victory will compel analysts to revise their views on Pashtun nationalism and religious identity and look at them in a fresh perspective. The Pashtuns in the NWFP have given this simple message to the world that they must not be equated with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The crucial questions that now arise are: will the ANP be able to form a stable government in the province? Will the newly formed government be able to address the fundamental issues of federalism, religious militancy and the ‘war on terror’? Will the ANP government in the NWFP be able to initiate substantial economic activity in the province to alleviate poverty? Will the officials of the newly formed government have the capacity to provide social services, like education and healthcare, in an efficient manner? Will the ANP leadership be able to prove their acumen in planning development activities and the resource management of the province? Will the newly formed government be able to decentralise power and devolve it to the district level? How will the newly formed government develop an inbuilt accountability process? In a nutshell, will the ANP be able to implement its manifesto in letter and spirit?

The future of the ANP and the rest of the progressive and liberal forces will largely depend on the important questions raised above. Asfandiyar Wali Khan, the president of ANP, talked about his vision for the new government right after the results of the elections had been declared. He said that his party would head the next government in the NWFP and that he was prepared to form a government in alliance with those who agreed with the ANP’s three point agenda.

The agenda includes the issue of federalism to empower the federating units, fighting terrorism, and renaming the NWFP province. It seems the ANP leadership is aware of the crucial problems being faced by the Pashtuns in the length and breadth of the Pashtun belt. They probably know the fact that the Pashtuns need a modern democratic society to live in and they need vision, planning and an action plan.

The victory of the ANP in the elections is a first step to a prosperous, progressive and democratic Pashtunkhwa. Whether the ANP leadership will be able to meet the expectations of the majority of the Pashtuns is something to be seen in the coming months and years. The leadership of ANP seems to have started institutionalising its internal party structure which will go a long way to help the newly formed government in the province in achieving the goals of a modern, democratic and prosperous Pashtun society.

The writer is a socio-political analyst based in Islamabad.

Dung versus kalashnikov

By Abbas Jalbani

THE Jiyala who coined the simple and catchy slogan ‘Jeay Bhutto’ (Long Live Bhutto) did not know that not only will this catchphrase become more popular and durable than the Pakistan People’s Party’s popular slogan – ‘roti, kapra aur makan’ (bread, clothing and shelter) – but would ultimately become the war cry of the people of Pakistan.

After the judicial murder of the PPP founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in the dark days of General Ziaul Haq’s martial law, ‘Jeay Bhutto’ assumed a new meaning and was correlated with other symbolic slogans of ‘Zinda hay Bhutto zinda hay’ (Bhutto is alive, Bhutto is alive) and ‘Tum kitnay Bhutto maro gay, har ghar say Bhutto niklay ga’ (How many Bhuttos will you kill, a Bhutto will emerge from every house).

Two decades later, after the shadowy assassination of Mr Bhutto’s daughter during the undeclared martial law of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, these slogans acquired a new force, particularly in the interior of Sindh.

When a lacklustre electioneering resumed after the chehlum of Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistan Muslim League candidates found themselves in a very awkward situation in rural Sindh. Whenever they dared venture into any area which was not their stronghold – and they have only a few – defiant masses stopped their highly-guarded convoys of four-wheelers and double-cabin pick-ups, shouting ‘Jeay Bhutto’ and forcing the Leaguers to raise the same slogan. On their refusal, the wretched of the earth attacked the vehicles of the feudal lords with sticks, stones and, if they found nothing else, with wet cow dung.

“This dung is more powerful than a bullet,” says Dr Inayat Magsi of the Chandka Medical College, who compares the defiance of the Sindhi people to the spirit of Algerian freedom fighters and says had Frantz Fanon been alive, he would have written another book on violence as oppressed people’s power.

Just imagine a mighty ‘wadera’ staring at an angry mob of barefooted subjects surrounding his Pajero and then a handful of dung being splashed on its windscreen. This has happened to bigwigs like former federal minister Liaquat Jatoi, former provincial minister Murtaza Jatoi and, with no disrespect, former Sindh chief minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim. There have been ‘retaliatory killings’ of one PPP worker each in Dadu and Nawabshah and injuries to many.

Therefore it was feared that the polling might lead to a bloodbath but fortunately it did not. Though security arrangements did not seem to be aimed at preventing it and may be because people like Liaquat Jatoi had gauged the intensity of the people’s wrath.

“The masses ‘avenged’ Benazir Bhutto’s murder by voting for her party and against its opponents and supporters of President Musharraf. It was massive and pre-planned rigging through which Leaguers and other PPP rivals managed to grab a few seats,” says Rahim Bukhsh Jafri of Shikarpur. Giving an example, the National Party leader who had actively supported PPP in the election, says: “Shikarpur saw unprecedented rigging of its history, particularly in Lakhi Ghulam Shah area. The Leaguers took control of most polling booths and disturbed or suspended the polling process at others. We informed the Rangers about this but they did nothing.”

“But this was possible due to the typical tribal composition of Shikarpur”, Jafri says and adds that as entire Sindh is not Shikarpur where people were not allowed to exercise their right of franchise without any fear, the province voted for PPP.

Imdad Chandio, assistant professor at Shah Latif University’s International Affairs department, says that people have voted against the existing political order. “Against President Musharraf”, adds a progressive farmer of Khairpur. “The election must lead to the removal of President Musharraf and the restoration of an independent judiciary otherwise the whole exercise will go in vain.”

A former PPP MPA also shares these feelings. “Party cadres do not want the PPP to work with President Musharraf and his allies,” she says.

But the million dollar question is whether the PPP can afford to ignore the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in government formation even if it does not need its support for this purpose.

The split mandate of Sindh clearly shows that like ever before since the 1988 elections, rural Sindh has voted for a democratic dispensation and urban Sindh for a system supported by a dictator. Where are those classicists who believe that cities stand for progressive thought and villages for retrogressive ideology?

© DAWN Media Group , 2008


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