By Rifaat Hamid Ghani
SOMEWHERE buried under multitudinous leaders lie we the people. What is it like to be a citizen of Pakistan, a plain ordinary citizen who does not want or cannot aspire to dual nationality? An anonymous citizen unlikely to be granted asylum or residence in Dubai, London, Saudi Arabia; or green cards in greener pastures:Citizens with horizons so narrow as to be nationally rather than globally oriented. Citizens threatened by terrorism.
None of us want to be bossed around by the foot soldier with an officer behind him. But neither do we enjoy being served the way we are by civil politicians, be they with the opposition or the government of the day. There is a limit to the amount of tomfoolery that can be endured in the name of democratic dissent and freedom of speech. Or perhaps there is not for we remain easy prey to demagogues and fallacy-mongering.
For years civil society has deplored a toxic religious fanaticism and extremism in our midst. We have seen the habit of loose speech reductively equate saboteurs and terrorism with Talibanism, traceable to national sins in Afghan policy and anomalies in what should be the domain of the interior ministry. It is fashionably convenient to blame the Generals Zia and Musharraf and to overlook the civilian inter-regna of democratically elected party political government. Yet, was it the military the latter found and find more obstructive of good governance and intelligent foreign policy or their own civil political challengers? What is the reality of reiterative shrill demand about needing to have civil and military leadership on the same page? In terms of what to do about the Taliban,differences are most evident among political party leadership.
Presently, after being excoriated for having lost time attempting talks with an amorphous TTP desirous of over-turning the writ of the state, the government has opted for a military operation in North Waziristan. Personally, as a common citizen, I retain reservations about any prolonged expansive military operations on our soil and would still favourreactive and pre-emptive targeted hits on the basis of intelligence.
The government revised its approach in the wake of the frightening (though efficiently countered) attack on Karachi’s airport and its alarming implications: The momentum of the argument that the elastic body constituting the TTP emphatically chose aggression rather than dialogue and the government had to crush them outright became a juggernaut. But how superficial and fleeting the unanimity is has also become apparent within less than a week. We bemoanedinsurgency and an existential threat to our country, yet dharnas, yom-i-sog, shutters down, provocative insult and hysterical hyperbole continue as usual per diem. Apparently, non Taliban may safely carry on stallingour government since it is done so democratically.
Terrorism is experienced as aby now fast turning existential threat manifested in capital cities as well in comparative backwaters throughout Pakistan. If we look at its pedigree and mutations: ethnic, sectarian; gangwarfare and qabza groups (the euphemism for politically linked mafias using strong-arm tactics to gain or retain space and profit);custodial killings and missing persons (the phraseology when the administration itself runs amok), we cannot but see that the TTP is not sole culprit. Political-power obsessions as well as religious-power obsessionhave been and are operative,with organized activists or affiliates. They include parties that have long been in democratic politics. And what so bedevils the alleviation of law and order problems is that deviants are often officially entrenched and allowed to misuse their powers and influence. This is a common evaluation of various provincial governments manned by the PPP, PMLs, MQM and other coalitional kingmakers(some of them helping Generals) through more than two decades. Cronyism and nepotism and self-enrichment are separate from contempt and contravention of the very spirit of submission to the rule of law. A healthy social contract is what democracy is essentially about: not merely the right to vote and be voted for. Fascists for instance are expert at gaining votes and mass support.
We cannot be fighting terrorism in Pakistan viewing it just in terms of successful military operations as in Swat.Nor can civil society insist insurgency is something to be tackled hands on in Waziristan but laid off in Balochistan’s nationalists without explaining what makes the distinction. And then in terms of containing civic disruption and maintaining law and order: What steps do we want taken? Are barricades that hamper entry and egress and create no go areas at random to be allowed? Are they to be selectively tackled: Ok for Minhajul Quran but tut-tut for 90? Vice versa perhaps?Do we justify hugely inconveniencing Bilawal House and Sharif family Model Town/Raiwind protective parameters for party leaders in and out of season? Does such protection facilitate the protective parameters and writ of the state for you and me? Or do we validly signify lessin terms of national security?
We abhor and fear the police violence that took lives on Tuesday 17 in Lahore. But what about mob violence and arrogant elitism that resists due search of premises and confiscation of weaponry? Is it only the Taliban brand that is a federal threat? As for Sindh’slegislators dubbing Punjab’s government failed in terms of its handling a law and order problem, should ordinary citizens in Sindh’s capital laugh or cry?
Mainstream parties should navigate roiled national waters more cautiously, no matter how shallow the tsunami alert.