By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
The Labaik Dharna is over. No doubt its triumphant organizers will take time to wipe the taste of blood from their faces. They held two million inhabitants of Pakistan’s capital haplessly hostage by forcibly occupying its entry point at Faiazabad Chowk. One believes that Punjab government and the federal law enforcers had collected over 10,00o cops to flush them out. However, show was not held as Ghalib would have said. If police used abortively few thousand tear gas shells with least affect on the miscreants, one could see their plight getting the gas back in their eyes. Besides, protestors with their heavy arsenal had used their own stock with greater efficacy and longer shelf life. Even the nature supported them. Hostile direction of the wind hit their eyes hard when the tear gas boomeranged.
Indeed, never before did a mysteriously connived incident have such a painful and traumatizing impact as the Faizabad Dharna and the abject surrender to them by the lawful authorities in different hues of uniform and lethal weaponry. Futile running to and fro by Interior Minister Rao Ahsan Iqbal, his much sound and fury ended up in nothing but whimpers. Never did we have such an anorchous interior minister who could just bark as did his predecessor but not bite. What deepened to the conspiracy theory was the imbecility of the civil government giving space to an army major general out of the blue to broker lifting of the siege by handing over an undisclosed amount of money or booty as the miscreants would like to call the payment in exchanging of ending their blockade. Judge of the Islamabad High Court Mr justice Aziz Siddiqui is absolutely right in raising the question as to who authorized a major general to broker the surrender.
What a shame it was that the two institutions meant for collectively defending and protecting the national sovereignty prostrated in front of 2000 protestors and signed a surrender document that perhaps was more humiliating then the laying down of arms by General “Tiger” Niazi on December 16, 1971. Apologists for the defeat in December 1971 could give some reasons for it including outnumbering of troops, weaponry, logistics, and hostility of local population. Yet there are others who feel that General Niazi had given a commitment to the nation that Indian troops would reach Dhaka only after riding on his chest. He did not stand by his oath to lay down his life to protect the territorial sovereignty of the state was no doubt an act of treason.
When I was asked after the siege was over which one of the two was more humiliating a development-surrender in Dhaka or surrender at Faizabad Chowk? I paused for a little while and then gathered my courage to blurt it out that perhaps the surrender brokered with two thousand mullas by the major general of Rangers was a bigger event and unparallel tragedy then the fall of Dhaka in 1971. And what was more hurting was to see that major general disbursing money among the rabble rousers or terrorists responsible for the blockade, killing of innocent citizens, torching of public property and paralyzing life besides causing loss of millions in business.
Although apologists for surrender in 1971 in Dhaka had not much of a case except the deliberate misadventure by the drunkard generals, their mad obduracy not to hand over power to the elected representatives of the people and their preference to lay down arms before superior fighting force with overwhelming logistical advantage for Indian army than to surrender to the verdict of ballot given by its own people.
Indeed, Pakistan army-not a mean fighting force by any international standard-was pitched against its own people by the ambitious military leadership. There is some wisdom in the saying of French statesman Clemenceau that war is much too serious a thing to be left in the hands of generals. Surely the generals at the helms of affair had no clue what they were to achieve or it was all by design to create a political and law and order situation to end in the fall of Dhaka. And –if at all- it was saving grace for them to surrender their arms in a war front made to order by our generals’ ideal for Indian victory enabling Bengali Muslims to establish separate independent country.
In the hind sight one wishes that it would have been better if President Ayub Khan had his way as discussed by him with his Law Minister Justice Muhammad Munir as early as 1962 that Bengali cabinet ministers be convinced to seek East Pakistan’s secession since there was no cultural or lingual compatibility between the two wings.
I agree with the view that regretfully the Faizabad Dharna and surrender brokered by a major general of Pakistan army, would go down in Pakistan’s history as more ignominious an event then the surrender at Dhaka. At that time Pakistan army-one of the finest fighting forces in the world-had been out numbered by Indian manpower backed by Mukti Bahini and the desertions by the Bengali troops from the Pakistan army, no disruption in supplies besides additional assistance in the shape of huge Russian helicopters for transporting of Indian soldiers to East Pakistan borders and arms and ammunition.
I think I wrote three articles on the Faizabad siege much before any serious notice was given to it. I termed the Dharna as “Assault on Jinnah’s Pakistan”. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqqan Abbasi, Interior Minister Rao Ahsan Iqbal, Information Ministry and the rest were neither here nor there. Either they were feigning clueless about the powers that be pulling the strings from behind the curtain or they were involved in the controversial amendment in the electoral laws.
What looked intriguing in the Faizabad episode was the reluctance and helplessness shown by both the civil and military authorities – to establish the writ of the state by effectively using means available to them to disperse few hundred religious rabble rousers whose demands were becoming more oppressive by the hour. It seemed that the strikers were assured that if they continued for some more days, all their demands would be accepted to convert Pakistan’s democratic moorings into a theocratic state. More so-as the later public disbursement of money by a major general to the rabble rousers-clearly established the new rule of the game that hence forth people staging dharnas would get paid too.
Notwithstanding what the apologists of the dharna and disbursement of money to the protestors say, there is a valid point raised by Nawaz supporters who suspect that the dharna was organized by the powers that be to subvert PML-N government although the fact that cannot be denied is that the present government would be remembered as the weakest that we ever had.
The most horrendous aspect of the Faizabad siege was the fact that the both the constitutionally assigned defenders of the writ of state, slept in different beds but had the same dream. They did not want to create a situation that would look like a defeat for the religious rabble rousers. As such they were allowed to lay off their siege by letting them have victory. Obviously, more of such dharnas would unfold in the country run up to the election. It not only gives the rabble rouser sense of victory but they get paid as well.
The Faiazabad Dharna and its fall out affects should be treated as a defining moment for the country’s future. Both the civil government and the Praetorian establishment should be questioned by the Parliament as to why did they surrender Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan to around 2000 religious miscreants? It is rightly said that if both the civil and military authorities wanted, they could have dispersed the crowd with least use of force. They did not do it deliberately.
PMLN government had deeper links with the protestors; recall Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif’s orchestration of their demand for the resignation of the Federal Law Minister. Shrewd politicians as PMLN leaders are, they are conscious of the threatening electoral power of the mullas in Punjab and six months to go for election in 2018, discretion is better part of valour to keep them on their side whatsoever their number. They remember how good was the support of the TTP to them and PTI in 2018 elections when both PPP and ANP were targeted by the terrorists and instead of a fear free electoral atmosphere, peaceful campaigning was made impossible.
On the other hand, despite most obtrusive pressure and increasing drone attacks by the Americans, Washington feels that Pakistan’s Praetorian establishment is not willing to let go its so-called strategic assets such as Hafiz Saeed’s L-e-T, his Milli Muslim League now getting ready for elections and Labaik Party. At the end of the day loser will be Quaid’s secular and liberal Pakistan.
Indeed, one must not forget that history has a tendency to repeat itself. One would recall the historic advice of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to President George Bush Sr. when United States was nurturing Taliban-“Mr. President, don’t create Frankenstein’s, it won’t be possible to put them back in the bottle”. So did US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confess before a Congressional hearing that CIA created Taliban, got them funded and trained by Pakistan’s ISI “since they are religious fanatics” and they would fight the Soviet infidels more fiercely.” We need to remember her words– when one raises snakes in its backyard, they bite the hand that feeds them.
(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)