By Shumaila Raja
October 21, 2013
“All politics, everywhere, is a competition of narratives, and political tension in any polity is defined by it competing narratives. Not surprising, then, we are drowning in narratives. Actually, we are bleeding to death. Quite literally so. Our narratives — much as we ourselves — tend to not just compete, they compete violently.” This is an excerpt from Adil Najam’s article, “Do We Have Common Ssense”, published in an English daily on October 12, 2013. The article generated debate on the blog, participated in by many. One would like to share it with one’s readers as it is quite interesting. Najam says, “The pain in my guts comes from having lived this debate this last week. If the sanctity of innocent human life, if murderous attacks on little schoolgirls, if the centrality of education, if the desire for peace and tolerance, is not something that can bring us together, then what can?”
Why should we have reached the stage where the common narrative in which feelings for fellow human beings and their sufferings should invite compassion and not ridicule is not difficult to explain, says Shams Abbas. One could blame Ziaul Haq, the Objectives Resolution, or Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who timidly acquiesced to the demands of the PNA and took steps that were completely against the convictions and professed beliefs of a liberal party and its prime minister.
The fact of the matter is that we start history from Ziaul Haq and forget the Munir Commission report findings, or the subsequent progressive tilt towards the right.
While Bhutto, for perpetuation of power, allowed himself to be dominated by the extreme religious demands, Zia founded a nice foundation on which he built his evil extremism.
But just to blame our history and those responsible for it is not doing justice to the current situation in which the Right has completely dominated the common narrative, because the common narrative of orthodoxy and fundamentalism that has been fuelled by leaders subsequent to Zia, in that they made no effort to undo what Zia initiated, is the cause of much of the malaise that we witness at present. Sadly, instead of making scapegoats and repeated reference to the Ziaist tenure and ideological changes, not one of the latter leaders have made any worthwhile effort to reverse the extremist tilt to one of moderation, barring General Musharraf’s enlightened moderation.
The PML-N and now PTI are paying lip service, and, indeed, expected to compromise with extremism through their proposed talks with the TTP. One only hopes that sanity prevails. The decision not to enforce the death penalty comes from the threat of the TTP and not any human rights consideration. In my view, this timidity will lay the foundations of a complete change of Pakistan’s religious complexion to one of ultra orthodoxy and if not now, will further encourage the Taliban mindset and their supporters to intensify their agenda in future.
The common narrative where killing of fellow human beings should be condemned will change to comfort if those killed belong to a different sect or are secular and so on. Needless to say, we should not be surprised by those educated people considering Malala Yousafzai to be a western ploy, and thus not condemning the dastardly attack on her. This will manifest in other acts of brutality in times to come and savagery may well be the order of the day, unless we accept today to fight the evil of extremism and eliminate it from its roots rather than shake hands with it.
A state of despair prevails in the country, says Javed Qazi. The illiterate are worried about inflation and deterioration instead of law and order. The literate are looking at the threat of terrorism and lack of resolve at the highest levels in our country to confront and eliminate this menace. The country is sinking day by day not only under the missing electricity and shutdown of industries leading to economic stagnation but also the threat of terrorism, which inhibits foreign investment and economic revival. The government, instead of tackling the problem head on, has sought shelter behind the All Parties Conference and is engaged in a futile effort to negotiate.
By according the status of stakeholders to a gang of criminals and rebels, we have granted honour to those for whom this word is meaningless. The government, like its predecessors, is still throwing the blame onto General Musharraf for having brought these terrorists into war against the state, ignoring the fact that groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had been killing Shias since 1985, and that they have simply moved onto FATA to avoid action against them. The Taliban are making lame excuses for their reluctance to engage in a meaningful dialogue. The government simply cannot stop the drone attacks because these are launched by the US, which has made it clear that the drone strikes will continue indefinitely. We, in any case, have a weak case until we re-establish the writ of the state in North Waziristan.
We can do it. Our army was successful in Swat, South Waziristan, Bajaur, Mohmand, etc, where it launched military operations, but it has yet to tackle the base of terrorists in North Waziristan. The army simply needs the government’s support at the federal level and the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to back the operation. A repeat of the Lal Masjid history is most undesirable, where the army liberated Islamabad from the stranglehold of the terrorists of Lal Masjid, even sacrificing lives to do so, but what has been the subsequent narrative? The army was blamed for killing women and children, when none were killed. Over 200 terrorists with weapons were arrested, but later released by the Supreme Court.
Can the army go into battle with half-hearted support from the government, parliament and the press? What do they do with a hostile judiciary impeding any military operation with powers to sort out the rebels? Will it not be hands tied behind their back? How long now, before having been finally disenchanted with the tricks being played by the Taliban or facing people’s wrath for lack of action, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan will abandon their flawed perceptions and stand solidly behind their armed forces? The consequences of not doing so are too horrendous to contemplate, for one day, it may be too late to stop them from Talibanising our state, starting with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. This will be the death of the idea of Pakistan.
Addressing the 128th Long Course’s passing out cadets at the prestigious Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul the Chief of Army Staff said the army supported peace talks under the Constitutional framework. He said that the Pakistan army was exercising restraint but it should in no way be used as a pretext for levelling such baseless allegations that vitiate the prospects of regional peace. Indicating support for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s peace overtures to India, he said the Pakistan army is fully supportive of the peace process initiated by the government. Rather than hurling such baseless accusations, India would be well advised to respond positively to Pakistan’s suggestion for holding a joint or impartial investigation into the LoC incidents, preferably by the United Nations, he added.
Shumaila Raja is a freelance journalist based in Rawalpindi. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org