ANALYSIS : Our helplessness before religious bigotry — Azizullah Khan
A leader is the person who reconciles sentimentalism with pragmatism, makes a way in between the two extremes and in such a manner, leads his followers
It is becoming increasingly easy to realise that Pakistan is heading towards a civil war. The Attack on Malala Yousafzai indeed proved a turning point but for terrorists’ attacks against us, not vice versa. From the attack on key social activists like Marvi Sirmed, peace activists of the Malakand division and the renewed threats to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Awami National Party, it becomes clear that the terrorists have now zoomed in on their presumed strategic enemy. Terrorists now seem to have vowed to bring down the pillars of the edifice of the struggle against them. They are in the process of muting those who matter in society. The dominant majority of Pakistan is mindful of the bloody consequences of the deteriorating situation but is almost helpless before the religious bigotry that requires a comprehensive approach to challenge it.
A comprehensive approach implies long-term and short-term steps. Short-term steps include the following: an overhaul of foreign and security policies, adapting it to current geo-political dynamics; disarming reconcilable elements among the terrorists; forcing religious parties to quit showing a bias in favour of the terrorists; breaking the nexus between the terrorists in the mountains and in mainland Pakistan; a decisive operation against the terrorists and to hush up the known sympathisers of the victims of the operation. Through these steps, we will be able to control terrorists but not terrorism.
Counter-terrorism or long-term planning may include the following steps: (1) to set up a government institution by the name of National Fatwa Council (NFC) (or any other name), authorised to give religious decrees on issues related to Islam. (2) To draw a code of conduct for the use of amplifiers. (3) To ensure that the script of Friday sermons is to be issued by the aforesaid institution. (4) Ban on publication of sectarian and unauthorised jihadi literature, with which the Urdu bazaars of today’s Pakistan are awash. (5) To ban all those political parties that are notorious for links with terrorist organisations if they do not yield to the law of the land. (6) To exclude all that content from our primary schoolbooks that nurture a harsh view of Islam in a child’s mind. Madrassa reforms should be left for the second phase so as not to allow an opportunity to Islamists to make a noise and cast the whole effort as illegitimate.
Why has there been a failure to take these long overdue steps?
The first reason is that the buck stop nowhere in Pakistan. State institutions shift responsibility to each other; in the light of this, the citizenry does not know who to expect action or policy-making from and policy-makers are confused about who is to take the lead.
The political leadership believes that security (and de facto foreign) policy is the province of the military and so the comprehensive approach being a security issue is up to them to think about. The current political regime always feel dismayed when it is asked to take action that promises no political mileage; action against religious bigotry, seemingly a controversial issue, is not its priority.
The military, which these days is quite cautious about its credibility, prefers to go by the book when it comes to seemingly controversial issues. It believes that being constitutionally subservient, the political government has to command and ‘we’ to obey. The political government has to own up to every action against the Islamic militants and face the backlash. (In a run-up to the elections, the idea of any action is not palatable for the current regime.) Then there is the question of credibility too.
The second reason is the trust deficit between the divergent segments of society. Beneath the surface is the ongoing cold war between secularists/pluralists/liberals and Islamists plus conservatives. Islamists are sceptical of the agenda of the ‘others’; they believe that the others’ agenda is not only to end terrorism but to secularise Pakistan. Seculars/liberals believe that Islamists’ support to democracy is a tactical move and their hidden agenda is the imposition of Shariah law. The trust deficit compels both the segments to resort to extreme steps like indirectly bestowing legitimacy on the Taliban (on part of the non-militant Islamists) and to oppose everything related to the Taliban’s version of Islam (on the part of the liberals). A lack of dialogue between the two segments of society has afforded a profound opportunity to the militants to continue with their bloodshed.
Though this ideological division has pervaded every section and every institution of Pakistan, it is more vivid in the community of opinion-makers. The ‘ideologisation’ of opinion-makers has multiplied their net effect by zero. Those who are supposed to frame opinion and guide the average citizen have so confused him that he does not know whether to turn right or left. This has led to the failure to mobilise ourselves against our common enemy.
The third reason is that the average Pakistani has apparently vowed not to change himself or re-think his likes and dislikes. He knows that disputes are to be solved in the courts of law and extra-judicial killing leads to a civil war, but even then he allows a Mumtaz Qadri to kill a Salmaan Taseer. He understands that attacks on mosques and funeral prayers are un-Islamic but he has a soft corner for that because these attacks are carried out in the name of Islam. Those who do not change themselves can never be changed.
The fourth reason is the lack of political will. Our political leaders are political opportunists, having a strong tendency to prioritise party interests over national interests. The masses are sentimental and ignorant; they are not aware of the mechanics of statecraft, which requires pragmatism, rationality and a coldblooded approach. A leader is the person who reconciles sentimentalism with pragmatism, makes a way in between the two extremes and in such a manner, leads his followers. In crucial and controversial matters, a leader is also required to explain things to his followers and express views against their views and expectations. Such a leader is called a statesman. In Pakistan, we do not have a single statesman. Our leaders are thoughtless demagogues who pander to the expectations and sentiments of ignorant and sentimental followers. To put it bluntly, they are followers, not leaders. Hence we are impotent before the fundamentalists. The writ of the state is fast eroding. Policy-makers — both civil and military — are required to put their heads together, think about things carefully and make a joint effort to stop the slide down the slope.
The writer is a political observer and can be reached at email@example.com