A Pakistani actress castigated for appearing to cuddle with an Indian actor on a reality show lashed out at a Muslim cleric who had criticized her during a widely watched television exchange this week.

The unusual outburst, punctuated by tears, came at a sensitive time in a country where Islamic fundamentalism is spreading and liberals are increasingly afraid to express their views.

Pakistan's Leadership crisis

The Frontier Post
Muhammad Idrees

Nothing is hunky-dory in Pakistan these days. Terrorism, sectarianism, rape, murder and kidnapping for ransom are order of the day. The politicians are continuously busy in playing politics with one another on petty matters. When their personal interests are threatened, they start talking about public interests. Recent somersaults of JUI(F) and MQM are a case in point. Maulana Fazlur Rehman immediately quit the government when the minister of his party Azam Swati was sacked by Prime Minister. The good maulana announced in a press conference that he would start agitation on blasphemy issue. It again shows how religious parties use religion to galvanize people. MQM also left the government after Sindh Home Minister’s outrageous remarks against it. PPP government is extremely fragile after all these gimmicks by its coalition partners and the Prime Minister is ready to do everything to appease them. Nawaz Sharif quickly joined the bandwagon and announced his 10-point agenda and gave the government 72 hours to respond to it. If response is positive he will give government 45 days to fulfill his demands. As a first step the government appointed Sardar Latif Khosa as new governor of Punjab and PML(N) welcomed it. A big irony starts here. On the one hand Nawaz Sharif demands that government must root out corruption in 45 days; but on the other he accepted, with open arms, a governor who was previously sacked twice on corruption charges, first as attorney general and second as adviser to Prime Minister. These topsy-turvy moves have completely perplexed the poor masses and shaken their faith in democratic system. Unfortunately, democratic process failed to deliver in the last three years. Pakistan is facing enormous problems these days and there seems no sense of urgency on the part of the leadership. They are busy accusing each other and questioning each other’s mental state of affairs. In chilling cold weather load shedding of gas and electricity has made life miserable for common man. The gap between the rich and the poor has increased manifold in the last two decades. The rich have the alternative of every problem whether it is electricity or gas load shedding, while the poor continue suffering. There is no link between the problems of rulers and hapless ruled. The rulers have only one goal - how to grab more power and wealth, while the poor people have all sorts of problems, from inflation to unemployment and from health to justice. This country is now hostage to cement, sugar and oil cartels etc. The voices against these mafias are so feeble that no one cares to listen to them. They are plundering the country with the connivance of politicians and bureaucrats. Pakistani nation is one of the most resilient nations in the world. More than 6,000 people were killed in terror-related attacks in 2010 alone. In such testing times, people still try to lead their normal lives. People want a massive change in the system. This need for change is much more visible in the middle and lower middle classes. The middle class in Pakistan is quite passive politically. If they yearn for real change they must wake up from their slumber now and be active politically. Middle class must organise itself politically thus becoming a force to reckon with. People of Pakistan badly need a sincere, committed, honest and dedicated leadership. Our major political parties are more prone to dynastic politics and it is foolhardy to expect that they will ever be willing to change the status quo. What we require at this critical juncture of our history is a dynamic leadership that is fearless and truly represents the sentiments of ordinary people. I think before the next general elections in 2013 the government should bring about reforms in the election commission. First, the election commission must be independent, impartial and strong enough to hold free and fair elections. Second, it must be ensured by the election commission that in all political parties, the candidates who want to contest the next elections, should declare their assets and give details of their income tax. In case of any irregularities they should be disqualified forthwith. Third, the election commission must limit the expenditure on election campaigns for National and provincial assemblies so that people of middle class may think of contesting the election. Fourth, government must strictly adhere to its promise that in next elections voting list will be made according to NADRA identity cards. Without reforming our electoral process the future of democracy in Pakistan will remain bleak.

Bacha Khan's Message In Pakistan And Afghanistan

By shaheenbuneri

Followers of the nonviolent Pashtun movement known as Khudai Khidmatgar Movement (Servants of God) are marking 23 years since the death of their legendary leader, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. In addition to celebrations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, peace gatherings, discussions, and seminars are being held in Europe, United States, and the Middle East to pay tribute to a beloved leader who admirers say dedicated his life to social, political, economic, and cultural emancipation for Pashtuns.

These days, the region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border garners international headlines mostly with images of war, destruction, and violence. From the rugged and mountainous Waziristan tribal region to the picturesque Swat Valley, the conflict between Pakistani security forces and Taliban militants has displaced millions of people, left thousands dead or wounded, and destroyed health and educational infrastructure in the region.

Many outside observers in the West do not know that peace-loving Pashtuns living in the violence-marred border regions once struggled under the banner of an epoch-making nonviolent movement. In the 1930s, Khan (1890-1988), also known as Bacha Khan (King Khan), launched his nonviolent movement to reform the stagnant Pashtun society and to mobilize Pashtuns to struggle for their rights against British imperial rule in the Indian subcontinent through peaceful agitation.

"Very rarely does the world see leaders who raise their society from the ignominious depths of ignorance and obscurity to the heights of enlightenment and glory. Abdul Ghaffar Khan was one of this rare breed of leaders," writes Sher Zaman Taizi, an eminent Pashtun scholar.

Himself the son of a feudal lord, Abdul Ghafar Khan advocated land reforms, equal economic opportunities, social justice, change through education, and peaceful coexistence of all communities irrespective of their ethnic and religious affiliations.Despite high claims and yearning for lasting peace and stability in the region by the international community, the fact remains that we have failed to revive Bacha Khan’s philosophy of non-violence. The perpetrators of violence have seized the upper hand by popularizing characters like Mullah Omar and Baitullah Mehsud and marginalizing true heroic figures like Bacha Khan -- who is not very well known to the younger generations either inside or outside of the Pashtun heartlands.

"I was shocked at how we in the West know nothing about Bacha Khan," says Human Rights Watch's Peter Bouckaert. "We learned about Gandhi in school. Almost everybody in the United States and Europe has seen the movies about Gandhi and the role he played in the nonviolence movement and then as an inspiration for Martin Luther King and others."

Bouckaert tells RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that he first learned about Bacha Khan in 2001, when, while sifting through some pictures in the home of a friend, he saw a photo of Gandhi standing next to a bearded man. His host then told him the story of Khan and his importance in the Pashtun community.

"As I learned more about Bacha Khan, I realized he was as important and as courageous a figure as Gandhi was," Bouckaert says. "He played an important role not only in the struggle for nonviolence, but also in the struggle against extremism."

Bacha Khan was a true visionary who believed that world peace is not possible without healthy debate on all outstanding issues between nations. He was a person who thought beyond the narrow interest of Pakistan, or India, or Afghanistan and pursued an agenda that sought to ensure peace in the region.Khan paid a very high price for his activism. He spent almost half of his life in prison.

"I think if his message of peace and co-existence had been embraced by more people in the region, we would not be faced with the very difficult condition that we continue to see in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Bouckaert says.

Unlike in Pakistan, Bacha Khan is both well-known and looked upon with great respect in India, where he is known as "the Frontier Gandhi." The Indian government even bestowed two prestigious awards on Khan, the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1969, and the Bharat Ratna Award in 1987.

B.R. Singh, a former senior Indian civil servant, told RFE/RL of a visit by Gandhi to the frontier regions where he met with the leaders of Khan's Khudai Khidmatgar Movement.

"Gandhi asked them, 'What would you do if tomorrow Bacha Khan turns violent?' Now such was the impact that Bacha Khan had created, that they replied, 'We would remain nonviolent.'

"Certainly the Pashtuns had a reputation for violence, yet it is remarkable that Bacha Khan was able to bring about a peaceful transformation, and the Pashtun people followed him. He made them commit themselves to nonviolence," Singh recalls.

After struggling against social evils, superstition, and suppression for 70 years, Bacha Khan breathed his last at the age of 98 on January 20, 1988, at Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar. Pashtuns -- indeed, all the people of the world -- would do well to recall Khan's message of nonviolence and peace. Today, we remember him.

Tunisian uprising fires a warning

Tunisia's revolution has been closely watched in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Syria and Libya.


Elation has been met with trepidation in Egypt, where Tunisia's uprising is being seen as a rare chance to break the shackles of autocratic rule that could plunge the country into the unknown.

As demonstrations raged in Tunis, and the stock market fell, Egypt's security police were deployed in larger than usual numbers throughout Cairo, where the capital's youth have been speaking optimistically of a second popular revolt in the Maghreb.

Social media sites have been popular, both as a mobiliser and messenger. Themes have included the perils of Arab dictators losing touch with their charges and the demonstrated ability of dissent to force change.

There has so far been no galvanising event. A cafe owner who attempted to self-immolate outside the People's Assembly today did not cause any discernible momentum for change.

Hosni Mubarak seems well aware of the potential for street unrest to escalate into the biggest threat to his 30 year rule. Sensing the presence of European provocateurs who may wish to push the issue, the foreign minister, Ahmed Abul Gheit, warned western powers to stay out of Egypt's affairs. He also described fears that the Tunisian revolt could mushroom into other Arab states as "nonsense". The president's office was forced to deny TV reports that the supreme defence council had been called for an emergency meeting, highlighting the jittery mood in the country.

Some analysts cautioned that Egyptians should be careful what they wished for. "There is a [divergence] between hopes and the actual situation," said Professor Abdullah al-Ashaal of the international law and political science faculty at the American University in Cairo. He said radical change was necessary in Egypt, but not in the manner seen this week. "I hope that Egypt does not repeat what we have seen in Tunisia, because it would result in clashes between Christians and Muslims, the rich and poor, the authority would collapse and the society would erode.

"The lack of political freedom and the corruption infuriated the Tunisian people and left no loophole for dialogue. It made the confrontation between the street and the government a vertical confrontation and this is most peculiar. This may take some time, but it is coming."

Others spoke of the Tunisian crisis having a more short-term revolutionary effect in the Arab world. Taalat Rumaiah, the editor of Egypt's al-Distoor newspaper, said the situation on the streets of the capital was controlled but would not take much to ignite. "Everyone knows the unemployment here and the disastrous economy. So we can expect things to replicate in Egypt. It's possible that two or three other Arab regimes could fall this year because of popular uprisings."

Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science at Cairo University, said that at the very least, the Tunisian revolt would likely be a death knell for Mubarak's mooted plan to nominate his son, Gamal, as successor. "This will be very much rejected," he said. "It may trigger a wave of anger. There is a mood for change, but the opposition here is not unified. It needs to be a revolution from below, from the young, the workers. The workers could be the trigger for this, but I am not sure that people will draw from the lessons." Martin Chulov


Algeria is captivated by the crisis enveloping its near neighbour and is being monitored more closely than elsewhere in the Maghreb for signs that Tunisia's uprising may spread.

At least four people are reported to have set fire to themselves in the five days since the autocratic regime in Tunisia began unravelling. Demonstrations have taken place in many Algerian cities, in parallel with those happening across the border. High food prices and unemployment have been key themes of the protests, just as they were before Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year regime fell.

Protests over civic services and a lack of government services have mushroomed on the streets of the capital, Algiers, but are so far more town hall gatherings than violent rampages. Some observers say that could soon change.

"There is a simmering rage here that could explode at any moment," said Faisal Mattawi, editor of the newspaper al-Watan. "Opposition and dissent is being suppressed in aggressive ways. The situation here is similar to Tunisia and it could become identical. The interior ministry is using the internet and text messages to comment on the crisis in Tunisia, but they are also doing all they can to suppress dissent and the use of media to be a conduit for an uprising."

There are differences in the respective societies that have led other analysts to suggest Tunisia's uprising won't fully capture Algerians' imaginations. Hugh Robert, of the International Crisis Group, said: "There is no doubt that Algerian public opinion has become detached from the government on many levels. But it is mainly on the level of sentiment. The regime is very concerned, but I don't see a simple domino effect.

"In many ways the respective situations are quite different. In Algeria things haven't linked up with the trade union movement. [Protests] haven't had the support of the middle classes. There is an element of common ground though – an experience of tyranny. The sociology of the protests is less coherent and therefore less of a challenge to the regime in Algeria."

Algeria's government is battling a 10-year-old Islamic insurgency. Its army remains strong – by many measures stronger than the president. Tunisia's Ben Ali was a one-man rule. The Algerian leader's power is shared between the military and other institutions and he has not been the lightning rod for hate that his counterpart was. Martin Chulov


In the royal enclosure of King Mohammed VI in Rabat, the Mechouar, the rebellion against Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali has provoked serious concern. "I think all the Arab regimes are shaking and Morocco especially," said Aboubakr Jamai, editor of the now defunct Casablanca independent newspaper, Le Journal.

Morocco officially expressed "profound solidarity" with the people of Tunisia while saying that "the stability of this country is essential and fundamental to regional security and stability, particularly in the Maghreb".

Authorities have watched events nervously, banning pro-change demonstrations outside the Tunisian embassy while Ben Ali was in power but allowing celebrations to mark his fall. State television kept coverage to a minimum, but many Moroccans watched events live on al-Jazeera. The country's semi-democracy is run from within the palace walls, where a clique of advisers interpret the will of King Mohammed VI while an elected parliament presents a democratic face to the world.

The reforms and democratic optimism that Mohammed VI brought with him when he took over from his father in 1999 have gone into reverse in recent years.

Ben Ali was a dangerous model for Morocco, proving that authoritarian rule could work as long as there was economic growth and the west was kept happy, according to Jamai. "Fortunately the process of Ben Ali-zation has not gone too far, so there are still escape valves," he said. "But this is a very, very strong wake-up call. My hope is that the elites and others will realise that we had better have a serious democratisation process because if this sort of thing happens in Morocco it will be hell."

Cables from the US embassy in Rabat reveal that corruption is rife while "palace interference" in municipal elections last year to keep moderate islamists out of power in major cities.

Moroccan businessmen complained the palace used state institutions to "coerce and solicit bribes" from real estate investors and that "major investment decisions were in reality made by three individuals" named as King Mohammed, the head of his private secretariat Mohamed Mounir al-Majidi and Fouad el-Himma, heads of the Party of Authenticity and Modernity. The army was deemed "plagued by corruption". Giles Tremlett


Tunisia's Jasmine revolution has been keenly watched in Syria, one of the most repressive of the Arab regimes, though the chances of a re-run of Tunis in Damascus are slim. Syria's benchmark experience for dealing with serious unrest remains the Hama events of 1982, when the security forces killed thousands in crushing an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood. Syrian Islamists are largely behind bars or in exile, and liberal and democratic activists neutralised by surveillance and repression.

The Syrian military and security services are dominated by the ruling Alawite minority, which would see a sectarian or clan interest in defending the presidency and the state against the Sunni majority, especially after the lessons of Iraq's internecine struggle and communal fissures in Lebanon next door. "The fear of civil war based on religious affiliation is the greatest legitimiser or bulwark of authoritarianism in Syria," commented Syria watcher Joshua Landis. It is relatively easy for the state to change direction, since critical comment is unlikely. On Sunday the government raised a heating oil subsidy it had previously cut - an apparent response to economically-driven unrest in neighbouring Jordan, Tunisia and elsewhere. On Monday the government announced a plan to help 420,000 impoverished families. Official Syrian comment has been confined to lecturing Tunisia sternly on the perils of relying on fair-weather foreign allies. Events there, said the pro-government daily al-Watan, were "a lesson that no Arab regime should ignore, especially those following Tunisia's political approach of relying on 'friends' to protect them." Ian Black


Libya's most striking official reaction to the Tunisian drama has been Muammar Gaddafi's expression of "pain" that Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee suddenly when he had belatedly offered to stand down in 2014. But solidarity was perhaps to be expected from the Arab world's longest-serving leader – in power for a record 42 years in September. Libya too has a young population and high unemployment. But its oil resources mean it is a far wealthier country than its north-western neighbour. Its creaking system of peoples committees is less sophisticated than Tunisia's "managed democracy" complete with real opposition parties and highly-developed rights for women. Recent Libyan engagement with the wider world since giving up the terrorism associated with the Lockerbie case means it is more open than in the pastto outside influences and anxious to attract western investment. Still, Gaddafi's reformist-minded son and presumed heir, Seif al-Islam, has had to back down in the face of opposition from the old guard in the security services and revolutionary committees.

Libya is also extremely corruptby international standards, though there is less of the flaunting of wealth by the elite than in Tunisia. Libya's army and security services, based on still strong tribal loyalties, would almost certainly step in with force in the event of serious political upheaval and possibly take over the country completely.

Gaddafi's al-Fateh revolution in 1969 was typical of such events in the Arab world in the 20th century – a military coup modelled on Egypt's Nasser and his "free officers", and not a mass phenomenon. The extraordinary images from Tunisia will be deeply unsettling in Tripoli. Ian Black


A leading Sudanese opposition figure who called for a "popular revolution" if the government did not reverse price rises was said to have been arrested yesterday as the ruling regime in the Arab world's largest country grew even more jittery over the prospect of a Tunisian-style uprising. Baton-wielding police firing teargas had already quelled protests last week after Khartoum cut subsidies on petroleum products and sugar.

Last night's reported arrest of Hassan al-Turabi came a day after the Islamist leader's party threatened to take to the streets if the government did not remove its finance minister and dismantle parliament over the decision to raise prices on a range of goods.

The foreign ministry of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's government released a tentative statement at the weekend saying it welcomed the political change in Tunisia and respected the political will and social aspiration of the Tunisian people to choose their political future. Ben Quinn

• This article has been amended. The original claimed that Tunisia is Libya's north-eastern neighbour. This has been changed.

Why China Does Capitalism Better Than the U.S.

One of the great ironies revealed by the global recession that began in 2008 is that Communist Party-ruled China may be doing a better job managing capitalism's crisis than the democratically elected U.S. government. Beijing's stimulus spending was larger, infinitely more effective at overcoming the slowdown, and directed at laying the infrastructural tracks for further economic expansion.
As Western democracies shuffle wheezily forward, China's economy roars along at a steady clip, having lifted some half a billion people out of poverty over the past three decades and rapidly creating the world's largest middle class to provide an engine for long-term domestic consumer demand. Sure, there's massive social inequality, but there always is in a capitalist system. (Income inequality rates in the U.S. are some of the worst in the industrialized world, and here more people are falling into poverty than are being raised out of it - the 43 million Americans officially designated as living in poverty in 2009 was the highest number in the 51 years that records have been kept.)
Beijing is also doing a far more effective job than Washington is of tooling its economy to meet future challenges - at least according to historian Francis Fukuyama, erstwhile neoconservative intellectual heavyweight. "President Hu Jintao's rare state visit to Washington this week comes at a time when many Chinese see their weathering of the financial crisis as a vindication of their own system, and the beginning of an era in which U.S.-style liberal ideas will no longer be dominant," wrote Fukukyama in Tuesday's Financial Times under a headline stating that the U.S. had nothing to teach China. "State-owned enterprises are back in vogue, and were the chosen mechanism through which Beijing administered its massive stimulus."
Chinese leaders are more inclined today to scold the U.S. - its debtor to the tune of close to a trillion dollars - than to emulate it, and Fukuyama notes that polls show a larger percentage of Chinese people believing their country is headed in the right direction compared to Americans. China's success in navigating the economic crisis, says Fukuyama, was based on the ability of its authoritarian political system to "make large, complex decisions quickly, and ... make them relatively well, at least in economic policy."
These are startling observations from a writer who, 19 years ago, famously proclaimed that the collapse of the Soviet Union heralded "the end of history as such... That is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."
Fukuyama has had the good grace and intellectual honesty to admit he was wrong. And he's no apologist for Chinese authoritarianism, calling out its abuses and corruption, and making clear that he believes the absence of democracy will eventually hobble China's progress. Still, he notes, while they don't hold elections, China's Communist leaders are nonetheless responsive to public opinion. (Of course they are! A Party brought to power by a peasant rebellion knows full well the destructive potential of the rage of working people.) But the regime claims solid support from the Chinese middle class, and hedges against social explosion by directing resources and investment to more marginal parts of the country.
China's leaders, of course, never subscribed to Fukuyama's "end of history" maxim; the Marxism on which they were reared would have taught them that there is no contingent relationship between capitalism and democracy, and they only had to look at neighbors such as Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore to see economic success stories under authoritarian rule - although the prosperity thus achieved played a major role in transforming Taiwan and South Korea into the noisy democracies they are today. Nor were Beijing's leaders under any illusions that the free market could take care of such basic needs as education, health care and infrastructure necessary to keep the system as a whole growing.
But Fukuyama is also making a point about the comparative inability of the U.S. system to respond decisively to a long-term crisis. "China adapts quickly, making difficult decisions and implementing them effectively," Fukuyama writes. "Americans pride themselves on constitutional checks and balances, based on a political culture that distrusts centralised government. This system has ensured individual liberty and a vibrant private sector, but it has now become polarised and ideologically rigid. At present it shows little appetite for dealing with the long-term fiscal challenges the U.S. faces. Democracy in America may have an inherent legitimacy that the Chinese system lacks, but it will not be much of a model to anyone if the government is divided against itself and cannot govern."
Money has emerged as the electoral trump card in the U.S. political system, and corporations have a Supreme Court-recognized right to use their considerable financial muscle to promote candidates and policies favorable to their business operations and to resist policies and shut out candidates deemed inimical to their business interests. So, whether it's health reform or the stimulus package, the power of special interests in the U.S. system invariably produces either gridlock, or mish-mash legislation crafted to please the narrow interests of a variety of competing interests rather than the aggregated interests of the economy and society as a whole. Efficient and rational decision-making it's not. Nor does it appear capable of tackling long-term problems. (Comment on this story.)
China is the extreme opposite, of course: It can ride roughshod over the lives of its citizens. For example, building a dam that requires the forced relocation of 1.5 million people who have no channels through which to protest. But China's system is unlikely to give individual corporations the power to veto or shape government decision making to suit their own bottom line at the expense of the needs of the system as a whole in the way that, to choose but one example, U.S. pharmaceutical companies are able to wield political influence to deny the government the right to negotiate drug prices for the public health system. Fukuyama seems to be warning that in Darwinian terms, the Chinese system may currently be more adaptive than the Land of the Free.

Clerics on the march

The News
Ayaz Amir

This is not about blasphemy or the honour of the Holy Prophet. This is now all about politics, about the forces of the clergy, routed in the last elections, discovering a cause on whose bandwagon they have mounted with a vengeance.

The blasphemy issue ignited by Aasia Bibi’s conviction was virtually over in November, the government making it plain that it had not the slightest intention of amending the blasphemy law, and no government figure of any consequence stepping forward to support Salmaan Taseer on the stand he had taken.

There the matter should have rested if Pakistan’s clerical armies were not masters of manipulation and cold-blooded calculation. They whipped up a storm in December, when the issue was no longer an issue, and fanned such an atmosphere of intolerance and hatred that it would have been strange if nothing terrible had happened.

There’s a danger of moaning too much. But what with the lionising of Salmaan Taseer’s killer and hailing him as a ghazi and defender of the faith, the impression is hard to shake off that what we are witnessing are the last burial rites of what remains of sanity in a Republic not particularly famous for any striking monuments to reason.

No cleric worth the name has refrained from adding fuel to the fires thus lit across the country. But if a prize has to be given to anyone, the honours will go to Pakistan’s path-breaking contributor to political gymnastics, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and the Amir of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Professor Munawar Hasan (professor of what? is tempted to ask).

The Professor is a study in contrasts: soft-spoken, even beguilingly so, and possessing a keen sense of humour but, at the same time, a master of virulence and of confusion spread in the name of the faith. The 2008 elections had laid the Jamaat low. It had made the mistake of boycotting those elections and its performance in bye-elections since then has furnished further proof of its dwindling political relevance. The Jamaat’s exploitation of the blasphemy issue is an attempt to engineer a political comeback, although there’s no altering the fact that its vote-getting ability comes nowhere near its high nuisance value.

But the issue has to be faced squarely. The clerics are on the march not because they are strong but because those on the other side of the divide – the non-clerical forces – are weak, directionless and devoid of vision...without any strategy and plan of battle.

Zardari’s vision is to stay in power and further enrich his person and his family. End of story. The common belief is he has enough but, by all accounts, we are dealing with insatiable appetites. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s vision is to enrich his family. If a tenth of the stories doing the rounds are to be even tentatively believed, they are doing pretty well for themselves. Names close to the army high command are also the subject of lurid rumours.

But the problem is greater than a few names. Pakistan’s governing class as a whole has earned the distinction of being rotten and corrupt. Everyone rightly-placed is on the take. Those not so fortunate are less emblems of virtue than martyrs to opportunities absent or lost.

A leadership thus tainted, compromised by ineptitude and greed, can neither initiate reform nor reverse the tide of obscurantism now washing against the walls of the Republic.

Lest we forget, the armies of the faithful – with their fearsome beards and shaven moustaches, shalwars pulled up over ankles – have never been in power in Pakistan (the MMA’s stint as Musharraf’s co-travellers in the Frontier not really counting in this equation). What Pakistan is today, the depths it has plumbed, the failures courted, the follies assiduously pursued, have been the handiwork of its English-speaking elite classes – who wouldn’t be caught dead calling themselves secular but who, for all practical purposes, represent a secularist point of view.

The mullahs have not been responsible for our various alliances with the United States; our entry into Cento and Seato; our militarist adventures vis-à-vis India; and the honing of ‘jihad’ as an instrument of strategic fallacies. This last piece of brilliance came from the army as commanded by Gen Ziaul Haq. Religious elements became willing accessories in this game but were not its inventors.

If the first Constituent Assembly lavished attention on a piece of rhetoric of no practical benefit to anyone, the Objectives Resolution, instead of writing a constitution which was its chief duty, the fault lay not so much with the clerical fathers as with the Muslim League leadership. The phrase ‘ideology of Pakistan’ was an invention of Gen Yahya Khan’s information minister, Maj Gen Nawabzada Sher Ali Khan. The central tenet of our security doctrine which sees India as an implacable foe out to undo Pakistan was woven in no madrassah or mosque but in General Headquarters, and a mindset which has been a distinguishing feature of the Punjabi elite.

Our fractured education system is a gift, paradoxically, of our English-speaking classes which have never felt the slightest need for framing a common education policy – the same books and curriculum, the same medium of education – for the entire country.

The army, a secular institution to begin with, has ruled Pakistan. The mainstream parties have been in power. Pakistan’s failures are their failures. The religious parties have been the hyenas and jackals of the hunt, yelping from the sides and helping themselves to the morsels that came their way. Lords of the hunt, lions of the pack, have been Pakistan’s generals and politicians, assisted ably at all times by a powerful and equally short-sighted mandarin class.

If the misuse of religion, the exploitation of religion for less-than-holy ends, the yoking of religion to unworthy causes – such as our never-ending adventures in Afghanistan – has poisoned the national atmosphere and narrowed the space for reasoned debate, the principal responsibility for that too lies with those who have held the reins of power in their hands. Why could they not have reversed the course of events, especially when it lay in their power to do so?

True, Gen Zia’s rule amounted to a visitation from the outer reaches of purgatory. We say he distorted Pakistan, which of course he did. But it is 22 years since his departure, time enough to have healed the wounds he caused and dismantle his legacy. But if the many temples to hypocrisy he erected survive, who is to blame? The Pakistan of today is Zia’s Pakistan not Jinnah’s. But if we have been unable to go back to our founding principles the fault lies not with the zealous armies of the bearded but Pakistan’s secular rulers, in mufti and khaki.

It is not the mullahs who frighten the ruling classes. These classes are afraid of their own shadows. And they have lost the ability, if they ever had it in the first place, to think for themselves. They live on imported ideas and the power of their own fantasies.

It is not a question of the English-speaking classes – our so-called civil society with its small candle-light vigils, usually in some upscale market – standing up to the clerical armies. This is to get the whole picture wrong. It is a question of the Pakistani state – its various institutions, its defence establishment and the creeds and fallacies held dear as articles of faith by this establishment – getting its direction right and then creating a new consensus enabling it to retreat from the paths of folly.

If the Pakistani establishment continues to see India as the enemy, keeps pouring money into an arms race it cannot afford, is afflicted by delusions of grandeur relative to Afghanistan, and remains unmindful of the economic disaster into which the country is fast slipping, we will never get a grip on the challenges we face.

The raging cleric, frothing at the mouth, is thus not the problem. He is merely a symptom of something larger. Pakistan’s problem is the delusional general and the incompetent politician and as long as this is not fixed, the holy armies of bigotry will remain on the march.