Pakistan’s mega-crisis - I.A Rehman - Thursday, March 10, 2011

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THE brutal murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, both key figures in the government, within a few weeks and both in the supposedly well-guarded capital city, and the variety of public responses to these murders prove that the threat to the state is far more serious than generally assumed.
The central issue is neither the blasphemy law nor the murmur of protest against faith-related intolerance. These are only ploys to secure legitimacy for an all-out bid to capture the state. Therefore, the government`s affidavits against any move to change the blasphemy law and all its pathetic disowning of the voices of reason will be in vain. And while the government continues to thus divert itself the extremists will be free to raise their strength to the level required for a final assault on the dilapidated citadel of power.
The outlines of this grim scenario have been clear to all discerning observers for quite some time. An additional factor brought out by recent developments is the somewhat alarming disclosure of the considerable pockets of support the extremists gunning for the state have acquired.
The large mass of the people occupying the ground between the state and the insurgents, that has often been written off as a mute majority, is no more irrelevant. Quite a few elements in this huge population have now become bold enough to proclaim their sympathies with the militants — by declining to condemn acts of terrorism, by refusing to join funeral prayers or make gestures of condolence for victims of absolutely indefensible murders, and by lionising an assassin. This has significantly altered the nature of Pakistan`s mega-crisis.
The people are being wooed by two contending forces — the state as represented by its three organs and the militants who want to replace it. The force that is supported by a majority, covertly or overtly, will win. Which side will the people back?
The points in favour of the state, apart from legitimacy, are that it is based on democratic assumptions which alone can lead to its flowering as a federation, which will be at least theoretically capable of meeting the aspirations of a pluralist society and the demands of peaceful coexistence with other members of the human family.
However, at the moment the state`s debit column is much longer. Its democratic credentials are suspect. It lacks cohesion as its organs — the executive, the legislature and the judiciary — are pulling in different directions apparently unmindful of the threat to all of them. A variety of factors have catapulted a department of the executive — the armed forces — to the position of final arbitrators, even in political matters that lie outside their domain, a role in which they have repeatedly been found wanting.
The challengers are indigenous soldiers (by their appearance they look more indigenous than Pakistan`s rulers) who attack the state because they accuse it of having reneged on its Islamic ideology and of supporting a foreign power that, according to them, is at war with Muslims and their faith. jahiliya
They have expropriated not only the standard of Islam but also the idiom of down-to-earth religious missionaries. They promise the ordinary people freedom from imperialist oppressors and corrupt and self-serving rulers, all of which appeals to the people, especially the disadvantaged majority. And they explain away their excesses as a reaction to atrocities committed against them. They claim that they kill only renegades in Islam and those who have fallen into and are not Muslims.
The citizens have an instinctive distaste for the orgies of killing which is the extremists` main weapon with which to terrorise the people into submission. They are also afraid of substituting a system they know with something of which they have scant knowledge. However, they have little inclination to support a state that has, in their view, abandoned its social contract with them by abdicating its benevolent functions — as the provider of security of life, liberty, employment, education, health and justice — and that is becoming more and more brazenly coercive.
The situation was summed up by a senior bureaucrat when he said that the state of Pakistan has all along been at war with its people. A large number of Pakistanis are today likely to endorse this view. The alienation of the people is the biggest factor unfavourable to the state and the biggest source of strength to the extremists.
Thus anyone who is serious about ensuring Pakistan`s transition to a genuinely democratic, pluralist federation must call for clarity of objectives and their resolute pursuit in both the military and civil components of the struggle against extremism.
The adage that war is too serious a problem to be left to generals alone should never be ignored. The Pakistan Army leaders themselves have often said that they can only undertake operations that are backed by the nation. However, this backing must be meaningful and collaborative across the board.
While dealing with insurgents the troops must not ignore the humanitarian rules of conduct. They should win over their opponents to the state`s side and not vice versa. They must also remember that the religious militants present more formidable an opposition to Pakistan`s armed forces than did the Tamil Tigers to the Sri Lankan high command, for instance.
Even more urgent is the need for the government to put its house in order. This is not the time for endless debates on issues that only make the common citizens bitter about the neglect of their concerns. The state has to re-establish its credit with the people. This means much more than effective interventions to relieve them of the burden of inflation and unemployment and fears bred by lawlessness and disorder.
It is time to begin attacking the iniquitous socio-economic order by granting peasants ownership of the land they till and the workers a fair reward for their labour, by launching more substantial campaigns to achieve gender justice, and by making children`s dreams of realising themselves achievable. n
Above all, the state should start engaging the people in a discourse for mutual good as hitherto it has been much too selfish to be able to survive, or even to command respect. These measures will give the state greater security than can by secured by any amount of military aid or number of bullet-proof vehicles that can protect only those who do not come out of them.

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