By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
A Diplomat based in Islamabad rang me to ask what is happening in Pakistan’s capital. For a little while I wondered what sort of diplomat that gentleman was, sitting there he was and he is asking me 6,000 miles away ‘what’s the condition of the patient’? My curiosity became deeper- perhaps my friend’s question relates to something that is not ordinarily seen, mysterious signs are there ready to unfold but he can’t get to the bottom of it.
When I answered that I really could not understand him, asked him to be more clear and specific and explain it to me what he wanted to know, he says- “Mr Hasan, you really don’t know what is happening here? And there was a pause. How could I not know? I again hurriedly recalled everything that happened in the past few days. Only thing I missed commenting upon was the latest environmental menace called misty SMOG that had made everything look hazy. According to Pakistani doctors this ‘atmospheric dust’ could cause wide-scale eruption of diseases. Without further ado I said to my friend- “You mean SMOG?”
“No; Mr Hasan, it is much more serious and perhaps lethal. It seems Islamabad has been invaded by those strange-looking guys that one saw in the movie “Planet of the Apes”. Though they had beards, Planet creatures were civilised and the Islamabad invaders in Penguin-like dresses looked much more ferocious, are sitting on all entry points. They are too scary, do you know anything about them?” Now I wondered more what I have missed.
Sitting in far away London one yet get to know things happening in Islamabad or any where in Pakistan -by the hour and the minute- either through television, friends or Whatsapp groups providing 24/7 news and comments. It seems that something extra-ordinary and much too alarming was taking place but there was no news as if there was a clampdown on media coverage. The government and its agencies are trying to curb activities on social media but so far have not succeeded much that’s why one could read about the siege and conversion of entry points into open air public toilets with piled up clerical residual churned out of variety of gaseous toxic food and spiritual drinks 24/7. One could guess how foul smelling situation was that groups on the whatsapp kept warning theirfriends don’t dare to enter the Capital as it was under siege of religious lunatics, roads were blocked, entry points jammed and the law enforcers were having a picnic.
Then as I scrolled back I came across an editorial (November 12, 2017) that let the cat out of the bag about the protest near Islamabad by elements of the right wing political elements having come into being through mysterious “engineering” not long ago, led by Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan and the Sunni Tehreek, had taken an ugly turn and there were signs that it could possibly become worse if the Ministry of Interior and its allied forces did not wake up from its deep slumber.
During their last Friday sermons clerics from the various religious groups holding the protest rally had declared that they would attack families of federal ministers if the government did not accept their demands. One believes that the show of strength by the clerics had been going on since several days. The diplomat friend I mentioned earlier, based in Islamabad, told me that he doesn’t understand what was happening. He and his other colleagues in various missions were scared to get out of the diplomatic enclave.
It has been since days. The protest siege was laid ostensibly by some changes in Elections Act, 2017 pertaining to Khatim-e-Nabowaat, an amendment that had already been reversed by the parliament as an untoward mistake. The swift correction did not rest in peace the boiling hot heads and among other demands, now they want the Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid to resign for what the clerics claim was his ‘mischievous’ involvement in the Amendment in the Election Act. They accused the Minister of having changed the Act deliberately to please certain minority community to win it votes. Their other demands include Asiya Bibi’s case, accused of blasphemy, rotting in jail for quite a long time, waiting for a decision on her mercy petition from the very busy President searching for spine to take a stand against blackmail of the extremists who have brought Pakistan to abysmal dept of degradation internationally; the fanatics want cases against religious leaders accused of various heinous crimes dropped; and others removed from the Fourth Schedule.
Incidentally in the given vicious political atmosphere, there is nothing hold barred in the federal government. One could expect Nawaz cronies as Ministers to go to any extent. And the Law Minister being a legatee of General Pervez Musharraf and now turned loyalist to MNS could do anything to save his boss from sinking further in the scum of corruption. More so the Punjab government-a patron in chief of such renegades- was supposed to be acting as an interlocutor between the protesters and the federal government.
Here one must not forget that the former Interior Minister Ch. Nisar Ali Khan who is buddy to the CM Punjab had come out as a fellow travellor among murderer Mumtaz Qadri’s followers, chief patron of Red Mosque Mulla Burka and the like shady characters. He had earned heroic niche among the religious extremists when he had allowed permission to the body of the executed murderer of Governor Salman Taseer a cavalcade burial of a hero. The way the protestors have kept residents of Islamabad hostage seems to give way to apprehensions that the Ministry of Interior and the current Minister continue to have something to do with such radical elements now in the habit of laying siege to the Capital whenever their nose twitched.
I wrote a piece in Daily Times on Wednesday last and perhaps some one reading it, informed the Interior Minister that people were finding too many white hair in his well-trimmed black beard, got him into slow action. Talks with the clerical renegades were initiated but no result was produced at the time of writing this piece for the Weekly Nation (London) and the “invaders” were continuing their siege.
With no answer for the Islamabad Siege issue, I had none for the next when asked by diplomats in London what was the scandal about yet another intriguing subject– engineering of political parties as well this is also the query raised by PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari following developments in Urban Sindh where one has been hearing of a war of words between MQMP’s Dr Fatooq Sattar and PSP’s Mustafa Kamal consuming quite a bit of prime time on TV channels. First the two joined hands one day with too many solemn vows, next day Farooq Sattar comes out with his sob story how he had been pressurised by the establishment into merging MQMP with PSP. His desperation could be measured by his claim that he even thought of shooting himself. In exchange Mustafa Kamal retorted louder, accused Dr Farooq Sattar of involving the Establishment in getting MQMP merged in PSP.
PPP Chairman is right in seeking clarification from whom it concern–who to believe; Dr Farooq Sattar or Mustafa Kamal or was it all being ‘engineered’ to counter PPP in Sindh? “Engineering” has become too obvious and glaring. Is it failure of the PMLN government in minding the store and giving free hand to powers that be to experiment whatever helps to perpetuate their hold through yet another engineering exercise? It is both failure and connivance- whose failure and whose connivance, it would unfold sooner than later.
Deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is in the dump. His party doesn’t know whether it is coming or going irrespective of the tall and wishful claims of ‘Pholan Devi’ of Pakistani politics. Much more is on the line; more heads are waiting to be rolled in the accountability drama that is being staged. It seems that various moves on the political chessboard are being made to arrive at desired results in the next election-if at all held on time– instead of what the voters want.
PPP in Sindh is apparently last bastion of political stability in the country with KPK running along while Balochistan remains a handmaid for the powers that be available for anyone who would be willing to play ball with them. In this wishy- washy scenario main thorn in the back of powers that be remains Sindh where despite their best efforts to malign PPP and its leadership, it seems going no where. On the other hand, it is said to be gaining from strength to strength despite utmost efforts of PTI to make a breakthrough with the help of the “engineers”. And if PPP Karachi’s President-much venomously persecuted and viciously maligned Dr Asim Husain-succeeds in putting sense in MQMP’s Dr Farooq Sattar and other nationalist elements regarding the dirty game that is being played to divide and dilute political power of Sindh-it will be big blow to the forces that have been envious of Sindh’s political strength from the days of martyred Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s ascendancy in Pakistani politics when General Zia “engineered” various ethnic and sectarian groups.
Lot more is likely to happen in the run up to elections. In Hitler’s Germany, he was fond of “engineering” politics and people. As such I conclude with the words of warning in such situations–by famous Pastor Martin Niemoller from Hitler’s time: “They came for the Communists, and I didn’t object-For I wasn’t a Communist; They came for the Socialists, and I didn’t object – For I wasn’t a Socialist; They came for the labor leaders, and I didn’t object – For I wasn’t a labor leader; They came for the Jews, and I didn’t object – For I wasn’t a Jew; Then they came for me -And there was no one left to object.”
(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK, Adviser to Prime Minister Benazir Bhtto and a veteran journalist.)