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December 2, 2019

The consequence of resistance literature


December 2, 2019

This is the second and final part of my column in response to some observations made by readers on the series about resistance writing.

One reader, Retired Col Aizaz, asked me to comment on the ‘achievements of political leadership’ in Pakistan. I must clarify that the series was not about highlighting the ‘achievements of our political leadership’. There is a lot to be written about the claimed achievements and purported failures of politicians. Essentially, this country itself is an achievement of the political leadership that negotiated and realized the dream of Pakistan.

It was the achievement of a politician, Tameezuddin Khan, to challenge the dissolution of the first Constituent Assembly and get a favourable verdict from the Sindh Chief Court. The verdict was later overturned by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Munir who himself later acknowledged that he was under tremendous pressure. It was the achievement of the political leadership that gave, though a bit late, the first constitution of Pakistan in 1956, which was abrogated by Maj-Gen Iskandar Mirza who himself was removed by General Ayub Khan to establish a military dictatorship that lasted for 11 years and rooted out the political leadership.

For any budding democracy political parties are the bloodline and a free press provides it the lungs to breath. If you crush political parties again and again in the name of corruption and incompetence – without applying the same to other institutions – you cannot create a level playing field. It was the achievement of the political leadership to persuade Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah to establish herself as a strong political leader. She galvanized the people of Pakistan against a military dictator who had tried to abolish and eliminate all of the political leadership that was fighting for democracy in Pakistan.

Fatima Jinnah emerged as an icon of resistance and spoke for the people’s aspirations to establish a democratic country. Massive rigging by General Ayub Khan and his state machinery deprived the political leadership from playing a positive role in economic, political, and social development of Pakistan.

It was the achievement of the political leadership to stabilize the rump country after 1971 and to give this country its present constitution. The political leadership negotiated the release of over 90,000 prisoners of war in India after the 1971 debacle. It was the political leadership that arranged and organized the Islamic Summit Meeting in 1974, the summit that made Pakistan a respectable country again in the eyes of most of the Muslim countries of the world. It was the political leadership that launched a massive expansion of higher education in the country by establishing many universities.

It was an achievement of the political leadership to resist the myopic policies of General Ziaul Haq whose devastating rule and misplaced adventures brought the country to a sorry state. The political leadership time and again forewarned General Zia not to embark on a self-proclaimed crusade that would bring flames from across the border into Pakistan. The political leadership did not give up its struggle in the face of hangings and lashings, baton charges and imprisonments; it continued its movement for restoration of democracy so that people could exercise the right to elect their leaders in fair and free elections.

It was the political leadership of M K Junejo who defied General Zia to sign the Genera Accord to facilitate the departure of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan. Junejo risked his position and ultimately was removed by General Zia. It was the political leadership of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto who, despite being deprived of majority, decided to take up the challenge so that at least some semblance of democracy could be brought back to the country. With her hands tied by the powerful, she tried to end the rivalry with India by welcoming the prime minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi to the Saark Summit in Pakistan.

It was an achievement of the political leadership of Nawaz Sharif that he challenged the diktats of the supreme bureaucrat Ghulam Ishaq Khan. It was Nawaz Sharif’s political leadership that acknowledged the importance of infrastructure in the economic progress of the country and launched world-class motorways in Pakistan. It was again Nawaz Sharif who tried to normalize relations with neighbouring countries but was thwarted in his attempts. Finally, the political leadership has faced accusations of corruption but still tried to do something good rather than sitting back and enjoying life, or agreeing to toe the line.

Improvements in industry and education come from long-term planning and by spending resources on human capacity development. A country like Pakistan needs to spend 5-10 percent of the GDP on education while it has always hovered around just two percent during the past seven decades including the 36 years the country was ruled by a non-political leadership. Improvement in the judiciary cannot be achieved by repeatedly forcing judges to take new oaths under provisional constitutional orders (PCOs) as the non-political leadership has done, including the two times by Gen Musharraf.

We can achieve ‘national cohesion’ only by enfranchising people and not by disenfranchising them. Not by enforcing uniformity but by accepting diversity of ethnicity, nationality, and religion; by taking into consideration people’s choices and not by calling the constitution just ‘a piece of paper’ as Gen Zia did for 11 years. If laws and constitution are violated at the highest and most powerful levels, no state can expect its citizens to obey the laws. That is the root cause of lawlessness in our society. The people of Pakistan have seen the constitution and laws being trampled too many times.

Countries achieve ‘good governance’ when officials and workers do their jobs properly. If they become complicit in corruption and explicit in manipulation, good governance remains a dream. That’s where NGOs and non-state actors come in. The best period for them to flourish was in the 1980s and the 2000s. In the 1990s and in the 2010s, especially during the governments led by Nawaz Sharif, NGOs were not treated well first by Binyamin Rizvi in Punjab and then by Chaudhry Nisar Ali at the federal level. Now, like other civil society organizations, NGOs are also maligned – though many of them are doing good work in health, education, water, sanitation, and infrastructure.

The private sector also flourished, mostly during the non-political leadership so much so that the state relinquished its responsibilities to provide basic services and utilities to the people. Economic, financial, and industrial developments led by the private sector are good but not at the cost of basic services that should be the government’s domain.

A ‘dysfunctional democracy’ is the result of disrupted and discredited democracy, be it under non-political or political leadership. Let the system function and give this country five fair and free elections in the next 25 years, and let the political leadership complete their five-year terms, and you will have functional democracy.

Honour killings are the result of feudal and tribal mindsets so dearly nurtured by both non-political and political leaderships by not improving education and not allowing civil society to challenge old traditions. The answer lies in awareness-raising and women empowerment. Finally, only those observers and readers can see and understand the ‘practical consequences of resistance literature’ who read books that help them grasp the intricacies of society and social development. I rest my case.


The writer holds a PhD from the

University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]