Reverting back to Zia?

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Encouraged by the religious-political and remunerative gains of blackmail, it seems that more sit-ins will take place before we reach the deadline for the general elections. Right now it seems that the incumbent government is the weakest government we have ever had, and innocent citizens are being pushed into the cold. Meanwhile, political engineering and Messiah manufacturing continue, as they have since the last days of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif, when all machinations for his extension in service failed.
What has revived the debate among academics locally and abroad on whether Pakistan is a dysfunctional or failed state, is the ongoing free for all in every walk of life. The firing at the residence of a superior Judge who was a part of the five judge team that disqualified Mian Nawaz Sharif is the latest example of our descent into lawlessness.
Another sad day was when the federal government surrendered to the hooligans holding a sit-in at Faizabad Chowk in Islamabad. Their sit-in had paralyzed the capital for nearly 20 days. At the end of it all, the participants of the sit-in walked away scot free, with cash envelopes in hand. Last week showed us nothing has changed, when Punjab Chief Minister (CM) capitulated before a mini-dharna organised by Khadim Hussain Rizvi supporters. It was total surrender, the Anti-Terror Court (ATC) was ordered to shelve three cases against the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) Chief.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi shows his gratification seeing the enthusiasm of his activists during dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad on 27th November 2017. (File pictures)

Rizvi is no ordinary person. He was declared a proclaimed offender in 14 cases, but the Punjab police could not arrest him as it feared that the firebrand cleric could shed “rivers of blood” throughout the province. This spineless capitulation has blackened the face of the PML-N administration, which has agreed to drop all charges against TLP leaders, including those related to terrorism.
With elections for 2018 just few months away, the Punjab government’s surrender to Khadim Hussain and his revolting party is a continuation of an ugly precedence which is in total disregard to Pakistan’s founder Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision of a secular and liberal Pakistan. This country was meant to be a state that would ensure empowerment of the people, irrespective of their caste, creed, colour or gender. It definitely was not meant to be a theocratic state.
At this juncture when Pakistan faces both internal and external threats, we should not rush to condemn what is asserting itself in the form of Pakhtun dissent gaining strength by the day or the demands of a Saraiki Province in South Punjab, nor should we allow suppression of farmers in Okara. Before finding faults in populist aspirations, we need to address the grievances of the people.
Our top brass must learn from the fall of Dhaka in 1971. It should also study the break-up of the erstwhile Soviet Union in 90s. The latter had one of the largest armies in the world, with a nuclear arsenal second only to the United States. Its KGB was just as powerful as the CIA, yet it could not hold the Soviet Empire together. I saw its mighty army crumble in St Peters Square, when youngsters climbed on the top Russian tanks, pulling soldiers out by their hair to announce end of the Soviet Union.
The Russian example proved that a satisfied domestic population provides the main strength for the substance of a state, rather than its armed forces. No doubt in a strategic situation like Pakistan’s one cannot ignore the external factors, forces, geo-strategic currents and cross-currents. However, one should look deeply within to charter a correct course and seek a sense of direction that avoids pitfalls in seeking new pastures. Unfortunately, it has come to be a habit among the managers of the state who themselves create fissures and instead of addressing the issues and analysing factors behind ominous developments, seek instant answers by resorting to blame games rather than getting to the roots of the problem within.
Since the assassination of Pakistan’s first PM, Liaqat Ali Khan, divergent religious forces with bigoted agendas of their own after found a safe haven in the country – mainly in the province of Punjab. These were the same forces which had initially opposed the creation of Pakistan. Unfortunately, these extremists readily found their patrons in the power troika that wanted Pakistan to be a security state rather than a social welfare polity.
Different religious groups have found a favourable playing field in Pakistan, funded by their Sunni and Shia financiers, including foreign powers seeking non-state actors to deliver for them as we did for the Americans during the Afghan jihad. These transnational Jihadist movements have sprouted in various shapes all over the world, causing havoc and destruction. Pakistan, and Punjab in particular, have been allowed to become an epicentre for the pursuit of what these people call a Khilafat.
Meanwhile, invisible hands engineering alliances, not to strengthen democracy, but to weaken it. It seems as if all this is being done to revert back to General Zia and folding up Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s 1973 constitution. The 18th amendment will be done away with as well, since it runs contrary to the concept of a strong centre. More missing persons, more censorship- PAKISTAN will be converted into a dark state.
(The Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)