Tracing the transitions

Op-ed published in The News, print edition, 28 December 2016.

If we look at our political history from 1990 to the present in four-year intervals, the number of transitions of the chiefs of army staff (COAS), quite accurately, corresponds to transitions in the government.

For arguments sake, let’s entertain an interpretation of this pattern before we dismiss these transitions as mere coincidences.

A common summation of Pakistan’s political history over the past 25 years is that the 1990s was the lost decade with numerous shuffles in the government, the early 2000s was the martial law era and the late 2000s entailed the revival of democracy.

These are seemingly unconnected periods. Yet, when one reads old news reports, there are uncanny similarities between them and present-day news stories to the extent that these old accounts would not seem out of place in 2016. I am certain that many journalists will at least partially agree with this.

It doesn’t help that our media discourse on government transitions is rife with conspiracy theories. Is the imposition of martial law or the dissolution of assemblies historically dependent on the whims of a few individuals? Or do such decisions take place in Washington or Riyadh? There are as many explanations as there are conspiracy theories.

What is often found wanting is an analysis based on these underlying themes. There certainly are patterns to be unearthed before more conspiracy theories take over. These patterns also encompass numerous shades of opinions.

Let’s examine our history through one such pattern.

The period between 1990 and 1994 was a tumultuous time in Pakistani politics when several governments were dismissed in quick succession. Benazir Bhutto’s government was dismissed in 1990 and Nawaz Sharif became prime minister. However, a contest of power ensued between the president and the prime minister. As a result, both were dismissed, paving the way for fresh elections and Bhutto’s return to power in 1993.

At the same time, COAS Mirza Aslam Beg handed over the reins to General Asif Nawaz in 1991, who later died of a sudden heart attack in January 1993, leaving the post vacant for Gen Abdul Waheed.

We have here two transitions in the military and two transitions in civilian government.

In 1996, Bhutto’s government was dismissed on charges of corruption once again and Sharif formed a new government. This period saw one transition of the COAS, where Gen Abdul Waheed, after completing his term, handed over the reins to Gen Jehangir Karamat. Between 1994 and 1998, there was one transition in the military and one transition in the government.

But perhaps the most exciting times in the 1990s came towards its end when the Sharif government was dismissed in 1999 and replaced with a technocratic government. This period saw Gen Musharraf taking over as the COAS from Gen Karamat in 1998. Once again, one transition took place in both the government and the military’s highest office.

The period between 2002-2006 was widely brandished as a period of unprecedented stability. We saw the technocratic government continuing from the late 1990s and Gen Musharraf served as both the COAS and the chief executive.

The trend continued. There were zero transitions in the government and zero transitions in the COAS.

Another exciting period was in 2007 during the Lawyers’ Movement. We also saw a return to a popularly elected PPP-led government in 2008. Gen (r) Musharraf, who was now just a president, handed over the reins to Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and stepped down from managing the country.

The numbers hold fast. There was one transition of the COAS and one transition in the government.

Interestingly, the government transitions were preceded by the dissolution of assemblies and followed by popular elections. Now, they are only preceded by popular elections.

Between 2010 and 2014, journalists and scholars were ecstatic when an elected government in Pakistan, after completing its term, paved the way for another democratic transition through popular elections. Gen Kayani, who was now nearing the end of his extension, handed over the post to Gen Raheel Sharif.

During this period, there was one transition in the government and one transition within the army.

The period between 2014 and 2018 raises some questions. If Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri were to be taken at face value, several governments would have come and gone by now. So far, we have seen only one transition in the COAS and our model predicts that PML-N government will survive till 2018.

But will the transition of a COAS correspond with a transition in the government? This may seem likely.

In the social sciences, an investigation of a phenomenon often starts with simple factual information. Our model provides for this, irrespective of the actual significance of a phenomenon or event, though historically moments of change in the military top brass have been politicised. In 1992, Benazir’s long march was seen to be losing momentum when the sudden death of Gen Nawaz changed the political opportunity structure for all political parties. Quite recently, much was made of the timing of the PTI’s supposed dharna and the arrival of a new chief.

What is the significance of the number four? The term of an elected government in Pakistan, according to the 1973 constitution, is five years. A COAS serves for three years. It’s tempting, as a casual observer, to mull the possibilities if both terms were for four years.

To be sure, there is never a magic bullet that solves complex problems, such as the need for a stable coalition, in a jiffy. Many other variables play a role. We can think of some right off the bat, such as external threat perception and the health of the economy, etc. Furthermore, the numbers above do not account for the interim governments.

Abstract of my thesis proposal

On 20th July, in an open seminar headed by my thesis committee, I presented my research proposal. The proposal defence is a process that we (post-graduate students) were told is just something everyone goes through, a merry statement that perhaps downplays the and must pass aspect of the process. After much deliberation however, I am now a PhD Candidate and quite keen to get on with field work and collecting data for the various parts of this project. Here I present the working title and abstract of my thesis proposal:

 

Title

Investigating increasing media sensibilities of protests in Pakistan: Dharnas in the electronic media age.

Abstract

This project explores and explains the consequences of increasing media sensibilities on mobilization strategies of protests in Pakistan. The dominant literature on contentious collective action emphasizes the role of communication, with an increasing focus on new media technology. Among scholars interested in the relationship between media and protest, the internet captures the most attention. There are relatively few studies on the role of 24-hour news television, which in some societies is the most game-changing “new media”. In many parts of the world, a commercial and plural television news media are not much older than the public internet, and much more powerful.

This thesis will address the gap by examining how changing media have affected protest movements in Pakistan. It will study Dharnas (protest sit-ins) organized by a major opposition party, comparing how recent protests have changed since the 1990s, which was a period that predates both the internet and commercial news channels in Pakistan. The year 2003 is chosen as a pivotal year as privatization policies formally came in to effect and the government started to issue news television licenses on a commercial basis.

It applies the political process model from social movement studies, which is a well-established framework for explaining how contentious collective action adapts to the political environment and resource availability. The framework gives due regard to the importance of media to movement organizers. Further, this thesis will apply the concept of ‘media logic’ borrowed from the theory of mediatization of politics. According to this theory, media are institutions with a logic that other institutions must adapt to in order to be successful in societies where much of social life, including politics, takes place through media.

The thesis will show that Dharnas, a traditional form of public event, remain extremely relevant to Pakistan’s organizers of contentious collective action, but that they have been transformed by mediatization. It will also show that, in this transformation, television has been more impactful than the internet. It will reveal in detail how the media logic of commercial news channels has shaped the modern Dharna. It will also explore how protest organizers have adapted to the internet that plays a limited albeit a particular role. The study will contribute to media studies’ understanding of how protest activity in semi-democracies is shaped by media pluralisation in the form of television and the internet.

 

 

Alpha, Bravo, Charlie (1998) and Khuda Ke Liye (2007): a critical review

The Pakistani film industry is experiencing a come back riding the tide of globalisation and media liberalisation. It is the contention of this essay that one important impact of changing political times and indeed turmoil has been on Pakistani culture. A notion ably depicted by the changing narratives, production values and identity crisis in Pakistani films. It is a truism that the country since independence in 1947, has been characterised by hybrid forms and an unresolved struggle between authoritarian legacies and democratic aspirations (Malik, 1996), thus the changes in cinema can be taken as a cultural manifestation of this inner conflict. In order to illustrate this the essay will hi light two very popular works of director Shoaib Mansoor; one a television drama Alpha Bravo Charlie (1998) based on the lives of officers in the Pakistan army and two, a post-911 highest grossing Pakistani film, Khuda Ke Liye (2007) (In the name of God). Since both films were supported by the Inter-Services Intelligence Public Relations (ISPR), the propaganda arm of the military intelligence, the author intends to further two lines of arguments; firstly that the authoritarian establishment has used cinema as a medium to legitimise cultural hegemony. Secondly, the author explains how the increasing sophistication of the second film requires a poststructural analysis of the film produced in a nation state reacting to global changes.

Background

The praetorianism of the Pakistan armed forces is a well established phenomenon analysed as it’s political economy by Ayesha Siddia (2007) in Military Inc. Inside Pakistan’s Political Economy.  In the book she gives a detailed empirical account and consequence of ‘Milbus’ the definition of which is;

military capital used for the personal benefit of the military fraternity, especially the officer cadre, which is not recorded as part of the defence budget or does not follow the normal accountability procedures of the state, making it an independent genre of capital. It is either controlled by the military or under its implicit or explicit patronage. (Siddiqa 2007, p.4)

In her study she makes the assessment that Pakistan army’s increase in economic activities has been directly proportional to its political power and the widespread securitisation of the society. Indeed its two major welfare organisations are also the two biggest companies in the country. It has major assets and investments (monopolies in certain cases) in fertiliser, cement, banking, highway construction and ports. These ‘new land barons’ have preferential decision making power which is detrimental to free-market economics. This has made the Pakistani army among the ten largest armed forces in the world and its officer cadres and retired forces personnel the most powerful fraternity in the country. Moreover, other societal elites have become coalition partners with the Milbus forming what is referred to in the media as the Establishment. Why the Pakistan security state has morphed in to such an existence is beyond the scope of this paper. What is important however are the cultural manifestations of a state dominated by a militarised ruling oligarchy since it tries to shape the state according to a blueprint that suits the interests of a handful of people. And the power to continue shaping the ‘modes of production’ is even more pronounced in postcolonial states like Pakistan. Although the military establishment comprising mainly of the Army and the bureaucracy have been firmly entrenched in politics, economics and foreign policy it wasn’t until the the 1980’s that it came out as an all encompassing financially independent institution of the Pakistani state. This was due to the Soviet-Afghan war where the state became a crucial partner in the United States Cold War. What followed was an influx of American and Saudi weapons and money in to Pakistan with the ultimate aim to train the mujahideen in their guerrilla war. The country became as Tariq Ali has said a ‘U.S Satrapy’. But it was the acquiring of nuclear weapons capabilities in 1998 and the resulting adventures in Kargil in 1999; a move to take over occupied Indian Kashmir by force, that really set the conditions for certain cultural products to take shape.

Alpha Bravo Charlie and Gramsci

The series, Alpha Bravo Charlie was aired on 8pm prime time on Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV), the dominant state station, between May to July 1998. It quickly became the most watched drama serial at the time, not least because of lack of choices for the audience. It was a story of the lives of three young and ambitious recruits in the Pakistan army. Faraz Ahmed a handsome intelligent son of a rich land owning Punjab (largest province of Pakistan) family who after graduating is not assigned to active combat duty but is relegated to a dignified three-star General rank as he opens up a charity school from his resources. Kashif Kirmani is an active duty son of a two-star General. Brave, bold and with a high sense of humour he is promoted to the rank of Captain. Upon graduation he is assigned to a post on the Siachen glacier, one of the highest battlegrounds in the world and an area of strategic importance in the Kashmir dispute. It was also one of the battlegrounds during the Kargil conflict. As the series builds up, Kirmani takes a dangerous mission and destroys the Indian enemy but is wounded during the skirmish. He spends three days in the snow before finally getting rescued but tragically has his limbs amputed as a result of injuries. For his valour he is given an honourable discharge which he refuses and continues to serve in the army. Lastly, Gulsher Khan is a shy, mild mannered Captain and a son of a petty officer in the army. Occupying a rank higher than his poor father and clearly coming from a modest upbringing Khan’s story is that of the coming of age of a young man on a steady upward social mobility. Khan is sent to Bosnia on a U.N peacekeeping mission where he launches rescue operations to protect Bosnian Muslims held by Serbian forces. There he starts to command the respect of the locals and one Bosnian woman proposes to marry him which he respectfully refuses being already a married man. As the series unfolds Khan is captured in a Serbian ambush and gets killed while attempting to escape.

Lets first establish the notion that cultural hegemony has been an important aspect of state narrative of Pakistan’s history and ideology as a home for Muslims of the Subcontinent. The architects of Pakistan, most of which belonged to the landed gentry in the patronage of the British Raj realised that religious sentiments could become the only political slogan that could unite what Partha Chatterjee has termed the ‘political society’ in subaltern literature, under one banner in the fight for independence. This nation-state narrative has been controlled by the elites of the Pakistani society since then. Thus the revision of history books, discouragement of alternate national discourse in the media, indirect control of the Urdu newspapers by intelligence agencies due to its widespread readership and heavy censorship imposed on English newspapers (the preferred newspapers of upper-middleclass), suppression of provincial nationalist voices and minorities has becomes a necessary outcome of the ideological apparatus. Viewed form this light, the Establishment is a physical and metaphorical representation of what the societal elites have come to be understood in Pakistan, its most powerful player being the army. Siddiqa’s work as a military strategist has been of empirically grounding the exact nature of the expanding politico-economic reach of the Establishment. Her work sets the ground for a critique of an ideological state apparatus and indeed for this TV series as an important propaganda tool deployed as a ‘soft power’ initiative to legitimise states ventures in Kashmir. It is hard to dismiss the timeliness of broadcast as mere coincidence. Antonio Gramsci’s notion of cultural hegemony is a good starting point to conceptualise this:

One can say that not only the philosophy of praxis (Marxism) not exclude ethico-political history, but that indeed in its most recent stage of development, it consists precisely in asserting the moment of hegemony as essential to its conception of the state and to the accrediting of the cultural fact, of cultural activity of a cultural front as necessary alongside the merely economic and political ones.

The incursions in Siachen and its possible repercussions, a critical analysis of the perceived threat to Islam in Bosnia, the pervasiveness of the military in general gets lost within the static of a beautiful portrayal and slice of life depicted in the TV series. Instead, we have a ‘good will’ TV series with a superb production value and cannot help put invest ourselves emotionally in the characters; Faraz for his charitable appeal, Kashif for his patriotism and tragic loss, Khan for his ‘nice-guys-finish-last’ aura. The death of Khan in the final episode is particularly unsettling as it portrays him as a poor victim caught between events outside his control. He really becomes a martyr, a saint and ultimately symbolises his institution. We must venerate him, we must absolve him for any sins he might have committed. With its firm grip over any and all forms of media broadcast and distribution it became that much easier for the state to promote this cultural product. Since only four television channels existed in the country, all state owned, before 2002 and since internet was barely present the series faced zero threats from competing television programs or critical reviews from the civil society.

It is really the liberalisation of the Pakistani media industry after 1999 following, but not limited to, what the then Minister of Information Javed Jabbar has attributed as “counter(ing) increasing Indian propaganda”1 which demonstrates for us the continuity of this cultural hegemony. But very soon we realise that cultural hegemony is no longer an accurate term of the functioning of the ideological state apparatus and I will explain why in a bit. Here I would like to bring to attention two significant events relevant to our discussion. Firstly, ‘liberalisation’ here means not just of the media industry but the liberal market policies adopted by the dictatorship of President General Pervez Musharraf2 which included privatisation, opening of Pakistan economy for international investment and of course unprecedented investment in the telecommunication, news media industry. The economy managed by a cadre of experts in a highly centralized bureaucracy did indeed experience rampant growth within the first few years of military rule and achieved some modicum of stability. It is my contention that this period marks Pakistan’s formal entry (if ever there was such a thing) in to globalisation and postmodernity. Secondly, the September 11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of the U.S in Afghanistan had widespread repercussions for the Pakistani establishment; it now found itself forced to dismantle the same mujahideen network, founded to fight the Soviets, by the same allies that had funded it. The same mujahideen network that was now labelled in the U.S media as a terrorist network. This resulted in a massive dissonance within not only the Establishment but the rest of the society; in the 80’s the narrative of the mujahideen (transliterated here as a ‘religious freedom fighter’) went well with the Pakistani nation-state identity i.e. a state for the muslims of the Subcontinent and thus appealed to the popular sentiments of the subaltern. Ultimately this combination resulted in the adoption of a puritanical Islamic thought since it served as a convenient method for the Establishment to set in motion an ideological state apparatus. Indeed, the period in the 80’s is colloquially known as Islamization of Pakistan. Now however in participating in the ‘War on Terror’ and the various financial opportunities it provided the ideological state apparatus found itself in need of a recalibration. President General Musharraf then attempted to introduce his ‘Enlightened Moderation’ policy and drew many parallels of Pakistan with Turkey. However, this time around the ideological state apparatus did not work as ‘effectively’ due to creeping globalisation and mediatization3 of the society. By effectively I mean that this conceptualisation of cultural hegemony is inadequate. In a sense, I want to argue that globalisation has brought with it an increasing salience of postmodern/poststructural theories as a lens to look at some aspects of Pakistani society. Which brings us to our second film.

Khuda Ke Liye (In the name of God)

The plot follows the lives of a family of upper-middle class Pakistanis across three countries. A handsome duo, Mansoor and Sarmad are brothers who are part of a rising musical band in Lahore, Pakistan. Sarmad becomes increasingly influenced by the rhetoric of a prominent local muslim cleric who had earlier played an active role in the Afghan War and is now running an insurgency against the Americans in Afghanistan. He starts sporting a beard, drops out of the band, starts attending religious sermons and even pressures his free-spirited family to also follow his new lifestyle. Mansoor, not deterred by the inner conflict of his brother, travels to Chicago to pursue studies in music. He adjusts well with the diverse community of students and is celebrated as a talented musician. He also falls in love with a girl called Janie who quits alcohol for him and they eventually get married. Meanwhile in England, Mary/Mariam is a young Pakistani girl born and raised in Britain whose first generation progressive albeit hypocritical father brings her to Pakistan on a pretext and forcefully marries her off in a village. The story then unfolds as the world witnesses 9/11. Mansoor is taken in custody without trial by the U.S intelligence agencies and is tortured to Insanity. Sarmad reluctantly travels to Afghanistan to fight a ‘holy war’ and returns traumatised. While Mary, now rescued by the Pakistan Army under orders from the British government takes her father to court. The court scene is the essence of the film where an argument unfolds and where another religious cleric explains how a particular brand of Islam is being exploited to instigate hatred while the message of tranquility and peace is getting lost in the clutter.

Reception

The film was released to widespread critical appreciation and fame in 2007, squarely in the middle of military operations being conducted against the by now belligerent and dangerous Islamic militancy in north west of Pakistan. It quickly became the highest grossing film in Pakistani cinema which is a feat that must be emphasised; a cast of popular television stars, script by acclaimed director Shoaib Mansoor, promotion by Geo Network (a byproduct of media liberalisation), shooting done on location and many other firsts, were a testament to the high production value. Most importantly many Pakistanis were indeed proud of a film that resonated with their identity crisis and moreover, its positive reception around the world was viewed as an empathetic acknowledgment of this identity crisis and marginalization. The film however does seem to be an anomaly since the cinema industry in Pakistan had all but vanished, due to unfavourable economic policies and Islamization by the time of its release. Also many Bollywood veterans have been concerned about the films actual market value if left on its own in a South Asian market; the film performed average at the Indian box office where an audience is used to grandiose, item-numbers, big stars, spontaneous dancing and idealistic notions of love. Finally, the film was aired for free on Geo Television, which is now the most watched television after PTV, which raises doubts regarding profit motives behind its production; most independent and international Pakistani film directors do not release their films in the fledgling Pakistani market.

A new framework of hegemony?

Did the film work if it had a political purpose? I would argue that the film itself is a political message. By tackling issues of gender discrimination as in the case of Mary, issues of identity crisis experienced by upwardly mobile Pakistani families and the ideological clash between certain sects of Islam the film successfully hi lights the symptoms of societal fissures in a young nation state. But because this political message is limited to this humanist projection it will never appeal to our critical senses as it falls just short of explicating possible causes for societal fissures, gender discrimination and ideological conflicts. Although in one sense, if we look at it through the ideological state of Gramsci, this does represent progress because an overt categorisation of a ‘root-of-evil’ and hence propaganda, as depicted in Alpha Bravo Charlie, is absent. However I would argue that precisely because of this nuanced approach to sensitive issues, the film hints at the inevitability of such societal fissures. In other words by taking the cause out of the equation the film absolves the embedded power structures which otherwise may be revealed as the cause of this inevitability. I should not be too harsh on the director though after all this film represents an important cultural milestone in Pakistani history, riding though on the back of mediatization, and having an almost emancipatory effect on the Pakistani consciousness. However one can’t help but reflect on the complete involvement of Pakistani armed forces in every sphere of the security state (see discussion of Siddiqa earlier) which also happens to be a transitioning democracy and is perhaps giving new forms of socio-political and economic structures that haven’t been conceptualized yet. Perhaps the term Establishment as it was understood 20 years ago does not hold currency any more. It is no longer strictly an elitist super structure, with a rural population at its base; there is now a middle class that now stands at 28% many members of which are connected to varying degrees with the Establishment. I realize this is a rather reductionist viewpoint and has been mentioned only for illustrative purposes. This is a similar concern as that of Spivak when  she talks about catachresis. The point is that there is a core which pulls the society proper towards it with a powerful force. Cultural products like Khuda Ke Liye do not represent  Islamic moderation or for that matter radicalization, they exist to serve a purpose in the changing nature of what Siddiqa now refers as a ‘hybrid-theocratic state’, as and when it deems necessary.

1. Intermedia, ‘Pakistan Media Comes of Age Despite Rising Violence’, Annual State of Pakistan Media Report 2006-2007.
2. Following international outrage for adventures in Kargil the civil-military relationship in the country became increasingly hostile and finally resulted in a soft coup d’etat. The constitution was suspended and the Prime Minister and chief of the ruling party Nawaz Sharif was sent to exile. It is interesting to note that many ordinary Pakistanis living in Pakistan have only recently been made aware of the details of this skirmish.
3. Definition of mediatization by Krotz (2009, p. 24) “we, in consequence, should understand the social and cultural reality, and thus each individual social and cultural phenomenon, as also depending on the media. This is what we refer to as mediatized… mediatization thus is a meta-process…and one akin to globalization or commercialisation.”

Statement of Intent – PhD program at Hong Kong Baptist University

A poignant lesson I learnt in my academic, professional and personal development is that life should not be perceived as a long-term business plan, contrary to what we are dispassionately taught since childhood in Pakistan; prior to my Masters I would never have imagined a career in academia given my temperament but it was a series of anachronistic events that not only invoked in me a dormant passion for the knowledge economy but also convinced me of it’s logic.

I always had a penchant for the untold stories, the underdogs and the way society evolves with progress. So a chance trip to Turkey after saving enough money, to meet a pen pal became a life changing experience in 2011; a festive blend of East meets West, Turkey “opened my eyes,” to the vast similarities among different cultures and human nature in general. It made me understand that people everywhere have the same desires and wants. It also smashed some inaccurately construed perspectives about different cultures I had acquired through popular television.

At that time I was planning to enroll in a postgraduate program in management to complement my exiting faculties – earlier I had planned and secured Rs. 60,00,000 (~ $67,000) for a marketing campaign at Ahmed E.H. Jaffer Foundation’s boarding school of excellence The Hub School, and prior to that given the unprecedented task to revamp the business model for the website Brandsynario.com at Synergy (Pvt.) Ltd, notwithstanding pressure to join the family business full time – but upon my return I decided to pursue a burgeoning interest in journalism. I reckoned that communication sciences would inculcate in me a strong core understanding of reaching the audience; which is far more important for understanding marketing communication, particularly in an evolving pubic sphere in Pakistan where importance of elections, fundamental human rights and free speech have only recently gained traction after media liberalisation.

Thus communication science is a career path I have followed rigorously and whole-heartedly since. 

To learn more in this field I pursued a master’s program in Journalism and Media Communication at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield, United Kingdom. Participation in the event coverage of the first St Albans Film Festival, internship at the Eastern Eye – Britain’s foremost weekly for South Asian community in Central London – and the MA thesis on Pakistani media made me cognizant of the peculiarities of South Asians all over the world and the dearth of available literature in the field. 

My dissertation and successive PhD proposal are the two most cherished culminations of my master’s program. The dissertation report for which I spent my entire nine day holiday in Pakistan conducting elite interviews, reaching out to friends at Interflow Communication and Nielsen Saudi Arabia among other venues, taught me the intricacies of conducting rigorous research. It compelled me to dig deeper, read more and collaborate more.

My lucky break came when Professor Anatol Lieven at King’s College agreed to see me last November to offer his critique of my master’s thesis. My ambitions in academia gathered momentum from then onwards. Anatol was kind enough to introduce me to Professor Mathew McCartney at Oxford University who upon my insistence has agreed to co-supervise a doctoral program subject to enrollment at the School of Interdisciplinary Studies. However the strongest support for my PhD proposal came from Professor Daya Thussu at University of Westminster, Professor Pradeep Chhibber at University of California, Berkley and Professor Colin Sparks at your esteemed institution.

Upon my return from UK, I made a tough call to put on hold a lucrative position at an advertising firm to develop my proposal further. It was self-learning in its essence, a trait picked from the excellent faculty at Hertfordshire. Now that I apply for funding while I work at The News International (Jang Group) and prepare to teach media theory at SZABIST this fall, I know that every decision I take must bring me a step closer to a doctoral program.

If given the choice between research work purely in United States and United Kingdom or, partly in Hong Kong and United States, I would chose the later without hesitation; since media systems are inextricably linked with the political identity of a country it makes sense for Pakistani academics to study communication systems in countries such as China, Brazil, Poland, South Africa and India. Pure liberal democratic templates adopted from mature democracies are bound to fail in the global south. There is credibility in my statement; of the five telecommunication companies – the only industry where private foreign investment is officially allowed – operating in Pakistan, four are owned by investors in Russia, Middle East and China. It is highly likely that in future developments in the media industry of Pakistan, such nations will play an important role. The need of the hours thus is to study best practices in both schools of thought and that is why a dual degree program offered at HKBU is of intense interest for me.

My decision to apply for a PhD program was not an epiphany neither was it something I always knew I would take since childhood but something I have actualized over the years. It has been a journey of self-discovery and my four years of experience within the industry, in Karachi and London, puts me in a unique position to undertake this research. I sincerely hope that the admission’s committee will consider my application strongly.

 


I wrote this statement somewhere last summer to contest for a very eclectic and experimental four-year PhD program based across continents in Hong Kong, China and the United kingdom. And much to my bewilderment I was accepted for a full-funded position in Communication Studies in this incredible part of the world! Perhaps my statement will serve as a rough guide or even inspire fellow Pakistanis to dream big, cash in on their strengths and develop the foresight to traverse where others hesitate. I consider myself very very lucky.

 

The Rise of the Global South

The emergence of the Global South has become an increasingly popular colloquialism within the academic community. It refers to most of the countries of Africa, Central and Latin America and Asia as opposed to the Global North which makes up the developed part of North America, Europe and East Asia.

The term, traditionally synonymous with the third world now represents countries that have experienced rapid economic growth in the past three decades, even during times of recession. At present, if we consider an obvious indicator of growth – that South-South economic cooperation now exceeds South-North cooperation by $2.2 trillion i.e. over one quarter of global trade- and by UNDP 2013 estimates that 80% of the world’s middle class will be living in developing countries – it can be assured that the South will have a tremendous impact in reshaping international political and economic systems.

The launch of the New Development Bank (NDB) last month by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa collectively known as the BRICS nations is one such impact. The move is being looked upon as a practical measure to counter shortcomings of existing world development institutions – specifically the World Bank and the IMF –  which through their prejudice for the US and European national interests and harsh constitutionalities have always been a bone of contention for emerging economies.  

But the bank is a small chapter in a wider debate surrounding shifts in the global balance of power. This shift is not simply the result of better policies on infrastructure development, research investment and trade; it marks a broader ideological evolution in the world’s understanding of such systems by learning from South-South direct intellectual and cultural dialogue which was tradtionally always contextualized through the West.  

In a recent Time Magazine editorial Wall Street’s Values Are Strangling American Business, Rana Foroohar talks about how in highly globalized capitalistic markets, such as the US, the need to please the shareholders outweigh the needs of long term sustainable growth of companies. This result in markets influencing businesses more than vice versa; against what capitalist system originally sought to achieve. The financial crisis of 2007-2008 thus has increased the grasp of finance on corporate America.

Faroohar goes further by citing a McKinsey Global Institute report, that by 2025, 7 out of 10 largest global firms will be from emerging economies. Moreover, they will primarily be family owned!

Although the significance of the Global South gets lost in our World’s multipolar political rehtoric in the public sphere, the knowledge economy operates at a scientific level. Thus in conferences and lecture rooms, academics from the Global North are debating on poignant lessons that can be gleaned from researches based on South-South interactions.

For instance, Kanchan Chandra, Professor of Politics at NYU, taking Indian ethnic politics as a case study in her paper Ethnic Party and Democratic Stability, suggests a model that counters conventional wisdom that ethnic divisions destabilize democratic institutions. In fact she proposes ways in which certain dimensions of ethnicism in state institutions can enhance their efficacy for South Asian democracies.      

Similarly, Hearns-Branaman, lecturer at National Institute of Development Administration in Bangkok, on defining the political economy of media of China writes that post-1970s period has seen all Chinese news media become completely financially independent from the government while remaining an integral part of the government and adherence with the Communist Party’s line. This is in stark contrast to the widely held dystopian beliefs about media in China.

Such papers are a miniscule glimpse of the large body of excellent work that is being produced through South-South interactions. More importantly they have even greater significance for developing countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Chile, Poland and Nigeria where template solutions adopted from mature democracies are deemed to fail; where indegenous solutions along the lines of similar transitioning democracies are more relevant.           

If we take the example of our media industry, it’s not mere coincedence that out of the five telecommunication companies operating in Pakistan – perhaps the only area of the communication industry where private foreign investment is officially allowed – four have investors in Russia, Middle East and China. Furthermore, it is widely believed that the decision for electronic media liberalization was influenced by the vibrant Indian media.

It is highly likely that in future developments in our media industry, such nations will play an important role. It is thus imperative for Pakistani scholars and policy makers to rethink their position in the globalsphere by looking beyond the West. Three of the BRICS economies share our part of the continent and we share borders with two of them. There are fascinating propsects for infrastructure development, trade, cross-cultural dialogue and knowledge transfer usually dominated by a North-South aid paradigm.

However, we must approach the developing world with cautious optimism. Verily, unlike the North the political systems in the South are rather diverse and volatile. But Dr Brilliant Mhlanga, a research fellow at Brown University International Relations Institute, who sees interesting comparisons between the ethnic issues of Pakistan and South Africa says that that itself should be seen as a point of strength than a weakness. If anything, it (NDB) buttresses the view of ‘Unity in Diversity’, as opposed to unity in oneness.

For now we should see the NDB as coming to fruition of ideas whose inception dates back to the Bandung Conference of the 1950s. Perhaps, the non-alignment movement is relavent more than ever now.

175 Lyari youths awarded for honing English skills

Originally appeared on The New International

Sunday, June 29, 2014 Print Edition

By Ayaz Ahmed Siddiqui


The Pakistan American Cultural Centre (PACC) awarded 175 talented male and female youngsters of Lyari, aged between 16 and 25, with graduation certificates on Saturday after their completion of a specially-designed English language programme.

The objective of the six-month merit scholarship, which was organised in collaboration with the Karachi Youth Initiative, was to equip the youths with good communication and leadership skills and enable them to spread the message of peace, love and tolerance, said Madiha Rehman, the director of the programme.

The event began with KYI officials conducting a survey among the graduates to assess the extent of their positive behavioural change.

Bilal Ahmed, one of the graduates, said he was a student at the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed University in Lyari, but lacked presentation skills.

“However because of this course, I can now give a presentation with confidence in my class,” he added.

Ahmed plans to teach students who cannot afford education and wants to become a university lecturer one day.

A PACC faculty member told The News that in similar programme earlier, violent students reluctant to take “orders from female teachers” not only did so within five months of coaching but became more involved in domestic chores at home.

“We produce certain literature about harmony and tolerance that we disperse among these kids,” said Farhan Iqbal, the communication officer at the KYI. “The PACC teachers are first given training before they can start tutoring.”

As the ceremony unfolded, Rafiq Tabani, the chief guest and president of the PACC governing board, faculty members, parents and the graduates shared their experiences in the programme with impassioned anecdotes and life lessons.

Abu Talib, a parent, while commending the efforts of the PACC and the KYI told the audience that the media portrayed Lyari as if every child was involved in drug abuse and criminal activities. “My town is a place of national football players and boxing champions, I request the citizens of Karachi not to treat us like stepchildren,” said Talib who is a former boxer.

Rafiq Tabani, after distributing the certificates, congratulated the students and said 50 years ago when the PACC had started its mission to teach English to those who could not afford education, the highest number of applicant were from Lyari.

“Although such initiatives are a step forward to increase the productivity of the youth, much remains in terms of the socio-economic uplift of Lyari,” he noted.

Tabani said that while the PACC and the KYI were also working in other areas of Karachi including Korangi, even recruiting locals as its staff, their scope was limited to cultural activities.