By Mehr F Husain
25 July, 2014
THE people. It's always been about the people. Saving them from tyrants, restoring their rights, relieving them of burdens, working for them and most of all, letting them steer their own ship. Democracy was the much chanted mantra and the much longed for system. The idea in the 2013 election was to have a system that could tackle the two most dominant issues, religion and development.
So it came in the form of the conservative PML N headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; but instead, the entire system is being hounded by criticism over its legitimacy and tainted by war. It is typical of a hopeful political party to make big promises to ' fix' problems during a campaign – but it is necessary to act upon them when in power.
Except that in Pakistan, each problem tends to affect the country on every level — economic, social, political, ethnic, religious making it difficult to resolve anything without it disrupting something else.
For example, the war against terrorism taking place in North Waziristan. Amidst peace talks, airstrikes commenced to strong-arm the Taliban into line and then unofficially the war began. Prior to this, concessions were made, such as pursuing talks even when the State's offer was continuously splattered by the blood of innocents during the ' ceasefire'. The dependence on the military to abide by the state was meant to be a continuation of the preservation of democracy as a political system and to prove to the militants that they were the isolated anti- democratic ones.
But then came in critics with the ethnicity card — if preserving democracy was the issue of the hour, what about the people in Balochistan? If war was to be pursued, why not start in Punjab? Why wasn’t war announced when the Shias in Hazara protested by refusing to bury their dead — did they not matter at the time? Tied to war was the question of whether the State could afford one, given the dismal state of the economy? Socially, civil society was caught up battling itself by debating the war, which obviously led the top leadership to be stuck in a royal mess with the people fighting it out amongst themselves and the military pressing for action.
Now with the strongest opponent in the form of Imran Khan holding the state to account for a war he never supported in the first place as well as questioning their legitimacy, the system is slowly being unravelled. Thousands of Internally Displaced People ( IDP's) who have coldly been referred to as ' Internally Disowned People' and the continuous questioning of how the voters' choice was manipulated have combined to create an all too familiar feeling that the trusted relationship between the state and the people has been broken.
Whether it is a dictatorship or a democracy, the complaint is the life of common man has not been improved. In the government's case, the problem seems to be that the very same party that came to power did so on a promise to resolve the terrorism crisis by pursuing a peaceful path. This implied that the people of Pakistan would be free of terrorism and those affected most by the Taliban, such as the people of North Waziristan would be cleansed of the infestation by militants.
After all, North Waziristan is where the people led suffocated lives while the Taliban resided in their region. These are the women who had to marry and produce Taliban militant's children. These are the men who are pointed at and accused of harbouring militants in their land. But talks failed and war commenced.
Now, the KPK province where the IDPs are whining about them not being a provincial problem but a federal one; the military who was sent in to liberate them is being accused of causing civilian casualties; civil society is torn between crying for them or arguing to keep them out; economically, there is a big question on the rehabilitation program and its cost; ethnically, the issue remains that it's always non- Punjabis who pay the price; and all other minorities still live in fear despite the war that is meant to give the people ' freedom'. And as war affects the country at every level, the State grapples with accusations that its actions don’t just go against its promise but are allegedly causing another generation of militants — children of war — to breed; and uninvitingly fuelling the opinion that perhaps another system apart from democracy could serve the people better.
Mehr F Husain is a columnist in Lahore