By Ayaz Amir
August 04, 2015
The Islamic Republic, or the Fortress of Islam, or God’s specially-appointed kingdom – call it what you will…in the realm of fantasy there are no boundaries – was oppressed by two kinds of gloom prior to the army operation, Zarb-e-Azb.
Karachi was enveloped in its own pall of gloom. This was inspired by two things: a) rampant corruption and extortion; and b) that special terror which was a hallmark of the MQM’s style of politics. Pakistan’s largest city was helpless against these two oppressive forces. There was no cure for the PPP’s mafia style of governance and there was no answer to the MQM’s brand of terror. (Six months ago it would not have been possible to name the MQM in this manner…the attendant risks would have been considered too great.)
The MQM called itself a ‘secular and liberal’ organisation. This was the grimmest joke of all. The accredited Maulvi had no voice in the party’s councils – and this was no small cause for mercy. But the MQM had its own pope, presiding over its affairs from distant London, and his power, and the terror his name induced, was on a par with that of any Taliban warlord. Indeed, it is possible to argue that his power was greater. No Taliban warlord could bring a metropolis as huge and unwieldy as Karachi to a standstill at little more than a moment’s notice.
And no warlord through his histrionic telephonic addresses could threaten the mental health of Pakistan’s largest city the way the MQM pontiff did.
The gloom over the rest of Pakistan was caused by extremist Islam as represented by the Pakistani Taliban and their various offshoots or franchises: Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Muhammad, the Punjabi Taliban et al. Headquartered in the Waziristans – North and South – these forces had become powerful, challenging the Pakistani state, spreading terror far and wide, striking at will where they wanted. And the Pakistani state – with its guns and missiles and nuclear power – had taken stout refuge behind a policy of discretion…thus far and no more.
A place like Peshawar of course was unsafe, bomb blasts and killing of policemen regularly occurring. But even places at a distance – Islamabad, Lahore, Multan – were oppressed by a sense of fear. Militants and extremists seemed to be everywhere; the majesty and glory of the state nowhere.
Worse than this feeling of dread was a feeling of hopelessness, that nothing could be done as Pakistan’s condition was beyond cure. Politicians who mattered had turned into appeasers, outdoing Chamberlain, finding excuses for the Pakistani Taliban…and after every terrorist outrage offering smooth phrases and extending more olive branches, to the point where the olive forests stood denuded.
All this while, the well-to-do classes were losing no time transferring their assets and money abroad. Islamabad was the country’s nominal capital. The real capital seemed to be Dubai.
Given this situation how could anyone expect the ordinary citizen, or someone from the educated middle class, to nurture the seeds of hope?
To crown everything, the armed forces, when not building another defence housing authority or another Fizaia estate, had resolved not to see or hear evil. The army had liberated Swat – no other word except liberation will do in this context – and it had gone into South Waziristan. But then the army chief who had acquired a three-year extension in service became the epitome of caution and circumspection. As the Taliban became bolder the army command turned into fearsome paper tigers.
With this the attitude of the army, the first and last line of national defence, guardian not only of the passes but defender of the country’s ideological frontiers, where could national morale go except down?
This was not fifty years ago. This was not Partition when rivers of blood flowed in Punjab. This was not post-1971 after Pakistan was divided and Gen ‘Tiger’ Niazi had surrendered his pistol in Dhaka. This was just last year, the middle of it to be precise. That’s when the army under its new commander, Raheel Sharif, shook itself and decided that something had to be done…if Pakistan was not to become a bigger laughingstock.
Overriding civilian vacillation and the defeatism of the political class, Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched. That was the turning point, Pakistan’s D-Day, when the situation began to change…Pakistan discovering a new resolve and ‘jihad’ finally tasting the medicine whose potency it understood. Much of the liberal commentariat – fluent in a different sort of narrative in which the army was always the villain – would choke before admitting this.
With terrorism in disarray and terrorism on the run, the gloom enveloping the Pakistani soul while not completely gone has lightened to a considerable extent. The old feeling that Pakistan was beyond repair has given way to a measure of hope. The educated middle class has started to look up.
Fear hasn’t vanished completely from Karachi but thanks to the Rangers much of the old terror has abated. The smile has started to return on the city’s face. The MQM, meanwhile, because of action here and legal troubles abroad is facing the worst crisis in its history. Matters have reached a pass where the MQM pontiff is calling for UN and Nato intervention in Karachi. This is hilarious. Only fools, and there’s no shortage of them in the government, would lose any sleep over this.
All this stands in bolder relief when contrasted with the turmoil at the heart of the Islamic world – civil war in Syria, turmoil in Iraq, civil war in Yemen, state disruption in Libya…closer to us, war and conflict in Afghanistan, Mullah Omar’s death confirmed, and the Taliban in the throes of a succession crisis. Compared to this fractured mosaic Pakistan for all its problems looks a picture of stability. This in itself is astonishing. When was the last time Pakistan looked pretty compared to anything?
This is just the beginning. The decline has been stemmed but the rot afflicting Pakistani society, the corruption and plunder which have become a feature of national life, along with the poor quality of the national leadership, are all there. One Raheel Sharif has made a difference, and only misty-eyed champions of that elusive plant called Pakistani democracy will deny this. But how is this process to be carried forward? Who will be the next Raheel Sharif?
This is the question agitating parts of the public mind. The present moment, and the upswing mood accompanying it, is too good to be lost. How to keep hope and faith alive, and the power of cynicism at bay…above and beyond all the facile twaddle about preserving the sanctity of the constitution this is the foremost question.
Gen Zia took a hammer and chisel to the constitution and implanted his own version of Islam in it. The Pakistani intelligentsia has suffered no indigestion on account of that. But the barest mention of constitutional changes to preserve and accommodate the positive change of the present moment, and fervent constitutionalists not averse to reaching out to the Taliban lift their arms in outrage.
Constitutions are instruments of governance. They are not sacred documents. The French constitution did not protect France from Germany in 1940. Iraq has a constitution of sorts which is not preserving it from the advance of the Islamic State. The politicians had the 1973 constitution before them when they considered the Taliban threat. Alas, it failed to fill their hearts with the requisite resolve. It is the army and the PAF and the security agencies which have turned the tide of war and saved Pakistan from what everyone loved to call an ‘existential threat’.
How to preserve these gains and build on them? We better find an answer to this question.