By Imran Kureshi
February 17, 2015
After the capital shifted to Islamabad and, over the years, there was an influx of Punjabis and Pathans into all levels of institutions, especially the lower levels, the Mohajirs found that the Islamic national discourse was not serving to maintain their position. Also, after the MQM was formed, it found that its politicians had electorates. Altaf Hussain is an advocate of the Mohajir perspective. Thus now (always being one step ahead of the Punjabis), they have adopted a secular discourse. Furthermore, they have wilfully left the mainstream but retained their foothold in the power structure and relationship with the army. Also, despite their brinkmanship and bargaining tactics with the PPP, they still have some sort of equation of a tacit personalised rapport between Mr Zardari and Mr Altaf.
Moreover, up to the East Pakistan debacle, the army was secular. Mr Bhutto was a case of someone outside the mainstream gaining control of the power structure; thus he faced a lot of criticism and was executed for his temerity. Then came Ziaul Haq with his Islamisation of the country and army. Zia’s policies had numerous long-term detrimental effects like supporting the mujahideen that promoted the Kalashnikov culture and drug trafficking, which later evolved into the Taliban, the start of terrorism, sectarianism and violent student unions, and the ISI manipulating politics. All of this resulted in sham democracy, political injustices and declining professionalism in the army. Islamisation gave a further evangelist mission to the Islamic discourse.
At this juncture it is important to mention the role of Islamic parties through partition till today. Being out of tune with modern trends and the times (which is both their strong point and their weak one) they took the wrong side before partition. To their credit it must be said that they, especially the Ahrars, actively canvassed and made efforts to stop the bloodshed that erupted in Punjab after partition, which conversely Muslim League politicians (except Liaquat Ali, Mian Iftikharuddin and a very few others), along with lower level government officials were cruelly promoting. Reciprocal atrocities were also being committed on the other side by the Sikh Nawabs, Patels, Akalis and, to a lesser degree, Hindu extremist parties. However, despite the setback religious parties received with partition, because of the religious aspect of the new national discourse, they were able to establish a nook for themselves in the population again.
They took their cue from Allama Mashriqi and the Khaksars and took over his politics after him. Allama Mashriqi was the pioneer of the concepts of using tribal mujahideen to fight a proxy war, encouraging uprisings in Indian-held Kashmir, arranging a long march and staging dharnas (sit-ins), and practically all the tactics our Islamic parties have employed thereafter. During this period these religious parties have served to keep the concept of Islam in the national discourse, pristine and free of any western associations. Also they have spread obscurantist thinking and anti-west prejudices. By this method they have always built a core of avid, active supporters. This factor, aided by the students from their seminaries and the charitable institutions they control, has enabled them to wield street power though not electoral power. They reached an apex of effectiveness in the movement to overthrow Bhutto and then they propagated a more definite religious discourse (Nizam-e-Mustafa), but they were co-opted by Ziaul Haq, who tried to shortcircuit the rational democratic discourse, which resulted in this discourse becoming misdirected with institutional efforts to manipulate it for partisan ends. The attitudes thus engendered continue to foster a mentality out of tune with the modern age.
Whereas certain interests tried to continue to maintain this direction for the national democratic discourse, the army was conscious of the institutional damage it was suffering and loss of professionalism. Three Chiefs of Army Staff (COASs) after Aslam Beg — Generals Janjua, Kakar and Karamat — tried to divest the army of too deep an involvement in politics and obscurantism. Eventually, the army has steered itself back to balanced professionalism and has dissociated itself almost entirely from politics and unnecessary evangelical ascriptions. With good economic and social points and bad political and ethical points, General Musharraf defined moderate Islam and perhaps reluctantly realigned the rational democratic discourse. During his tenure, General Kayani assiduously refused to depose the Zardari government, though on three occasions mainstream lobbies pressurised him to do so: the minus one formula, after the floods and lastly the ridiculous Memogate affair.
Thus, in effect, with regards to the problem of the Taliban and terrorism, the army and politicians have reversed positions. The army that had initially created the Taliban and protected them, thereafter progressively realised the limitations and the dreadful threat that developed from these earlier policies of theirs and slowly moved towards trying to counteract them. The mainstream political parties kowtow to a popular simplistic belief to support anything that claims to be religious (and the more secular parties also are hesitant to oppose this tendency without some definite reason, except the MQM). Thus the mainstream political parties (PML-N, PTI and some religious parties) continue to espouse religious slogans tacitly favouring terrorism and non-state actors (there is also financial and other forms of support). The true state of affairs became clear when the army conducted an eminently successful anti-terrorist campaign in Swat that was hailed by the people, which just goes to show how misleading the religious propaganda of the mainstream parties was. Our tendency for hypocrisy and a religious blind spot are probably our greatest handicaps and, unfortunately, the mainstream political structure continues to actively propagate negative aspects of the religious discourse on the one hand and behave as if they were the champions of restoring law and order on the other.
Genuine power, gas and other manufactured crises gripped the five years of the PPP government and its secular allies. Now, with a much less intrusive role by the army as an institution, the new mainstream power structure has played on the increasing unpopularity of the more secular parties because of the crisis to divest itself of them and try to once more get its theories on strategic depth, military assets, proxy wars and Islamic militancy into order. Saudi influence increased again. Then came the most abysmally rigged elections, umpired by the Taliban, to prevent the more secular parties from campaigning or setting up any election structure. This was pre-election rigging, which no one can gainsay. Thereafter, with the PPP relegated to Sindh, the two mainstream parties (PML-N, PTI) repeatedly acted as apologists for the Taliban, negotiated with them and tried to delay army action against them for as long as possible. Of course, when the army began their operation in Waziristan, these parties once again quickly became steadfast supporters of the army action. Sadly, it took all too many tragic terrorist attacks and finally the Peshawar school attack to finally bring about universal condemnation of terrorism and the Taliban.
(To be continued)
Imran Kureshi is a freelance columnist