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Daily Times Editorials – 28th March 2016

President Obama’s inclusive message

As per the Pew Research Centre the number of adherents of Islam makes Muslims the world’s second largest religious group. As Muslims comprise over 22 percent of the world population being 1.6 billion, (as per a 2011 report), the compartmentalisation of Muslims in simple binaries of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is a highly simplistic, and a very dangerous approach while dealing with the issue of ‘Muslim-centric’ terror. This is the message that is the crux of President Barack Obama’s statement in his latest weekly address to his fellow Americans, and people all over the world. “Stigmatising” the entire Muslim race for the crimes of a few thousand militants, extremists and terrorists is not merely a validation of the success of the narrative of violence, but it would also be a repudiation of the fact that most of the victims of Muslim violence are Muslims. Obama’s address in the wake of the deadly Brussels attacks, which followed the horrific attacks in Paris last year, reiterates the need to not let ‘Islamophobia’ become the refrain when dealing with Muslim populations. The American president is right in cautioning against such an approach. Generalising about Muslims would be like saying the Ku Klux Klan represents America. Military misadventures in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the limitations of unilateralism, whereas the thaw with Iran highlights the value of diplomacy.

Pope Francis’s gesture of washing and kissing the feet of Muslim along with Hindu and Christian refugees as a ‘gesture of brotherhood’ in Rome on Saturday shows that we need compassion rather than belligerence to negate the darkness of violence globally. In the midst of anti-Muslim statements by various political leaders in the U.S. including the Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, the sane voice of President Obama is like a breath of fresh air. Trump’s rants may get him votes from the angry Americans but would not dovetail into America’s long-term benefit. Earlier, following the San Bernardino attack involving Tashfeen Malik and her Pakistani-American husband, which resulted in the killing of 14 Americans, Obama stated: “The incident could not be linked to any particular religion, community or a country.” His words were meant to restrain elements engaged in Islamophobia and to reassure the American Muslims that they remain an important part of American national life and that they should lead their lives without fear. He later went to an Islamic centre in New Jersey to reinforce the same message. Such rational and pragmatic views articulated by Obama may have partially satisfied certain sections of the Muslim community in the U.S. but many still feel insecure in the current environment.

Pakistan like all other countries combating terrorism must be categorical in its repudiation of the doctrine of violence. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S. Jalil Abbas Jillani while appreciating President Obama’s statement said: “Interfaith harmony is the need of the hour. Muslims should also respect the culture, laws and traditions of the countries of their adoption.”

What is needed at this stage is to develop a narrative by political and religious parties that is inclusive. The way forward cannot be a one-way street. Muslim organisations should also condemn, in the strongest possible terms, without any dithering or addition of ifs and buts, the terrorist incidents taking place in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Africa. While it is important to get to the roots of radicalisation and extremism in the Western world, it is imperative to be clear about denunciation of terrorism in all its forms. Notwithstanding the issues of marginlisation and discrimination against Muslims and other ‘minority’ groups in some Western countries, there is absolutely nothing that could be used as a justification in any social, moral, legal or religious code of conduct for killing unarmed people.

Afridi’s legacy

After 20 years the career of one of Pakistan’s most talented and controversial sportsmen, Shahid Afridi, is about to be over in a manner typical of numerous Pakistani cricketers before him, i.e. in ignominy. After Pakistan’s flaccid exit from the World T20 tournament, many are calling for his head while others are mystified why the all-rounder and captain of the underperforming and unmotivated team has not taken the graceful route by offering his resignation. The stubbornness about retirement is classic Afridi — after Pakistan’s penultimate match versus New Zealand, Afridi ruefully noted in an interview that the next game (versus Australia) would likely be his last in Pakistani colours, since if Pakistan were to lose they would be knocked out of the tournament without fanfare. True to form, Pakistan proceeded to meekly surrender in the next match, but by that time Afridi had changed his tune. Like many a Pakistani military dictator of the past, he deflected the question about retirement, promising to make a decision “in the best interests of the nation”. Previously, before the start of the Asia Cup, Afridi expressed his intentions to postpone retirement because, according to him, there was no upcoming youngster who could replace him in the team and make it stronger, once again painting his patently selfish desire to play on as an act of selfless patriotism. However, during the World T20 itself, an irate PCB Chairman Shahryar Khan revealed that Afridi was kept on as captain only because of an understanding that he would retire after the tournament. If one ignores the farcical element inherent in a board chairman taking to the media to vent his frustrations mid-tournament, the questions are aplenty starting with the most obvious one: is Afridi holding the national team hostage to his whims and ego?

How can one player be so influential and so entrenched when everyone around him seems to be rooting for him to retire? The answer is simple: Shahid Afridi is by far the most marketable player of Pakistan, and the source of this popularity lies in the almost unconditional affection he is bestowed upon by the public. Afridi personifies the trite clichés bandied about the Pakistani team, or even the nation: talented, mercurial, genius, instinctive, stylish, aggressive, unpredictable, inconsistent, reckless, short-sighted, capable of fantastic highs but often mired in the troughs. He is praised for his manic energy, for his passion, for his ‘bara dil’ (big heart); in Afridi the public sees a mirror reflection of themselves. Conversely, his antithesis as a player and person, Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s most successful Test captain, is not as much liked as Afridi despite his considerable achievements and leadership because his approach doing away with flair focuses instead on the virtues of a rational and analytical philosophy. If the Pakistani team, and by extension the country as a whole, has to be successful, it needs to move on from this self-defeating idea of relying on a moment of mad genius, and instead should focus on valuing the merits of hard work, modern analytics and discipline.

Bilawal in Punjab

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) flexed its political muscle in southern Punjab on Saturday as the party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari addressed huge public gatherings at Rahimyar Khan and Sadiqabad. He criticised the present Punjab government for its close-fisted expenditure on developmental projects in areas other than Lahore, claiming “the budgetary allocation of southern Punjab, which has a population of 40 million people, to be less than the budget of the single Orange Line train.” The chairperson established himself as the sole advocate fighting to uphold farmer rights in the country, also declaring a slogan of public accountability against the rulers who are busy fortifying their stronghold at the expense of the poor segments of Pakistan.

The PPP forms an undeniable constituent of any discourse about Pakistani politics. Having shared power for three decades, the PPP still rules over hearts of millions of jiyalas who aspire to see Pakistan prosper with their beloved leaders at its helm. Various shortcomings exhibited by the last tenure of the PPP’s federal leadership as well as an unexpected upsurge in the popularity of Imran Khan and his party manifesto had shrunken the vote bank of the PPP in the 2013 polls to districts in only the Sindh province. Nevertheless, Bilawal seems more determined than ever to break his party image of being Sindh-centric, and wishes instead to represent all of Pakistan, in keeping with the original national dynamic of the PPP. Dynasty politics is a curse bestowed on the post-World War Asia, where leadership has not switched many hands in the last 70 years. Writing closer to home, all prominent political parties in Pakistan are micromanaged by family members of the presiding leader, waiting for their own succession to the post. Nevertheless, it should also be considered that this tenacity of dynastic politics persists not only here but also in almost all Asian democracies. It was only in May 2014 that the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty was vanquished in India by another political giant, the BJP. Bangladesh’s government is a throne being contested by Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina Wazed for decades now.

Many political theorists continue to debate whether this practice helps in the development of democracy or not, quoting exclusively the part played by status quo as well as political participation. However, no matter how effective these dynamics may or may not be in increasing mass participation in government, their solidified existence cannot be denied. At the time when the PPP’s popularity is at its lowest in Punjab, Bilawal’s resolve to bring back the glory of the PPP using his late mother, Benazir Bhutto, and grandfather, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s name is not a new phenomenon. It should also be noted that the chairperson is not merely relying on badmouthing the people in power and is instead advocating new initiatives. His drive to endorse new ideas and the willingness to take risks, the two attributes that he has largely inherited from his late mother and grandfather, would help him to revive PPP’s outreach from the lower cadre. His commitment towards minorities, ensuring them equal rights, is applauded by many across the country. Bilawal resolves to improve the living conditions of underprivileged farmers, appealing to all Pakistanis to help him realise his dreams of a prosperous future for agriculture. Nevertheless, the PPP needs to be consolidated in a more coherent manner if the leader wishes to perform significantly in the upcoming elections. Bilawal may enjoy loyal encouragement from the PPP’s old supporters, but he needs to incorporate the original manifesto of the PPP — which his grandfather, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, introduced when he established the PPP — in the party’s next electoral campaign to ensure there is a national appeal to his message.

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