Is change possible?
With this rise in optimism about Pakistan’s future as a result of the army-led campaign against militancy within the ambit of the National Action Plan, the need to fathom the national sense of direction is becoming urgent. The big question is whether this country can be exorcised from the dark
With this rise in optimism about Pakistan’s future as a result of the army-led campaign against militancy within the ambit of the National Action Plan, the need to fathom the national sense of direction is becoming urgent. The big question is whether this country can be exorcised from the dark legacy of the Zia era. And if there is hope for a Pakistan that is modern and progressive in its outlook.
These and other relevant questions are unlikely to be probed seriously in the present environment. There is a rush of events and people are emotionally engrossed in debates that are projected by our news channels. We have leaders like Imran Khan and Altaf Hussain that attract so much attention by what they do or say.
Politics is the name of the game we play as energised spectators. Consider the time allotted by our news channels to the question of whether the National Assembly members of the PTI should be seated or de-seated. This was evidently in marked contrast to time devoted to discussing more substantive events and issues. Listening to Maulana Fazlur Rahman is not enough compensation for sitting, vicariously, through the long sessions of the assembly.
Ideally, that august House would be the guiding light to show us the path on which we have to move ahead. Some very significant developments have taken place in recent days. Appearances and speeches made by the chief of army staff may provide some clues as to what is happening on the ground. Karachi, in many respects, is the stage on which so much action is taking place with grave consequences for the rest of the country.
In less than a week, we will celebrate another Independence Day with the expected, ritualistic fervour. The national flags are already very much in evidence. This would be a fitting occasion to examine the moves that have been made on many fronts in the war that was launched in earnest after the massacre of our schoolchildren in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. We are fond of describing that event as a game-changer but there is little appreciation of what is changing and how the agenda for this change has been drafted.
This week’s most critical development was the Supreme Court’s verdict on petitions regarding the 18th and the 21st amendments to the constitution, allowing the establishment of military courts. Its implications in the context of justice and fundamental human rights in a democratic dispensation are immense. Naturally, opinion on what it is and what it may entail is sharply divided. One measure of it was the fact that it was a majority and not a unanimous decision.
But irrespective of these concerns, the establishment has what it wanted and the pace of action in the campaign against militancy should readily pick up. Also helpful was the verdict of the Judicial Commission that probed the conduct of the May 2013 general elections. It effectively de-certified the ‘dharna’ politics of Imran Khan, though he seems unwilling to step aside so that all attention can be devoted to matters of national security.
Indeed, a reflection on the entire spectacle that was launched one year ago would underline the tragedy of our national politics. This was a year wasted. There was the cost that the nation paid in economic terms. But more detrimental was the havoc it played with the emotions of ordinary citizens, raising unrealistic expectations. Besides, the agitation was not founded on issues that have emerged in the present struggle for Pakistan’s survival.
Here is some evidence that our political leaders are either incapable of or unwilling to deal with serious questions on how Pakistan has to be governed and what options we have to survive and progress in the modern world. To return to what I said at the outset, are we consciously ready to eliminate the legacy of another chief of army who had led us into the Afghan jihad? What role, then, should religion play in our politics?
It is very possible that our leadership has spared some thoughts for these issues. In these extraordinary times that, proverbially, demand extraordinary measures, the civil-military alliance that has evolved in the wake of the National Action Plan must evaluate and define our strategic options. But we have no sense of how this alliance operates and whether there is a joint think tank or reflection group of some kind to ponder policy matters.
In the first place, the resolve that the operation is to be launched against all terrorist and extremist elements without any discrimination whatsoever also suggests an ideological shift. It was late in coming but the killing of Malik Ishaq and a number of his close associates in a police encounter in Punjab is a landmark event. An extremely painful thought it is but if only they had confronted these sectarian terrorists before those attacks on the Hazara community in Quetta. Anyhow, there are other indications that they are serious about it.
The unfolding scenario in Sindh, with the focus on Karachi, also indicates a comprehensive game plan. At the same time that it is going to be highly disruptive, including in a political context, there is no doubt that winds of change are blowing across the country. Stories of corruption that are being reported are mind boggling, though we knew all about them. In the process of dealing with the militants and the corrupt, the rulers are confronted with a system that is in tatters. This calls for a careful understanding of what can be changed and to what extent.
Change, however, is imminent. It has already been set into motion. While its direction is still not clearly identified, the dictates of history are unambiguous. We cannot live with religious extremism. We need to build a modern society in which, among other things, women are emancipated. So, is another Pakistan possible?
The tragedy is that in the midst of all this change and upheaval, our political leaders seem unwilling to change. There is little change in what they do and say and how they live and conduct their politics. Apparently, they are kept from what is happening on the ground and how new realities are taking shape. But, of course, these realities will catch up with them without any push from a Supreme Court judgement.
Against this backdrop of how the establishment is exercising its authority, an objective analysis of what is necessary and what is possible must involve all our national institutions and opinion makers. We have to contend with some basic indicators in social and economic sectors. For once, there is some hope that things can change.
The writer is a staff member.