After almost three weeks of blackmail, hand-wringing, cowardice, thuggery and incompetence, the government of Pakistan and the violent extremists who had camped out at Faizabad under the leadership of Khadim Hussain Rizvi have reached an agreement. A national crisis triggered by a few dozen hoodlums and exacerbated by the incompetent who supposedly run this asylum was over.
Yet rather than celebratory, the mood in English-medium Pakistan is sombre. After weeks of demanding the writ of the state, we watched the state stutter and stumble into a half-baked and ill-conceived ‘operation’ to clear the protest area, only to have the tension explode. A blanket ban on all news channels and social media ensued. The army issued a tweet, unbelievable in its brazenness and audacity, equating a bunch of criminals and the government – whilst distancing the army from it all. Predictably, the whining in English-medium Pakistan reached a crescendo. Then, suddenly, a major general signed the dotted line and the crisis was over. You would think we would have been happy and broken out into song and dance. But the reaction to the agreement that brought an end to the drama at Faizabad is far from jubilant. It’s like someone close to us has died.
Many business-class Pakistanis can barely read the Urdu script of the agreement, much less fathom what was just reinforced by its substance. The dream of a modern and pluralistic state is dead. Long live Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. His dream is dead. His Pakistan is dead.
It has been dead for a long time. But English-medium Pakistan, or essentially Jinnah’s Pakistan, doesn’t want to bury the body. Every so often, someone or the other comes along and pokes around at the rotting carcass. Obviously, this creates a stink. We all plug our noses and demand ‘writ of the state’. When the state does anything, it is ugly. It has to be. We are dealing with a rotting carcass after all. When reality hits us full-frontal, we then mope about a surrender, about the gaping hole in our praxis: we are democratic in spirit, and certainly by dint of constitution, but not when the rubber hits the road. When it really matters, our democratic ethos is not very useful at all. Time and time again, it is our armed forces that do the heavy lifting. Our civil-military divide widens in these testing moments. It doesn’t help that often, the people behind the wheel in the GHQ do not have the soft hands of surgeons, but wield instead the heavy hands of soldiers that have both sent the enemy to their graves and carried the coffins of young soldiers that were martyred in the name of our great country.
Among the various insults to the memory of Quaid-e-Azam that are packed in the agreement between this latest permutation of violent extremists in Barelvi clothing and the government is the immeasurable disequilibrium between our military and the elected civilian leadership. Ahsan Iqbal is a decent, patriotic and deeply religious man. A democrat. And highly educated to boot. He has contested elections. He has stood by the political leader of his choice consistently. He has tried to serve the country. Mistakes? He has made plenty. We all have. But seeing his name on that agreement, equated with the likes of Khadim Hussain Rizvi. It is an unpleasant jolt of reality.
A federal minister is reduced to being treated by the same metric as the violent and uncouth thugs that illegally occupied public space, in direct violation of court orders. The kicker? An officer of the armed forces equivalent to no higher than BPS-21, or additional secretary, has underwritten and supervised this equivalence.
Of course, why lament the elected representative from Narowal alone? Zahid Hamid, the elected representative from Sialkot has won three elections in a row from NA-114. He is not only no longer a federal minister, but also unlikely to be able to continue being an effective constituency politician. The Faizabad crisis is going to claim many scalps, Hamid’s is the first and most obvious one. But what this entire story is going to create, in terms of election narratives, is the unreliability of the PML-N in matters to do with important religious personalities and symbols in Pakistan. Pakistanis have almost never been single-issue voters, but the Mumtaz Qadri narrative in politics is not really about what it seems to be about: there is no debate on any religious or spiritual matter in Pakistan. It is all already firmly decided in favour of those whose outrage was centre-stage for almost three weeks in Faizabad. So what does Khadim Hussain Rizvi really want? He wants his share.
In English-medium Pakistan, if you want your ‘share’ you should work hard and play by the rules. But the maali, the driver, the maasi and the bus conductor do work hard and, for the most part, do play by the rules. And they do not really get their share. In English-medium Pakistan, it should be no secret why the maali, the driver, the maasi and the bus conductor do not get their share. Hint: they are medium incompatible.
Bhutto came along and promised a social contract in which they would be rewarded for their labour. Instead, he transformed the state into a job-awarding entity. Zia came along and needed something even better than dignity and free jobs (BPS 1- BPS 16). He found it in Islam. He put a burqa on a state that had no problems turning tricks for the Americans. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif came along and promised everything Bhutto and Zia promised, just more of it. More free jobs and more Islam. The Khadim Hussain Rizvis and Sufi Muhammads of this land came of age in this era. By the time General Musharraf had decided to take the burqa off the state (but turn tricks all the same), we all began to realise that there aren’t enough jobs and there isn’t enough Islam for everyone. But unlike jobs, which are tangible and can be measured, there is no measure for religious faith and devotion. It is both unlimited, and immeasurable.
This gives religious politics in Pakistan both unlimited potential as well as the potential for immeasurable damage. The assault on Jinnah’s Pakistan has two fronts, both of which are pure genius. The first is the Mumtaz Qadri narrative: it can be deployed on anyone, at any time, to manage the spectrum of domestic discourse. The second is the Kashmir narrative: it is the remainder from the clumsy long-division that the GHQ conceived of in the 1990s, and that Pakistanis not yet born will be paying for at airports around the world for the foreseeable future. It may have only been incidental that Hafiz Saeed was released from house arrest as the Faizabad dharna was reaching its climax – but all good Muslims know that there is meaning in everything.
We didn’t like Maulana Fazlur Rehman because he is an exceptionally good politician (which naturally means bad guy) who was happy to work within the broad spectrum of Jinnah’s Pakistan. We didn’t like the Jamaat-e-Islami because it makes us uncomfortable, what with their retrograde twentieth century colonial hangover and contradictory anti-American tirades. Now we have to contend with things like the Tehreek-e-Labbaik and the Milli Muslim League.
The army will not rein them in, because the army is a coherent institution that is in the middle of a war. It will not open new fronts at a time when it is hard enough to manage morale, discipline and unity of command. It will also not challenge the unlimited potential and immeasurable potency of people’s faith.
The source of new ideas can never be a bureaucracy; no matter how many guns we give them. The eroded writ of the state and the abject surrender that the Faizabad agreement represent cannot be repaired by lamenting our civil-military divide or the irrationality of an unhinged religiosity in our national discourse. Jinnah’s Pakistan is dead because Jinnah is dead. Nations don’t find renewal in newspaper op-eds or WhatsApp groups. They find them in leaders. Pakistan does not have any. What it does have is plenty more of where the Faizabad crisis came from. Buckle up.
The writer is an analyst and commentator.
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