Monday, August 14, 2017

Diagonally different lessons learnt at Vienna and Kyoto

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan belongs to a Lahore based Think Tank.


Diagonally different lessons learnt at Vienna and Kyoto

“Oh God, save me from the devil and the Turk”. Popular prayer in the European churches of medieval ages.

In 1683 Ottoman Khilafat was at its peak of power spread across Asia, Africa and Europe. It had already conquered nearly half of Europe and had eyes on the “Golden Apple” Vienna, the greatest city of continental Europe after Rome. Apart from prestige trade routes would be attained bringing financial and political benefits. Europe was divided in religious wars after reformation and had clipped the wings of clergy restraining it from interfering in political matters. On top of it Vienna had just suffered a terrible endemic of plague causing enormous loss of life and suffering. Right time to strike. No wonder Khalifa Sultan Mehmet chose his brilliant Grand Vizier Kara Mustapha Pasha for this noble cause and provided him with war resources abundantly. Marching towards Vienna with over 150 thousand brave men apparently the fate of city was sealed, it was only a matter of time and the Golden Apple would fall in the lap of the great general. Some portions of society had already started preparations of celebrations.

Fate had other plans and it turned otherwise. German and Polish help arrived in time while Ottomans became complacent due to over confidence and got beat badly despite numerical superiority. Now Europeans were the aggressors and Turks the defenders and this scenario lasted centuries.

Such a disastrous debacle was taken seriously by the Sultan and Turkish society. Causes of this tragedy were investigated and conclusions drawn. To begin with death penalty was given to the Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha. Being heavily influenced by Muslim Clergy the causes enumerated in medieval Turkish wisdom were about distance from religion and non adherence to the tenants of Islam specially regularity of prayers 5 times a day. Lack of jazba and longing for martyrdom (shahadat), and love for this world were also identified as reasons for this disaster and instilling more of them in the younger generation was recommended through education and indoctrination. In short, closer adherence to the past was recommended and modernity or change was discouraged. These recommendations were followed with zeal all over the empire.

Around 170 years later in 1853 US Commodore Mathew Perry went to a secluded sleepy island nation of Japan still living in the feudal age and threatened it with big ships and fire power. Japanese were wary of foreigners and guarded their borders but its sovereignty was under threat and the proud Japanese were humbled. They had already seen what technology; dependant on education could do to its powerful big neighbor, China. Opium wars had just concluded in 1840s and China was humiliated and forced to buy opium from powerful Europeans and let them destroy its generations.

Foreseeing this tragic fate, Japanese conceded to Perry’s demands and bought time to think and face reality.

During this turmoil a young teenager Prince Matsuhito became Emperor Meiji and transformed the society. Causes for Japan’s weaknesses were explored, identified and recommendations for its remedy enumerated. It was called Charter oath which was signed on 7th April 1868 with 767 prominent signatories and it changed Japan for ever.

“By this oath, we set up as our aim the establishment of the national wealth on a broad basis and the framing of a constitution and laws.
1.     Deliberative assemblies shall be widely established and all matters decided by open discussion.
2.     All classes, high and low, shall be united in vigorously carrying out the administration of affairs of state.
3.     The common people, no less than the civil and military officials, shall all be allowed to pursue their own calling so that there may be no discontent.
4.     Evil customs of the past shall be broken off and everything based upon the just laws of Nature.
5.     Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of imperial rule.”
Books can be written about Meiji revolution but I will try to summarize,
  1. Class system was abolished.
  2. Modern education was promoted and knowledge was gathered from across the globe.
  3. Military was reformed and nationwide conscription instituted.
  4. Economy was industrialized.
  5. Rational way of thinking was promoted.
Sitting comfortably in the twenty first century enjoying the luxuries the Sultans and Emperors couldn’t imagine, observing the effects of these two diagonally different approaches make a very interesting study.
Turkey then a world power, started retreating and this retreat lasted over 200 years. In those 200 years Turkey was repeatedly beaten and humiliated by different Christian nations ultimately labeled as the sick man of Europe. It was only after the young Turks took over during the First World War and fought very hard that ultimately a small Turkey survived, a shadow of the original one.

Much of Muslim world which was being led by Turkish Khilafat was regularly humiliated and subjugated until all but 2 Muslim nations became European colonies. The 2 exceptions were also hardly sovereign.

Muslims who once led the world in sciences, arts and other fields lagged behind other nations with negligible contribution allowing critics to claim the Islamic contribution towards humanity in last 500 years was insignificant.

The entire Islamic world today is unstable and nearly an international pariah suspected and demeaned.

I won’t go and further and let the reader find his/her own realities.

On the contrary Emperor Meiji’s steps resulted in a totally different Japan. In short term during Meiji’s reign Japan won wars against Chinese and Russians and in the Second World War they made the world’s super power go through the biggest embarrassment in surrender of Singapore. Unfortunately they associated with the colonial powers and not their Asian neighbors.

After the terrible defeat and destruction of the world war Japan resurrected from its ashes and within no time became a world economic giant beating the west in its own playing field, industry. In these achievements it finally broke the aura of the white man helping all non whites giving the message that it’s not race but rationality and hard work that makes you effective and successful.

Ultimately Japan today is richer, more prosperous than the west and somewhat enjoys the kind of status the Europeans enjoyed in Asia a hundred years back, everyone enticing them to invest in their country.

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. History can’t be changed but certainly learnt from. I think it is imperative that every Pakistani child must be taught these two great events that changed the course of history for ever.

We must teach our younger generation true history and not the fancy war stories my generation was fed with giving a strange confusing message. That is if we want to change the four hundred years old direction of history.

“Yeh ummat rivayat mein kho gayi
Haqeeqat kharafat mein kho gayi”

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Pakistani establishment coming of age

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan belongs to a Lahore based Think Tank.


Establishment coming of age

The great Pakistani conspiracy of silence 1985-2016

Competition for power between establishment and the political class is neither new nor restricted to Pakistan alone. It is present everywhere in the world including old democracies, though a bit subtle and played with stricter rules. In Pakistan right at the time of independence the state institutions which were loyally serving the foreign imperialists within no time became the guardians of the new nation. Initially Pakistani establishment was dominated by the civil bureaucracy and the first cabinet mostly consisted of bureaucrats at important posts which at that time seemed a natural thing and was not opposed politically. It was in 1958 that the uniformed bureaucracy finally displaced the civil bureaucracy ultimately prevailing over it as the senior partner.

To strengthen their grip on power Pakistani establishment took many steps to discredit and malign their competitors, the politicians. They were labeled incompetent and corrupt and many honest and competent politicians were humbled and disgraced by the establishment through dubious tribunal like (EBDO) specifically made for this purpose. Interestingly the first such politician maligning tribunal PRODA was created by politicians themselves in 1949 for their opposition.

Later in 1969 uniformed establishment after sufficiently subduing the polity focused on the civil bureaucracy and cut it to size by dismissing 303 thoroughly belittling them. These officers had enjoyed immense aura, the kind gora sahibs had earlier.
Then came Bhutto with huge public support with potential to subdue the powerful establishment of all kinds like a whirlwind. He was dealt with severely by the establishment and removed from the scene. Bhuttos violent removal created a huge vacuum in the political scene.

Lacunas and vacuums don’t exist in nature and soon they get filled. Our establishment created a class of weak and pliable politicians with questionable integrity to fill this vacuum. Allegations of corruption and ineptitude made politicians vulnerable hence more pliable allowing establishment to control them while opportunity to ridicule them was an additional benefit. Naturally such politicians were preferred and nurtured.

Ultimately this tirade with lots of efforts resulted in creating strange icons, Altaf Hussain in Karachi and Nawaz Shariff in Punjab to neutralize Bhutto’s popular appeal. It worked beautifully for the purpose it was made but brought new set of problems, extreme violence in Karachi and corruption in the rest of the country. These were natural consequences , after all what else could be expected by progenitors of Operation Changa Manga where political class was openly traded with blessings of the state apparatus and a political party installed by guns provided again by the state. It got so bad that politicians of pre military era started looking like saints while corruption and violence became the norm.

It couldn’t go on like this and had to be corrected.

The deep state at different times dealt with politicians with brute force lacking tact making them heroes in the process. Mujeeb was made a hero after Agartala case resulting in the Bangladesh disaster. Even Bhuttos judicial murder couldn’t dampen his appeal and his daughter came to power riding the wave of support for her father. Nawaz after being ousted by Musharraf came back to power with great public support after years of exile.

A conspiracy of silence prevailed from 1985 till the of Panama papers exposing corruption of our rulers they had vehemently denied. Everyone was aware of use of politics and violence for monetary gains but remained silent. Even Gen Musharraf after uncovering mega corruption cases preferred to use them for his political blackmailing instead of pursuing it in the courts.

Then came the realization a few years back that in its tirade to secure power establishment had created unaffordable monsters in the last 36 years who had become too powerful and well entrenched. The establishment had created them, made them to prevail and only establishment could dislodge them although at a price and a series of events started.

Then we started seeing coming of age of the establishment and a change in its strategy. Instead of brute use of force subtle manipulations of media and judiciary were used to disseminate and wet the information everyone knew already. Silence gave way to stories of violence and corruption of super rich politicians. Support and physical security was provided to those brave enough to stand up to these post Zia politicians with all their violence and corruption.

After years of efforts Altaf Hassain’s wings were clipped slowly and gradually. For years highly educated, decent people couldn’t dare to criticize Altaf Hussain who wasn’t healthy physically or otherwise. His speeches were absolute mockery of decency and rationality but he would get away with them for a quarter century. It took a long time and many people died in the process but ultimately Altaf was made irrelevant and on the way to political oblivion.

Then came the turn to Asif Zardari tragically using Bhuttos legacy, and months after threatening the establishment he was forced into his senses and is now vehemently trying to oblige and earn a pardon. It is surprising to see a man with Zardari’s past and credentials standing up against the state, needs some brazenness.

Nawaz Sharif’s case was different, despite enormous discrepancies he was tactful and had made deep inroads in most segments of society and international community. 36 years in politics, mostly in power, he had carefully cultivated personal relations and planted beneficiaries and sycophants at every position that matters.  Personal loyalty was what he demanded and ultimately it looked like he had prevailed and would subdue or dislodge the only institutions that retained the ability to resist his absolute hegemony. This was despite probably the darkest past a politician could have. He got away with operation Changa Manga, instigating provincialism, defying the federal government, ridiculing BBs gender and anatomy, openly courting extremists and UBL, squandering national coffers with yellow cabs, unabashed political use for personal business, attack on supreme court, threatening judges; and the list of crimes he got away with appears endless. 

Then came help from nowhere and Panama leaks exposed Shariff’s lies and cunning. No wonder he still thinks that someone at home had initiated it refusing to believe that nature has its own workings as they say in Punjabi, “At Khuda da vair”. He is resisting very skillfully brutally using his enormous influence over media and institutions accumulated over decades. Unfortunately for him it’s not working anymore. The more he tries, the worse it becomes. He is on his way out although how much more he will be humiliated will depend on his future actions.

This time in their tirade against politicians the establishment was helped by incredible luck and their corruption. This might not happen again. Establishment’s frequent short sighted meddling in politics resulted in destruction of politics in Pakistan creating strange self serving leaders harming the country. We lost our peace and prosperity. Once established these establishment created politicians are hard to dislodge and the process is painful and damaging. Still it has to be done for the sake of Pakistan as ordinary people cant afford kleptomaniacs or self styled deliverers anymore.

Final lesson for the establishment is that they created this mess we are in. It should stay away from politics otherwise they would mess it up again and then cleaning up might be even more painful or maybe outright impossible.