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December 1, 2019

The consequence of resistance literature - Part - I


December 1, 2019

In response to my eight-part series on resistance writing, the readers’ response was overwhelming. Most readers asked about the details of the books and their publishers so that they can read them. It is satisfying when you see many readers, especially students and the youth, interested in reading and trying to find out more.

But there were many who did not like my series at all. Some raised questions about my loyalty to this country and some others pointed out that the series tried to eulogize those who struggle against the state and condemned those who try to protect the ‘integrity of the country’. Such arguments are not new and using just one email out of many I received from civil and military bureaucrats – both retired and serving – I would like to clarify some confusion that many readers found themselves in. The following email is from retired colonel Aizaz.

“Would you like to comment on [the] achievements of our political leadership, any improvements in industry, education, judicial system or in national Cohision (sic) or good governance? Foreign NGOs have partially taken over many aspects along with [the] private sector. Is only dysfunctional democracy the aim of our political parties or provision of basic services to masses? Has any politician taken any solid steps to eradicate [the] murder of innocent women in Sindh in [the] name of honour?

“I appreciate the books of resistance literature, but are they of any practical consequence [?] After Jinnah, Bhutto some people consider a great politician. What about Bhutto’s jailing of JA Raheem – was it democratic? Even our election system is corrupt to [the] core; will somebody raise voice against this political system [?] Regards Col r Aizaz”

I appreciate the comment from Col Aizaz and commend him for finding time to read the articles and respond to them. I have highest regard for soldiers and officers who do their job well and fulfil their duties in accordance with the constitution and the laws of this land. The email raises some important and interesting points. It has used expressions such as ‘political leadership’, ‘good governance’, ‘NGOs’, ‘dysfunctional democracy’, ‘basic services’, ‘practical consequences’ of resistance literature, and ‘election system is corrupt to the core’. This two-part column will try to discuss some of these terms so that we are able to achieve a basic understanding of politics, you may call it Politics 101, if you will.

Talking about ‘political leadership’ we must be clear about ‘political’ and ‘leadership’. Of course, ‘political’ comes from politics, and we need to get it right. There are many definitions of politics, but for laity and for college students the simplest definition of politics that I present here is through two sets of questions: internal and external. The internal political questions are: how is our society being managed? Why is it being managed the way it is? Who is managing it – who has the final decision-making powers? Who is benefitting the most from this social management? How can we better manage our society?

The external political questions are: how have other countries managed their systems? Why are constitutions and laws respected in other countries? Why do some passports carry more weight and some don’t? Why do most developed countries in the world have civilian supremacy? How has democracy developed in other countries? Why do we have hostile relations with all our major neighbours? Who controls foreign policy in other countries? How much are other countries spending on ‘basic services’ and who makes these decisions? And, finally what can we learn from other countries?

When lay persons and students ask these questions, they indulge in politics. When somebody wonders why our society has been mismanaged, that person is being political. And all those who want our people to not get into politics do not want them to raise the above mentioned questions. These questions are crystallized by the civil society (including some NGOs), political parties, and independent media who form the skeleton around which a democratic body is built. You eviscerate the skeleton and the body crumbles. Good ‘political leadership’ emerges from a dynamic civil society, stable political parties, and vibrant media.

Not all politics is democratic politics; and not all ‘political leadership’ is democratic leadership. A belief in democracy is an offshoot of a mature political culture that emanates from a sustained political process. You curtail the political process and you get a mutilated political culture, from where you get a ‘dysfunctional democracy’. It’s like the challenge of raising a mentally and physically healthy child. You keep beating the child for making mistakes, and you are likely to get a mentally disturbed adult. You keep the child malnourished and you end up with an emaciated youth.

If politics is maligned and politicians are demonized, everything ‘political’ appears bad. The history of Pakistan can be summarized as the struggle between the ‘democratic’ and the ‘anti-democratic’ forces. Jinnah, Liaquat, Nazimuddin, Fazlul Haq, Suharwardy, Tameezuddin, Ghaffar Khan, G M Syed, Bizenjo, Fatima Jinnah symbolized democratic forces. Ghulam Muhammad, Maj-Gen Iskandar Mirza, Generals Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan, Nawab of Kalabagh, and even Z A Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in their early period characterized ‘anti-democratic’ forces. But politics can be learned and democratic credential can be established even if you made some mistakes in the beginning; the key is the continuation of political processes.

In the first decade of Pakistan, democracy had to be learnt. The politicians were making mistakes in the new country but they were able to reach a consensus on a new constitution. However, their attempts were thwarted by fist Ghulam Mohammad and then Maj-Gen Iskandar Mirza. Finally, Gen Ayub Khan struck a death blow to the ‘political leadership’ we are lamenting now. Democracy emerges from the politics of student and trade unions if they are allowed to function. They provide forums and platforms to raise your concerns; they give activists and members training to be future politicians.

You curb them and you deprive the child of the opportunity to learn how to speak. Maj-Gen Iskandar Mirza and Gen Ayub Khan did precisely the same. All political parties were banned, all activists barred from politics, all political leaders forced to withdraw from politics, all media deprived of its freedom of expression, all dissent frowned upon and all disagreements disallowed. All powers concentrated in one hand, and all attempts justified to cling to power for as long as possible; and then politicians were called ‘power hungry’ – can there be a worse mockery of politics?

Now, coming to ‘leadership’ we need to understand what it means and what it entails. Leadership is not about administration, which is now sometimes called ‘governance’. Though good governance may come from effective administration, this is not the whole story about leadership. A dictator may order a cleanliness drive and then claim to be a good leader, despite doing tremendous harm to the social fabric of society. Political leadership is about the vision to look beyond the here and now. It is about the freedom to question wrong state policies and then trying to correct them. It is not about defending all past mistakes in the name of ‘national interest’.

It takes at least 20-25 years for a politician to mature. That means if a politician enters politics at the age of say 30, by the age of 50 or 55 that politician is likely to become mature; provided that person is not totally dumb or highly corrupt. Z A Bhutto was hanged on dubious charges at the age of 51, Benazir Bhutto was killed when she was just 54. Nawaz Sharif was exiled when he was hardly 50 – and that too in a highly objectionable manner.

To be continued

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]