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November 28, 2017
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The quandary we are in

Opinion

November 28, 2017

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A mob is ugly. It is disturbing. A raucous, heaving entity it reeks of greed, slashing and gnawing at the body of established order and authority. A mob driven by hysteria is even more dangerous. Its sustenance, however, derives from perceived weakness. Its success depends also on timing.
Take the aftermath of the confrontation at Faizabad between the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYP) activists and the security personnel as violent riots erupted all over the country. In this instance, mobs buoyed by zealous rage and ‘undetermined’ support took to the streets, targeting not only some PML-N members’ residences but public property as well.
Enough damage has been done to make one question the authority and, consequently, the credibility of the government. The utter lawlessness that resulted from the imploding of the sit-in worsened the dilemma for Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi, when the request for sending in the armed forces to quell the unrest did not succeed. Clarifications were sought, the use of firearms for example. It was clear that rubber bullets and tear gas had not achieved the desired result.
The government thus landed itself in an inextricable situation. It could well be that ‘Faizabad’ was designed to impact the looming election next year, principally for the PML-N. The eventual agreement and concessions will backfire on an already beleaguered setup. Moreover, the impression this sets of Pakistan is not conducive on the international stage.
However, the quandary the state faces is not one of the power plays at home but of its survival and wellbeing in the long term. With the United States stepping in to rap us on the knuckles yet again and issuing warning of dire consequences unless we meet all requisites of a responsible state, such shows at home hardly go in our favour. Even if we ignore the perception side for a moment, we cannot not be cognisant of the damage such destabilisation is wreaking on the state.
It is

ironic that the clamour for democracy does not take in the consequences it brings, protests included. But it is here we fail. Unused to democratic exercises and rights, we rule with a mixture of authoritarianism and a tendency to seek help from the military at every given opportunity. This is not something limited to any one party but one that has been ingrained in our political mindset, strengthened no doubt by past experiences of military rule as well as the continuing sway one institution holds, notwithstanding the constitutional position of the executive.
This does not imply that democracy is Pakistan is doomed even if electoral processes are carried out in full. It will take time for practices to become customs and institutions to be strengthened and learn to work within prescribed limits and more importantly collectively.
The juggernaut facing us, however, is not institutional or inter-party power plays but our position on issues that have begun to corrode us from within. Our ‘image’ is not the problem as much as our own stance on dealing with indigenous militancy and terrorism. The repetitive cycle of arresting, starting judicial proceedings and then releasing Hafiz Saeed for instance. We have every right to try him at home and not hand him over to India, or anyone for that matter, but are we really serious about investigating allegations against him? The way Hafiz Saeed’s case has been handled so far does cast doubts over our position in handling his case.
Pakistan is facing a difficult time at present. The pressure from the US and threats of isolation and remedial measures are bad enough. But we need to gather our wits and decide on a concrete policy, not oscillate and show weakness. For this we must strive for internal stability. Something Mr Abbasi’s government should fully own up to and work towards. It is something he signed up to when he took the oath as the premier.
The writer was a former deputy opinion editor at Gulf News, Dubai.

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