By Zafar Hilaly
March 06, 2013
Inscribed on the wall of a Buddhist temple in Hawaii are the words: ‘Every man is given the key to the gates of heaven. The same key can open the gates of hell’.
These words came to mind looking at the devastation wrought by the bombing of the Shia locality in Abbas Town, Karachi. The other thought that occurred was how religion has become the readiest killing device in contemporary Pakistan and how ironical that the artifice used to create Pakistan is becoming the instrument of its undoing.
But that’s not really surprising. This is a place where some go to the mosque without any real religious feeling, and above all without representing any source of morality or model for ethical behaviour. We are as (or more) likely to find crooks in the mosque as good men and sometimes both lots are outnumbered by the surfeit of hypocrites milling around. What else can you expect in a society dominated by a political class which thinks it has obtained lesser or greater power by innate genius or through God-given gifts and which gives it the right to do what it chooses. Frankly, the only real god many worship is money.
Today we cannot decide where we wish to live or work; how we wish to worship and educate our children; what organisation we wish to belong to and what views we choose to hold. These are freedoms contained in the constitution that a state seemingly in terminal decline cannot enforce when opposed by the likes of the TTP, the various Lashkars, Jaishes et al. Some say these are our own creations that continue to be sustained and nourished by the deep state. Rehman Malik, however, accuses a provincial government of tolerating them in exchange for a modicum of peace.
Admittedly, to take them on would necessitate a degree of hardship, sacrifice, blood and gore – which some feel is beyond what the state can withstand. The military, probably the only institution which could and succeed, is far more concerned about its image and with observing the niceties of the law. It seems willing to tolerate a corrupt and dysfunctional democracy rather than risk being accused of dabbling in politics.
Being landed with the responsibility of running the country in addition to his other chores is not, I suspect, what an overworked Kayani believes he can sustain. Nevertheless, it was amusing to learn how familiar the military brass is with the articles of the constitution, especially Article 145 (summoning the army in aid of civil power) considering that an earlier chief of army staff (Ziaul Haq) likened the constitution to “a scrap of paper” with which he could do what he wished. In contrast, for Kayani the constitution is the Holy Grail. He probably knows it as well as the Army Manual.
But even if the military somehow worked up the spunk to take on the extremists in the towns and cities, the outcome is by no means certain and it will be messy. Besides, history is not on its side. Every invader, whether Arab, Central Asian or European; cruel, vicious or rapacious; brown, fair or white and of all political and religious hues, has been tolerated. We seldom ask the invader – which, in many respects, the TTP is – why he has come; only where he is going and how we can help. That is what is happening with the Americans; it is what happened with the British and before them the Mughals and even Alexander. We seem to buckle under.
In the case of the British in 1857 the people of the lands comprising Pakistan today went further and actually helped them overcome fellow sub continentals and end Mughal rule in Delhi. In both World Wars, we fought on the side of the occupying power often against fellow Muslims. So we should not expect the present bunch of natives, who are basically opportunistic political pygmies with rubber spines, to take on misguided locals peddling an alien version of our faith – at least, not without considerable prodding.
In the circumstances it was hardly surprising that Maulana Fazl ur Rahman was able to convince his colleagues that the answer to the TTP challenge was in offering them an olive branch. If it were left to him he would probably offer them a whole tree – olives and all – to appease them. This so despite the fact the five previous accords concluded with the TTP had been observed mostly in the breach. The fact that the TTP has expressly rejected the constitution and refused to abide by the laws of the land or recognise the legal system that prevails today concerned the Maulana not the least. He is willing to talk to them without a single pre-condition.
By playing on the politicians’ concerns for self-preservation and by warning that if they do not agree to parleys, the ensuing conflict would prove lethal for them and the nation, the clever Maulana had them scurrying to join in his peace effort. What he forgot to tell them is that whenever peace is conceived in terms of the avoidance of violence, only violence ensues; and the sacrifice of one right or good in the hope of obtaining another often ends up in the loss of both but to those like him – nourished on caution, compromise, collusion and chicanery – all that hardly matters. To his credit Imran Khan refused to attend the Maulana’s confab.
The pervasive gutlessness on display at the recent APC was reflected in the ‘declaration’ that followed the meeting. But it was not the only thing that stood out. The declaration, which alluded to the need to start a dialogue with all the stakeholders, excluded the army – a major stakeholder. If that was because the Maulana believes the governing political parties also speak for the army he must be very loosely educated. The military in Pakistan speaks for itself.
Similarly, for the APC to aver that the outcome of the talks with the Taliban and Jirga decisions would bind the forthcoming interim government, the next elected government and the new parliament was excessive to say the least. If what the APC decides is binding on a future parliament why bother electing one? However, the most damaging outcome of the APC exercise is the impression it conveys of the army and the civilians being at odds with regard to negotiations with the TTP.
Admittedly, the military is by no means in favour and is unlikely to welcome the outcome, if any, unless the TTP agrees to put down their weapons. But what it rightly fears is that such differences not only provide the extremists with an opportunity to exploit them for propaganda purposes but also divide opinion in the country at a time when a display of unity is the need of the hour. It will also confuse neighbouring countries of what precisely our stance is when dealing with the TTP.
That is not to say that the military does not believe in dialogue, agreement, reaching a consensus, convincing opponents and not crushing them. Needless to say, we make peace usually with unsavoury enemies – not with friends – but surely never with those who believe that the slaughter of innocent women and children actually brings them closer to God. For them there can be no mercy and with them no peace.
Zafar Hilaly is a former ambassador. Email: email@example.com