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Daily Times Editorials – 19th December 2015

Remembering Rizvi

The legendary artiste Kamal Ahmed Rizvi passed away on Thursday after a long fight with illness at the age of 85. Rizvi was a tremendously talented and thoroughly acclaimed actor and playwright, having worked in theatre, television, radio and also briefly in cinema. However, he rose to stardom with the PTV serial ‘Alif Noon’, one of the most memorable comedy shows of Pakistan, created by Rizvi who wrote the script and most famously played the role of ‘Allan’, along with famed late comedian Rafi Khawar, popularly known as ‘Nannha’. The pair was incredibly loved by all, quickly making them household names, with Allan always inventing new schemes attempting to dupe others for money and Nannha, his stooge, somehow always ruining them. Rizvi knew and spent time in the company of many great writers and artists of his time. In his early years, Rizvi was moved by the writings of Saadat Hassan Manto and came to be mentored by him, leading to his later widely lionized dramatisation of Manto’s short story ‘Badshahat Ka Khatima’ and also the likes of Zia Mohyeddin whose staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar landed him his first acting job, not to mention Faiz Ahmed Faiz and writers such as Ibrahim Jalees and Shaukat Siddiqui. Apart from his acting career, Rizvi was also the editor of popular digests including ‘Tehzeeb’, ‘Aina’ and ‘Shama’.

The man known as one of the founding fathers of theatre in Pakistan, was a comic par excellence, making people laugh with his humorous writings and impeccable comic timing, and his death has created a vacuum. The absence of his indelible comedy is more intensely felt now than ever before. This leads one to wonder where his successors are, the heirs of his era who would build on the foundation that masterful artists like him established. His ingenious writings not only elicited rounds of laughter but were also thought provoking, and they provided a commentary on the social inequalities and moral deficits in society with the use of ingenious satire. Such a genre now seems entirely replaced by repetitive slapstick comedy, largely unoriginal. In one of his last interviews, Rizvi too bemoaned the current abysmal state of the industry as he commented, “Our stars have drowned in the waters of oblivion.” Truly many great artists have come and gone without being given their due recognition, and what is needed is a greater cognizance of the extraordinary services that they have rendered by promoting the arts that are an indispensable part of any culture. Only through such appreciation can we hope to nurture new talent and hope to eventually reach the bar that artists like Kamal Ahmed Rizvi set with their phenomenal work.

Ministry of Incompetence

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has once again revealed the staggering incompetence of his ministry when it comes to pursuing the goals of the National Action Plan (NAP) and eliminating terrorist networks from within Pakistan. On Thursday, the Interior Minister presented the much awaited performance report of the Ministry of Interior (ever since he took charge in 2013) in front of the National Assembly (NA), and the expectation was that the report would have a meaningful breakdown of NAP, since Chaudhry Nisar has been the point man for the operation ever since its launch earlier this year. But what was presented to the NA largely dealt with the internal affairs of the ministry and the PTI/PAT sit-in of 2014, whereas NAP was relegated to a few lines. The report merely reiterated the ministry’s year-old aims to set up registration forms for seminaries, development of a national anti-extremist narrative and the setting up of a Joint Intelligence Directorate (JID) without showing much in the way of progress. When pressed by other lawmakers about this lack of progress, Chaudhry Nisar protested that his ministry was not the only state institution responsible for NAP and even recalled his reluctance to take up the role as the focal point of NAP when the operation was being planned. He pleaded that the Ministry of Interior and NAP should not be conflated and suggested that he was also busy with ministry matters. In his defence, the Interior Minister pointed to the overall improvements in law and order, the Karachi operation, the reduction in suicide attacks and anti-corruption drives of his ministry. But none of these justifications cut much ice with the unimpressed colleagues of the Interior Minister in the NA and they bemusedly reflected on the absurdity of Chaudhry Nisar absolving himself of responsibility when no other state institution apart from the Ministry of Interior is better placed to take the lead on NAP.

While it is hard to deny the successes pointed out by Chaudhry Nisar, it will be premature to celebrate them too wholeheartedly because doubts remain whether these advances can be sustained. The reduction in terrorist activity may not turn out to be a definitive trend but merely suggest a regrouping of the militant outfits reeling from the momentarily energetic onslaught by the state. It should be clear to the Interior Minister that while personnel matters of his ministry may have some significance, the importance of a detailed inquiry about NAP’s progress dwarfs all other concerns. If the task is proving beyond the competence of the Ministry of Interior, perhaps the timely suggestion by PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari that a parliamentary security committee should oversee NAP is worth considering. Having a body with support from across the aisle would engender great cooperation and understanding between the opposition and government and will definitely make the progress of NAP a reality.

Cart before the horse

Saudi Arabia has ‘surprised’ quite a few by the manner in which it has proceeded to announce a 34-country alliance against terrorism, but none more than Pakistanis. For a start, when the announcement was first made and Pakistan’s name was found to be in the list of members, the response of Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry was one of ‘surprise’. Subsequently, after a reported rap across the knuckles by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for the indiscretion regarding our friend Saudi Arabia, the foreign office spokesman denied the whole thing, ascribing it as usual to ‘inaccurate’ media reporting. Despite the denial, reservations aplenty are to be found amongst political parties and the citizenry at thus being ‘ambushed’ or railroaded into an alliance that no one seems to have known about ahead of the announcement. Conspiracy theorists are wondering out loud whether the establishment has said yes to the alliance without taking the foreign office (and perhaps the government?) into confidence. Whatever the case, even the foreign office spokesman’s admitting that Pakistan would be part of the alliance was tinged with ifs and buts. Pakistan, according to the spokesman, still awaits details of what is expected of it. This is a rather strange way to put together an alliance, and that too for the lofty aim of combating terrorism, no doubt an objective shared by many countries but not necessarily with consensus on who is the main enemy and who a friend in this endeavour. This anomaly is sharply brought into focus by the fact that Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are left out, whereas they are arguably the most effective three forces fighting Islamic State (IS) in Syria. The fact that all three are Shia lends credence to the accusation that the ‘Sunni alliance’ Saudi Arabia wants to cobble together has a sectarian tinge. Not only is it inexplicable how even a close friend like Saudi Arabia could announce Pakistan’s membership without proper consultations beforehand, this tendency to put the cart before the horse is repeated in Saudi Arabia reaching out to the opposition PPP regarding the alliance. One may be forgiven for wondering why Riyadh is not bothering to first talk to the government. Surely without such consultation, Islamabad will at best be a reluctant partner, at worst wary of being part of any sectarian conglomerate that would cause difficulties in its relationship with Iran, which has of late enjoyed firmer footing. The whole thing smacks of taking Pakistan for granted. Perhaps that is what explains the bitter and surprised response of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states when Pakistan earlier refused to join a Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis in Yemen, considered by Riyadh to be surrogates of Iran. If Pakistanis appreciated Islamabad’s rare wisdom in not going along blindly with Saudi wishes on that occasion, many are troubled by the implications of even a nod in the direction of this new construct.

The fact of the matter is that the Saudis and some of their Arab and Muslim allies are still not able to make up their minds who is the real enemy, Bashar al-Assad or IS. This confusion is also tinged with sectarian hues. When the Saudi defence minister argues that they aim at all shades of terrorists, what remains unexplained in its wake is why then is Riyadh supporting jihadi groups, including al Qaeda affiliate the Al Nusra Front, in Syria? By any definition, such groups too fall under the rubric ‘terrorist’, since they are imbued with an extremist, fanatical version of jihad, which they justify in the name of religion. And what is to stop Riyadh from twisting Islamabad’s arm in a new way by asking for Pakistan to join the fight in Yemen in the name of combating terrorism (i.e. the Houthis). The quagmire is not only in Saudi minds. It finds reflection also on the ground in the manner in which Riyadh has pursued its sectarian Wahabi agenda in Syria and the broader Middle East. For Pakistan to insert itself, for whatever reason, into such a bog is unquestionably unwise and unacceptable. Obsequiousness in our approach to relations with Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf states must give way by now to a self-respecting independent policy in Pakistan’s, and no one else’s, interest.

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