Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Duel by Tariq Ali

'Politics in a land of perpetual dictatorships and corrupt politicians is undoubtedly depressing, but with some positive aspects. For one, politics has revived an interest in stories from the popular literature of an earlier period of Muslim rule in the region.

First told by a sixteenth-century storyteller, repeated to me in Lahore in 2007, the following tale sums up, with a few modifications, life in Pakistan today:

A man is seriously dissatisfied with a junior magistrate's decision. The latter, irritated, taunts him to appeal to the qadi (a senior judge).

"But he's your brother, he won't listen to me", the man replied.

Then go to the mufti [ expert in Muslim law]! said the judge.

"But he's your uncle"

-"Go the the minister"-

"He's your grandfather.

-"Go to the King!"-

"Your niece is engaged to him"

The magistrate, livid with anger, finally says: "Go to hell then".

To which the man replied:

"That is where your esteemed father reigns. He'll see I get no satisfaction there either!"'


  1. Clearly the capture of the Al Qaeda leaders cannot be the main goal of the NATO occupiers in Afghanistan. Even if the ISI located and handed the leaders over to Washington, NATO would not likely leave the country. To portray the invasion as a "war of self-defense" for NATO makes a mockery of international law, which was perverted to twist a flukishly successful attack by a tiny, terrorist Arab groupuscule into an excuse for an open-ended American military thrust into the Middle East and Central Asia."

  2. "Debt service and defense spending in Pakistan comprise two-thirds of public spending and are equal to total tax revenues ($6.9 billion in 2001) with $1.75 billion left over (borrowed) for overall development.

    This is in a country where 70% of women and 41% of men are officially classed as illiterate and 30% (56 million) live below the poverty line. In Pakistan there are eight physicians and one dentist for every ten thousand people and most of these are arrayed in private clinics serving the wealthy although malnutrition, acute respiratorty illnesses, tuberculosis, diabetes and other preventable diseases are widespread.( the coalition government formed in 2008 did not announce the formation of a ministry for "health and human development'). Of course public sanitation and housing are also at a premium. Figures released by the UN in 2007-8 place Pakistan 136th out of 177 on the Human Development Index, below Sri Lanka, India, The Maldives and Myanmar.

    Though primarily an agricultural economy between 86 and 65% (depending on region) own no land at all. Large landowners own 40% of the arable land and control most of the irrigation system yet assessments by the World Bank show them to be less productive than smallholders, poor taxpayers, heavy borrowers and bad debtors.

    "Liberalization, privatization and deregulation" in Pakistan is currently selling large tracts of land to global agribusiness, transforming peasants into employees on short term contracts.In the face of this new approach old-fashioned feudal landlords have been given a renewed lease on life. In many areas they continue to administer justice, dominate politics and rule with an iron hand, "and also, in their own fashion, provide for the common weal by not letting their peasants starve. Some, such as Mumtaz Bhutto ( Benazir's uncle) openly contend that those who work their land are better off under a pre-capitalist system of this sort than under what is offered by globalization. Of course, they will not even consider a third alternative of land distribution to the poor."

    Musharraf's regime won admiring praise from 1999 onward for sticking to IMF restructuring guidelines "despite the hardships imposed on the public by austerity measures".

  3. Musharraf, during his early days as president, when he was brimming with self-confidence, ended the state monopoly of television. The airwaves were liberated.. He recognized that reforming the antiquated broadcasting structure would benefit local businesses and create a healthy competition with channels abroad, and indeed this is what happened.

    But Musharraf had underestimated the capacity of Pakistani journalists, especially the newer and younger generation untouched by the sleaze of the past, to pursue the truth....Inevitably a clampdown followed the early loosening of censorship. The independent media's coverage of the lawyer's revolt was one of the primary targets of the declaration of a state of emergency in 2007..Musharraf insisted that to remain on the air TV news stations had to sign a code of conduct whereby journalists who ridiculed him and other government officials would be subjected to fines and prison sentances. "The media should not agitate," Musharraf said. "It should join us in the war on terror" He was wistfully thinking of CNN and BBC World