Side-effect - Harris Khalique - Tuesday, March 08, 2011

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Empires develop an illusion of permanence, it is said. So it seems has the Pakistani state establishment. Although without achieving anything even remotely comparable to the accomplishments of a developing country with comparable or even less resources, let alone an empire. But an onlooker observes that our powers that be, the top brass of military, the higher echelons of civil bureaucracy, the superior judiciary, that part of political leadership and media barons who are hand in glove with those running the key institutions of the state, continue to think that they are in control.

Even as indiscriminate use of brute force by religious and political militias who were once created or encouraged by the powers that be is on the rise and the limits of religious extremism that the rulers set themselves for the society in the past are being crossed, the institutions of establishment perhaps continue to think that this could still be managed.

But things have changed in Pakistan and the old establishment’s mindset demonstrates no understanding of what is happening in the precincts of its empire. For our power elite, the security challenges somehow still do not include food and economic security, social security and the right to freedom of expression and human dignity.

While there is so much making us implode we think someone would try to explode us from the outside. In the same week when three men lost their lives in Lahore at the hands of an American, 32 young recruits were blown to pieces in a military training school in Mardan by a suicide bomber. Both are highly deplorable crimes but which one has attracted more attention and why?

Perhaps the post-2014 Afghanistan is more important to us than the Pakistan of 2011. The state and society are slipping out of the hands of their old managers like sand, too fast, too soon. But they are not getting it. Being drunk would mean that the view blurs and the judgement falters. Our old establishment is drunk with power, be it limited to power over the valueless bodies and souls of a 180 million inhabiting about a million square kilometres of landmass.

Nevertheless, this is not something progressive elements in society should rejoice over either. For the old establishment’s mindset is not being replaced by any new thinking of enlightenment, social justice and economic prosperity for all. It is being replaced by the ideology of those who impose their authority by suicide bombings and murders. The legitimacy to these actions is provided subtly by elements within the PML-N and explicitly by the JI and the JUl.

Can someone remind me of one unqualified, categorical denunciation of any act of violence against innocent civilians or our soldiers and police by their leadership? Shame on the three legislators of the JUI who kept sitting while others stood in parliament to observe a minute’s silence for Shahbaz Bhatti, martyred for sticking his head out for a poor peasant woman.

Why isn’t the PPP mobilising rank and file to condemn these killings rather than backing up against this cliff of compromise over which the party always falls? Maybe the ones at the summit have learnt something from the party’s past which is hidden from the rest. A friend from Lahore told me the other day that the incumbent governor of Punjab has no qualms about praying behind the same cleric in the governor house mosque who refused to offer memorial prayers for his predecessor. This can’t be true.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor who works with progressive social movements. Email: harris.khalique@gmail. com

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