BY Najam Sethi
LAST Sunday, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement ( MQM) urged the Supreme Court of Pakistan to take suo motu notice of the doubling of crime in Punjab province and recommended that the army should take control of the province. Not so long ago, the MQM chief, Altaf Hussain, who is ensconced in the safety of London, had exhorted Pakistanis to launch a “ bloody revolution” to overthrow the feudal ruling classes. Indeed, he had gone so far as to say that “ patriotic generals” should step in to save the country once again.
For the record, it may be noted that Karachi, which the MQM claims as “ its city”, is the most dangerous place in the world. More people are target- killed there daily than in any city of the world.
So if any city “ deserves” martial law by the proposed yardstick of the MQM itself, it is Karachi. But that is a nightmare from the MQM’s point of view.
Fearful memories remain of the Army/ Rangers “ clean- up operations” in Karachi from 1992- 1996 under the Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto governments.
That is when Altaf Hussain and thousands of MQM activists fled the country in a trail of FIRs for murder, arson, kidnapping, terrorism, etc, all of which remain on file. That is also when the MQM’s “ torture cells” and separatist maps of Jinnahpur were discovered.
Therefore the less said about the MQM’s demand for “ patriotic generals”, “ bloody revolutions” and “ martial laws”, the better. It is part of the MQM’s tactics to keep its powder dry in a potential election year. It is desperate to extend its vote bank in rural Sindh and get a toehold in Punjab, which is why it is railing against General Sales Tax on services ( biggest impact in Karachi) and demanding tax on agricultural incomes of big landlords ( in Sindh and Punjab).
The other word for such populism is opportunism.
MQM apart, however, there are other voices calling for radical change. These appear to be inspired by “ revolutionary” events in Tunisia, followed by copycat demonstrations in Egypt and even Yemen for “ revolutionary regime change”. On the face of it, the spark that lit the fire in Tunisia – economic distress – could theoretically ignite widespread agitation in Pakistan too since there has never been such hardship before. But to what end? The Tunisians have got rid of a ruthless autocrat who misruled for 21 years and the Egyptians are also demonstrating against Hosni Mubarak for much the same sort of Prague Spring. But Pakistan has a surfeit of “ democracy” these days and its pro- democracy “ revolutions” were wrought in the anti- Ayub, anti- Bhutto and anti- Musharraf movements of 1968, 1977 and 2007. Regime change in Pakistan today, with or without street power, would simply lead to martial law ( a regression, surely) or a new election that would bring the same politicians and parties to power. Indeed, given the nature of increasing ethnic, religious and regional fissures in society, chances are that unscheduled regime change will bring about even more precarious and pernicious coalition governments everywhere in which there is a mad scramble for the spoils.
It is therefore not surprising that some people are hankering for a Khomeini to appear and “ set things right” a la Iran – which is neither a Western- type “ democracy” like Pakistan, nor a praetorian regime like Egypt or an autocratic one like the one that has just perished in Tunisia. Is some sort of “Islamic revolution”, with a pious strong man at the top, the need of the hour in Pakistan? Pakistan certainly needs much more law and order. It also needs better economic management, greater social equality and much less corruption. But a “ Made in Pakistan” Islamic revolution is neither possible, nor desirable. For one, an Islamic revolution, as opposed to a putsch (like the one by Gen Zia ul Haq in 1977), requires a regional and religious homogeneity ( as in Iran) and intellectual leadership ( like the Ayatollahs) that is missing in Pakistan.
ALSO, the performance of the religious parties in government — the Pakistan National Alliance during Gen Zia’s time, the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad in 1990 and the Muttahida Majlis Awam during Gen Musharraf’s tenure — was worse than that of the mainstream Pakistan Muslim League and Peoples Party in the 1990s.
Therefore any such frustrated impulse is a recipe for anarchy, not good governance.
Also, one should not overly glorify the Islamic Revolution in Iran in view of the marked and increasing yearning for greater “ Western type- freedoms and democracy” among its urban middle classes.
Under the circumstances, and despite the appalling performance of the PPP regime in every conceivable area of governance and the unimaginative opposition of the PML( Nawaz), the system is moving slowly in the right direction. The Supreme Court is banging on about accountability. It is trying to get a grip over corruption at the highest levels and tugging at the intelligence agencies to be more responsible. There is broad agreement between the government and opposition over the essential elements of a political economy agenda for reform.
Excluding a clutch of nutcases, no one is running to the army for salvation through conspiracy. Once we have a neutral Chief Election Commissioner and National Accountability Board chairman — which is inevitable sooner or later — we can have another go at trying to make parliamentary democracy work.
In the meanwhile, it would help if two institutions, one old and one new, were to undertake an internal reform to compliment rather than undermine the system.
The army must revamp its national security doctrine that compels it to commandeer the steering heights of economy and society in an age of internal scarcity and regional distrust. And the media must act with greater responsibility to encourage a progressive, moderate and internationalist outlook in the mindset of the nation. No modern democracy or economy can work in the stifling environment of religious orthodoxy, international isolation or military supremacy.
The writer is editor of The Friday Times
Source: Mail Today