Factiuonal Politics in Pakistan

Discussion in 'Pakistan' started by Ray, May 7, 2012.

  1. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

    Apr 17, 2009
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    Factional Politics of Southwestern Punjab – Part II by Hamid Hussain

    Political Maestros of Multan

    In Multan, the custodians of several important shrines are major players in local politics. The Qureshi’s of Multan are hereditary custodians of two important shrines of Shah Rukn-e-Alam and Bahauddin Zakariya. Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s ancestor and namesake Shah Mahmood Qureshi supported British during 1857 rebellion and the victory of the British ensured state patronage that continued for almost a century. Shah Mahmood’s father Sajjad Hussain Qureshi joined Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto during latter’s meteoric rise in early 1970s. This was mainly due to local rivalry with Gilanis as they were contesting on Muslim League-Qayyum group platform. When Bhutto was overthrown and later hanged by General Muhammad Zia ul Haq, elder Qureshi joined Zia ul Haq and served as the deputy chairman of the Senate and as Governor of Punjab province. Shah Mahmood was elected in 1985 in the non-party based elections and then joined Pakistan Muslim League-Junejo (PML-J) group. From 1985 to 1992, he was affiliated with PML. He was ambitious and wanted the top slot of Chief Minister but in the presence of other heavy weights, he had to settle for the provincial minister position. Unable to gain traction in PML, he switched sides and won in the 1993 election on the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) ticket and was appointed as a Minister of State. In 1997 after he lost in an election, he was happy to serve as district Nazim (Mayor) of Multan. He served as President of the PPP in Punjab and after winning election on the PPP ticket in 2008; he was hoping to get the top slot of Prime Minister but was given the foreign minister’s portfolio. When he was downgraded further and offered the Water and Power ministry, he called it quits and left the PPP.

    The new rising star of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaaf (PTI) gave him new hope and in a dramatic turn of events immediately after joining the party, he was appointed Vice Chairman essentially numbers two to Imran Khan. In view of the significant local influence, when such politicians switch parties and jump on new ships, they don’t start from the boiler room and work their way up. They immediately get access to the ‘Captain’s Deck’ and Qureshi’s case in nothing new as far as Pakistani politics is concerned.

    Shah Mahmood’s younger brother Murid Hussain contested three elections wearing three different hats. After General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s death in 1988, the army announced the restoration of democracy but engineered a coalition of opposition parties under the banner of Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) to dilute the PPP’s influence. He contested the 1988 election on an IJI ticket (lost), the 1990 election as independent candidate (won) and 1993 election on PPP ticket (won).

    The current Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is another representative of the hereditary Pirs. Yusuf’s father Syed Alamdar Hussain Gilani managed to stay on in his seat despite the musical chairs of rapidly changing governments in 1950s until Ayub pushed all the old foxes into the political wilderness. Yusuf started his political career as district council chairman. In 1985, he won a National Assembly seat and served as the Federal Minister of Railways in the PML-J government under the patronage of General Zia. In 1988, he joined the PPP and after winning an election he was again appointed as Federal Minister of Railways. After winning the 1990 election, he was elevated to the post of Speaker of the National Assembly. To his credit, he didn’t abandon the PPP after Mussharraf’s coup and stayed behind bars. He got his due reward and was appointed Prime Minister in 2008.

    Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani family’s political fortunes have been steadily rising during his premiership. He has secured many seats for his family in by-elections. His son Abdul Qadir secured a provincial assembly seat in Rahimyar Khan by-election (he had lost a National Assembly seat in the general election). Another son Ali Musa Gilani was elected in the by-election for the seat vacated by the resignation of Shah Mahmood Qureshi. A younger brother Ahmad Mujtaba Gilani won a seat in the by-election from Jalalpur Pirwala. The Gilanis are also adept at adjusting their sails depending on the direction of the wind for smooth sailing. Yusuf’s nephew Syed Asad Murtaza Gilani won in the 2002 election on the PPP ticket but after the election joined the ruling party PML-Q. In the 2008 elections, when PML-Q didn’t award him the ticket, he joined PML-N that promptly awarded him the ticket. So in six short years, he was affiliated with three political parties.

    The only time these rivals are found under the same tent is when they are enjoying the perks of the government. In the 1980s, Yusuf enjoyed the benefits of being a federal minister wearing different hats in Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo’s government while Shah Mahmood did exactly the same at provincial level. Yusuf was smart enough to join the PPP just before the 1988 elections. During this time, Shah Mahmood was affiliated with different factions of PML (first PML-J then PML-N and then again the PML-J) and his ambition was to become the Chief Minister of Punjab.

    The Sharif brothers were too jealous of protecting their fiefdom to allow any outsider thus frustrating Shah Mahmood. He then joined hands with Manzoor Watto to overthrow the PML-N Chief Minister with the hope that he would get the coveted slot. However, when Watto became Chief Minister in 1993, Shah Mahmud lost all hope and jumped on the PPP wagon.

    Shah Mahmud was appointed president of the PPP for Punjab province. He was hoping to get the Punjab Chief Minister slot by riding the PPP horse but the Sharif’s were too entrenched in the province.

    During Benazir’s lifetime, even Yusuf and Shah Mahmud had to play the second fiddle. After Benazir’s death the race was on for the Prime Minister’s slot. When Yusuf became Prime Minister Shah Mahmood was like a wounded animal despite serving as his Foreign Minister. After enjoying all the perks for four years, he left the PPP on November 13, joined the PTI on November 27 and was immediately appointed Vice Chairman thus reincarnating himself as a champion for change.

    The battle is now going on among the third and fourth generation. If the PTI had decided to contest by-elections it was very likely that the contest would have been between Shah Mahmood’s son Zain Qureshi and Yusuf’s son Musa Gilani.

    Pirs are not the only players in the political field of Multan. Changing demographics, declining landholdings due to increasing progeny, universal franchise and several other factors have contributed to the rise of new groups in local politics.

    Two examples of Shaikh Muhammad Tahir Rashid and Sikandar Hayat Bosan can be cited as examples of the rising power of new groups in the last two decades. Rashid won a provincial assembly seat in the 1990 elections on an IJI ticket. In the 1993 and 1997 elections, he won a national assembly seat on the PML-N ticket. During the regime of President Mussharraf when a new faction PML-Q was launched Rashid joined it and was appointed Vice President of the party. He lost in the 2008 elections and so finally seeing no future he quit the PML-Q in May 2011. In October 2011, he joined the PTI hoping to make a comeback in politics on a new horse after a few years of hibernation. Rashid helped to introduce many local clan leaders to Imran. Internal feuds among heavy weights from the same area resulted in the quick departure of Rashid back into the PML-N fold.

    Sikandar Hayat Bosan is an influential landlord and no stranger to politics. He has managed to keep himself and several family members in the assemblies by getting support from his Bosan clan. He started his career in the provincial assembly and won in the 1985, 1988 and 1990 elections. He joined PML-N and in the 1997 elections, he broadened his reach and defeated the current Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani for a national assembly seat (Gilani took his sweet revenge by snatching back what he thought was his right in the 2008 elections by defeating Sikandar). After winning in the 2002 elections, he switched his allegiance to PML-Q and was awarded with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. He lost in the 2008 elections and after drifting for a while; he has recently joined the PTI.

    In 2002, Sikandar had also contested and won a provincial assembly seat as a back up plan. His nephew Muhammad Hasnain Khan Bosan was elected in a by election for the seat vacated by his uncle. Sikandar’s brother Shaukat Hayat also won a provincial assembly seat. Interestingly, these agriculturalists get positions that favor their interests such as the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and serving on standing committees related to revenue and irrigation.

    In the neighboring Shujabad, the story is no different. Just a cursory look at the history of the last two elections in one national assembly constituency (NA-152) provides a microcosm of the rural political scene. In the 2002 elections, the contest was between Syed Asad Murtaza Gilani of PPP, Javed Ali Shah of PML-N and Nawab Liaqat Ali Khan of PML-Q. Asad won this seat but later joined the ruling PML-Q. In 2008 elections, the whole applecart was turned over. Asad was now contesting on PML-N ticket, Liaqat was contesting on PPP ticket while brother of Javed, Mujahid Ali Shah was contesting on PML-Q ticket.

    Four influential politicians from the same area; Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi (representative of a smaller family of hereditary custodians of Makhdoom Abdul Rashid shrine), Tahir Rashid and Sikandar Hayat Bosan joined the PTI over the next few months time. All compete for influence in the same area (an interesting fact is that Qureshi has defeated both Rashid and Hashmi in previous elections). Rashid had already left the PTI after losing in an internal struggle and Shah Mahmood is not a happy camper.

    Managing several influential politicians from Multan will be the first taste of factional politics for Imran Khan. If all these are still wearing the PTI badge by the time of elections, it will be interesting to see how tickets are awarded to these local powerful men. Influence is not limited to a single individual as every national assembly constituency has two or three provincial assembly constituencies. There is a complex ‘swan dance’ where contestants for national assembly seat make arrangements with the contestants of provincial assembly seats as quid pro quo that sometimes transcend family, clan and political boundaries.

    Competing and conflicting interests are not absolute and political art is carefully balanced with cooperation when interests converge. Javed Hashmi suffered during General Pervez Mussharraf’s rule when the Sharif brothers took their easy exit and enjoyed a conformable exile. Hashmi was disappointed, as he was not adequately rewarded for his sacrifices. There were differences with Sharif brothers about his own future role in PML-N as well as political opportunities for his son-in-law Zahir Bahar Hashmi (Javed’s daughter Maimoona was elected on a seat reserved for women).

    The PTI decided to boycott the by-elections but Hashmi gave his tacit support to Prime Minister’s son Ali Musa Gilani in the neighboring electoral constituency of NA-148. There were probably two reasons for this action. First, Hashmi’s daughter is married to the son of Prime Minister’s cousin Tanvir Gilani and this family connection maybe at play. Second, Hashmi probably wants to secure the tacit support of the Gilani family in the next elections from his own constituency of NA-149. The Gilanis don’t compete from this constituency, but the hold of Makhdooms has been significantly reduced by the two rising rival clans of Dogars and Shaikhs. Shaikh Tahir Rashid defected from PTI camp to PML-N in view of rivalry with Hashmi in the same constituency. PML-N sweetened the pot by giving their party ticket to Tahir’s brother Tariq who won the contest in February 2012 by election.

    Sectarian Saints

    In the last decade, a new more extremist religious element not linked with the old religious-political parties has been emerging in southern Punjab. Deobandi madrassah educated youth brought up in such militant and sectarian organizations are making their presence felt in the region. The main center of their activities is based in Bahawalpur but their influence is spreading to neighboring Dera Ghazi Khan, Bahawalnagar and Rahimyar Khan. It is inevitable that very soon, they will make inroads in Multan where they will come in direct conflict with the ‘shrine culture’ of the Barelvi school of thought. This conflict will ultimately spill into the political arena mirror imaging sectarian politics of Jhang.

    Tango of Tumandars

    The Lagharis of Dera Ghazi Khan have been holding their land for a few centuries. Their traditional local enemies were the Khosas and Gurchanis. When the Sikhs conquered the Punjab, the Lagharis made an alliance with the Sikhs to use the resources of Sikh rulers to checkmate their enemies. In the dying days of Sikh rule in 1848 when the British entered the local power scene the Lagharis sided with the Sikhs while the Gurchanis and Khosas joined Herbert Edwards, the British leader. After the Sikh defeat, Jalal Khan Laghari joined the British. Their influence peaked during the time of Tumandar Sir Jamal Khan Laghari. In the post independence period, Farooq Ahmad Laghari left the civil service to enter politics and joined the PPP. He was elected President of the country but ended up dismissing Benazir Bhutto’s government. He quickly faded from the political scene but still had local influence during the early Mussharraf period to induct his son Awais Laghari and niece Sumaira Malik in the cabinet while another son Jamal Khan became Senator. Several nephews of Farooq are members of provincial assembly (i.e. Jafar Khan and Yusuf Khan). This was done by first aligning and later amalgamating his party with PML-Q. Two sons of Farooq; Awais and Jamal recently joined the PTI.

    Jugglers from Jhang

    In Jhang, economic, class, sectarian and criminal interests frequently intermingle. Shia and Sunnis power holders compete and cooperate in a complex set of relations. The Shia power holders are large landholders and the hereditary custodians of the shrine of Syed Mahboob Alam popularly known as Shah Jewna. Shia political factions include two rivals from the Shah Jewna branch; Abida Hussain and custodian of Shah Jewna shrine Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat.

    The other two groups are the Rajoa Sadat from neighboring Chiniot and Sial (main influence in the city). Abida and Faisal have fought many bitter battles and in the last seven elections, the score is four wins for Faisal and three for Abida. Party affiliation is not something that is taken seriously by either candidate. Abida has contested elections on PPP, PML-N and PML-Q tickets while Faisal on PPP and PML-Q tickets. This absurdity is quite obvious when looking; in 2002, Abida was candidate on the PML-Q ticket while Faisal was running on the PPP ticket. In 2008, the roles were reversed when Abida was running on the PPP while Faisal was on the PML-Q ticket. During Mussharraf’s rule, Faisal defected to PML-Q and was rewarded with the Interior Ministry and is currently serving as housing minister. Abida served as federal minister and Pakistan’s envoy to Washington on PML-N bandwagon before jumping the ship and joining PML-Q followed by the PPP.

    Fakhar Imam of Khanewal married Abida Hussain from Jhang. Both have spent time in the PPP and the PML-N and benefited from influential positions when their respective parties were in power. Fakhar started his political career during Zia ul Haq’s martial law. He served as Chairman of Multan District Council and later served as speaker of National assembly after the non-party elections of 1985. He served as Law and Education Minister in Nawaz Sharif’s government in 1991-93. Both husband and wife were ‘founding members’ of PML-Q. Two other founding members Mian Muhammad Azhar and Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri have already joined the PTI. In 2006, Fakhar joined PPP and became member of Central Executive Committee of the party.

    Their daughter Sughra Imam is a Harvard graduate and has worked with non-government organizations (NGOs) and in a Washington think tank. She was also at one time a consultant to the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB). NRB was the brainchild of General Mussharraf’s close friend Lieutenant General (R) Tanvir Naqvi who headed it to reengineer a political set up. Sughra’s political career is a mirror image of her maternal grandfather and both parents. She started her political career at local district level and served as head of Jhang district council. In the 2002 elections, she won a Punjab provincial assembly seat on a PML-Q ticket and appointed Minister of Social Welfare. She resigned from the cabinet in 2004 when her mother resigned her position in the PML-Q hierarchy. Sughra joined PPP following her parents.

    Father, mother and daughter trio was awarded national assembly tickets from the PPP. She lost in the national assembly elections in 2008 along with her parents (Sughra was defeated by Ghulam Bibi Bharwana; grandfathers of both candidates contested against each other in 1970 elections). This is a record even by Pakistani political standards where father, mother and daughter standing in one election (ironically all three lost to PML-Q candidates). However, Sughra was elected Senator when the PPP formed a national government. It is simply a matter of time until at least one member of the family joins the PTI.

    Those Sunnis who are active in local politics are split along three lines; rural disciples of Pirs, urban traders (mainly Chinioti Shaikhs as well as migrants from East Punjab) and an offshoot of the Deobandi school of thought consisting of rabidly sectarian outfits represented by Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SPP) and its splinter groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ). The Sahibzada custodians of the shrine of Sultan Bahu represent the Barelvi school of thought. All these Sunni factions compete and cooperate with each other for local influence.

    The national Barelvi political outfit Jamiat-e-Ulama Pakistan (JUP) and Deobandi outfit Jamiat-e-Ulama Islam (JUI) have used these sectarian fissures to their advantage. Cross sectarian cooperation between these Barelvi Sunnis and Shia in electoral politics is used to keep more extremist Deobandi power holders in check.

    If any national political party wants to change the current political atmosphere of the area, it will need to mobilize at the grassroots and move political discourse away from narrow sectarian interest groups. This is a long road requiring patience and hard work while political parties are focused only on electoral strategy that simply co-opts entrenched existing local power elite.

    Political Chessboard of PTI

    The arrival of old political heavy weights from the rural areas in the PTI tent has created new frictions.

    The core group around Imran Khan in the last few years consisted of professionals and businessmen. It includes affluent professionals like Dr. Arif Alavi (dentist), Samar Ali Khan (architect) and Najeeb Haroon (engineer by profession and owner of construction company), rich businessmen like Imran Ismail (owner of the Mazaa juice company and packaging industry) as well as middle class professionals like Jan Muhammad, Hamid Khan (lawyer) and Wajiuddin (retired justice).

    The arrival of Jahangir Tareen, a very rich businessman and owner of several sugar industries was a significant game changer for the PTI. He provided the PTI with financial resources, connections to the wider business community as well lateral connections with some local influential politicians.

    This arrival of four heavy weights from Multan and their assignments to top party positions has rattled old comrades and they feared that these old foxes would take over the party. They were fully aware that the best political asset of having Imran as party leader was the perception he represented a clean slate and this gave him a reasonable amount of trust among general population. They think this asset is their ticket to victory and if embracing too many shadowy characters from the past taints it, it could harm the party. An element of push back came from amongst the middle class enthusiasts but realists convinced them that party needs these ‘winnable’ candidates for elections. There will be competition between these new entrants and professional classes of the PTI. This will intensify as the time to decide on awarding party tickets for a national election draws closer. So we may see the departure of those who don not get tickets and they may try their luck as independent candidates.

    Imran Khan made the pragmatic decision to embrace some of the old politicians from rural Punjab. In the 2008 elections, he explained the reality on the ground when commenting about the contest in Jhang. He told the New York Times reporter that, “Rural politics and urban politics are completely different: The rural population has been de-politicized, and votes for the individuals,” and “The feudal themselves always switch sides to whoever will come to power.”

    In 2008, he was probably still thinking about empowering the rural population. However, in the last few years his increasing popularity amongst the general public and his intense ambition to get into the corridors of power sooner rather than later has forced him to re-evaluate this political course.

    Creating a grass roots based organization of a national political party is a herculean task requiring time and enormous financial resources.

    Rough estimates suggest the cost of running for a national assembly seat in rural area is about Rs. 100’00000 ($ 90,000) while a provincial assembly contest will require about Rs. 50’00000 ($45,000). This estimate is based on a clean election campaign and does not include the wholesale buying of village votes (some rich candidates pay the local influential person of the village a lump sum amount in return for securing the votes of the whole local community).

    So Imran has decided to get the support of influential and wealthy politicians who can bankroll their own campaigns.

    It is very likely that the various small groups revolving around each powerful player such as Shah Mahmud, Javed Hashmi, Sikandar Hayat Boasn and Jahangir Tareen will emerge in the party. These groups will not only compete with each other but also with groups around the professionals and businessmen inside the PTI.

    Imran’s first task will be to manage these competing factions. In the first phase, he has to keep insider competition and conflict below a certain threshold and keep them focused on winning in the elections. He has to balance this with the expectations of middle class and younger voters. There is confusion inside the PTI regarding the prospects of a victory. Some realists think that they may win a number of seats but not enough to make a government without coalition partners. Enthusiasts feel that time is on their side and if the PTI leadership plays its cards well, it can win big not only making a national government, but also able to make provincial governments in Punjab and Khyber-Puktunkhwa. The PTI is promising everything to everybody, which is the easiest thing when you are outside the tent. Privately even the diehard supporters admit that if they are able to achieve a vote of twenty percent they will call it a success. If the PTI can jump start general participation in the political process in both rural and urban areas that will be a more long lasting contribution towards empowerment than any electoral victory.


    In the last one hundred years, southwestern Punjab has undergone economic, social and political changes. Political power holders like their counterparts in other parts of the country are opportunists rather than ideological; there is competition amongst the various power groups and these power groups will evolve with time and the traditional political elites of the region are no exception. In some rural areas, landholders and custodians of shrines largely dominate electoral politics. They are the local power holders and political parties woe them into their ranks rather than opting for creating a grass root organization. The influence of these traditional power holders has diminished to a certain extent especially in urban areas but in rural areas they still have significant influence in rural areas. Newly empowered groups are challenging the old guard.

    In 2013, elections, southwestern Punjab electoral contests will revolve around the three parties: the PML-N, PPP and PTI. The best-case scenario for those politicians who stand as independent candidates is to extract the maximum concessions for their support during the formation of the government. Only pressure from below will force all political parties to give sufficient number of tickets to middle class loyal party workers to give some share to these groups in the upper echelons of power.

    This is the second part of a two-part article. Author thanks many well-informed individuals for walking me through the complex world of the politics of the region. Many were very gracious with their hospitality and time. A number of people provided valuable input as well as corrections and clarifications but all conclusions, errors and omissions are author’s sole responsibility.

    1. W. L. Conrin and H. D. Craik. The Punjab Chiefs (Lahore: Sang-e-Meel Publications, 1993 reprint of 1909 Edition)
    2. Rajit Mazumder. The Indian Army and the making of Punjab (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003)
    3. Ian Talbot. Khizr Tiwana: The Punjab Unionist Party and the Partition of Punjab (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2002)
    4. Aqil Abbas Jafri. Pakistan Key Siasi Waderey (Pakistan’s Political Landlords) In Urdu (Islamabad: Good Books, 1998)
    5. Craig Baxter. The Peoples Party vs. The Punjab Feudalists in J. Henry Korson (Ed.) Contemporary Problems of Pakistan (Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill Leiden, 1974)
    6. Mariam Abo-Zahab. Shia-Sunni Conflict in Jhang in Lived Islam in South Asia. Imtiaz Ahmad & Helmut Reifeld (Ed.), New Delhi, 2004
    7. Sarfraz Khan and Hafiz-ur-Rahman Choudhry. Determinates of Sectarianism in Pakistan: A case study of district Jhang. Middle East Journal of Scientific Research, 8(1), 237-43, 2011, http://www.idosi.org/mejsr/mejsr8(1)11/40.pdf
    8- 2008: Tariq Aziz advises Zardari against Shah Mehmood’s PM candidacy | DAWN.COM
    9- III. The Members | History of Parliament Online

    Hamid Hussain
    April 30, 2012

  3. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

    Apr 17, 2009
    Likes Received:
    We could post all news, commentaries, reviews how various elements in Pakistan is up in arms in Pakistan.

    It will help to understand how Pakistan is moving towards its demise.
  4. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

    Apr 17, 2009
    Likes Received:
    What if the conspiracy theorists are correct?

    Think back to a more innocent time in Pakistan, say around 2007 or so. Terrorism may have been at its peak then, but all the right-thinking people knew who the enemy was: the Taliban and its enablers in the media, who spun wild theories to explain how everything was the fault of the Americans. The US –– the conspiracy theorists somehow expected us to believe –– was using robot flying saucers to attack us. Ludicrous as it sounded, these deranged people claimed that hordes of beefy Blackwater mercenaries were roaming the country. Clearly, no serious and sane person was going to fall for any of this jihadist propaganda.

    One by one, we got confirmation that drone attacks were real, that the US did indeed have a lot of private security contractors working in the shadows and, in the effort to catch Osama bin Laden, even ran a fake vaccination programme. Welcome to Pakistan, where even the most feverish anti-US conspiracy theories turn out to be, well, true.

    Those who took the pragmatic position that in a fight between the Taliban and the US, it would be wise to pick the latter’s side, should have had to reexamine all their core beliefs –– if not when drone attacks became a matter of public knowledge, then at least when Raymond Davis was revealed to be a spook. But we’re in a war, dammit, and picking a side is vital, no matter how much we mocked Dubya when he insisted on the same formulation. Thus, you have Pakistan’s liberals still denouncing the conspiracy theorists but having nary a negative word for those who are so adept at proving that the conspiracies actually exist.

    Always beware of the person who is more willing to change his or her arguments than admit to a change of mind. So drones have now become the most effective way to kill militants, legality and scores of civilian deaths be damned. What’s wrong with a fake vaccination or two if it leads to the capture of Osama? And as for Raymond Davis, let’s just never talk about him again.

    Many of those who seem more interested in being apologists for destructive US policies, mean well by concentrating on defeating the Taliban through strongly-penned columns and ignoring American transgressions. But what they are indulging in is propaganda, which by its very nature is designed to obfuscate, not illuminate.

    The propagandists include among their ranks, obviously, the Zaid Hamids and Ali Azmats of the world. What grates is that some of their most ferocious critics seem to be stuck in the same mindset. Justifying desired policy outcomes becomes the goal, and facts are little more than an inconvenient hindrance that can easily be brushed away. Thus, you get someone like Farhat Taj arguing –– with a complete lack of verifiable evidence –– that citizens of Fata actually support being attacked by US drones and that the drones kill far more militants (or suspected militants) than civilians.

    Here’s a simple rule that propagandists on both sides may want to follow: it’s possible to be both anti-US and anti-Taliban at the same time. Even better, sloganeering in support of a cause may not be the most effective form of argument. If it is absolutely essential to make a case in favour of one side, inconvenient facts should not be brushed away. We desperately need an honest debate. That we don’t have one is equally the fault of both sides.

    Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2012.

    What if the conspiracy theorists are correct? – The Express Tribune

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