“The toothless government should stop appeasing extremists”, the wise men and women of Civil Society, media and anchorpersons of TV talk shows are vehemently advising President Zardari. It would have been worth ignoring, if Sara Taseer, the daughter of Governor Salaman Taseer and an important Ambassador appointed by ruling PPP would not have taken the same stance. Hina Gillani, a respected civil society activist, in a talk show condemned the ‘silence’ of government without suggesting the options available to government.
Leaving aside genuine activists like Ms. Gillani, civil society in Pakistan was ruthlessly dismantled by establishment and today it is mostly comprised of those who are establishment proxies posing to be civil society. This is not an un-substantiated accusation but following incidents would be enough to prove.
Recently, Federal Union of Journalists, the top body of journalists in country and Champion of right of ‘Freedom of Expression’, welcomed ban on Google and Facebook by Lahore High Court. Several Lawyer’s, Journalists, Human Rights and Anti-Corruption organisations of civil society not only hailed but also assured to implement the judgements through street power, when Chief Justice of Pakistan remarked that Supreme Court will not allow the elected parliament to make Pakistan a secular state. From Kerry-Lugar aid package to recent shooting incident in Lahore by an American diplomat, civil society, media and the judiciary has adopted the establishments-dictated state policy.
Pakistan would not have been the same, had President Zardari uttered a single world, ‘revenge’ on assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Even the worst enemies of Zardari, admit the fact and give him credit for his patience which prevented unwanted bloodshed. His stance disappointed the emotionally charged workers of PPP, who were set to call it a day. Many of them behind closed doors termed it cowardice and others openly criticised the decision in party meetings. Despite all the propaganda of establishment and without a leader of Benazir Bhutto’s stature, his party won parliamentary elections and elected him as president.
The Establishment, which is a sworn enemy of the PPP, assembled the usual Mullah-Media-Judiciary alliance against the incumbent government. The first wave of assaults began as soon as Zardari took over the office of President. The establishment-backed movement for restoration of deposed Chief Justice was given a new life to install a hostile and political judge backed by extremists. A debate started that President Zardari was acting cowardly, he should order his party to show street power to counter the movement. If another group from Karachi can do so (May 12), why not the PPP! Despite internal pressure, Zardari again showed restraint, which is still criticised by hardliners in his party.
The next phase criticism of same sort began when judiciary lead by restored Chief Justice launched a selective assault under the guise of’ Judicial Activism’ on the newly elected government; passing some of the most controversial judgements after the judicial murder of ZA Bhutto. Once again pressure started to mount on President Zardari that he should counter ‘Selective Justice’ by mobilising party workers. Again he refused to do so but this time disappointed party workers picked Prime Minister Gillani as a scapegoat to vent their anger for his perceived cowardice when he attended a dinner of judges to appease the Chief Justice.
The toughest wave of criticism from media and civil Society began on the issue of controversial Blasphemy Law followed by the assassination of Governor Salmaan Taseer. Even some sympathisers of party and loyal workers were of the view that this is the time that President should come out of his trance and mobilise street power to send a strong message to the extremists. The pressure has been mounted with the assassination of Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti.
Some of the sincere well-wishers of President and ruling party are openly criticising the government and specially President Zardari of cowardice and appeasing extremists. Without a simple majority in parliament and a coalition of un-willing and blackmailing partners (with the exception of the ANP) to support such amendments due to fear of extremists, PPP is left with only one option – the street power to counter extremists.
Let us rationally examine this criticism. PPP and liberal forces both would have been a history, had Benazir Bhutto agreed with her brother Shah Nawaz Bhutto on armed resistance when thousands of her party workers were being slaughtered and incarcerated by Ziaul Haq. Similarly, Pakistan would have been a different place, had President Zardari followed the workers, who, on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, were justifiably of the opinion that ‘enough is enough’. On issues of judicial victimisation and extremists-controlled hostile media, the patience and democratic principals have cost the ruling party and President Zardari.
Salaman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were amongst the closet friends of President Zardari, while Benazir Bhutto was his wife and mother of his children. If not more, he certainly felt as much pain as the media and civil society well-wishers of the party. Zardari’s party does not have majority in parliament while coalition partners are not ready to annoy religious fanatics. There is also resistance from religious fanatics. In segments within the party, there is a fear of backlash by religious vote in their constituencies where mullahs can exploit the public sentiment to fuel further violence. In these circumstances, the amendment in controversial laws seems to be out of question while the liberals remain outside the party, therby providing greater space to conservatives inside the party.
A prominent authors and well-wisher of the President, again stressed that his party has street power and President should mobilize its workers against extremists otherwise there can be no end to killings of his party leaders.
On the face of it, the suggestion seems to be innocent and an easy way out but let us not forget that the workers of the ruling party have the experience of decades of suppression and persecution. They will undoubtedly come on to streets on a single call from their party leadership but keeping them peaceful might not be easy after recent assasinations. On the other hand, extremists backed by powerful establishment and already on the streets are using violence. The consequences of any such situation can be anybody’s guess. Extremists are not only well organised and well armed, but enjoy the support of the establishment, judiciary and media houses. PPP workers are not only greater in number but passionate and not scared of death. Once they are on streets, there is no guarantee that extremists or ‘hidden hand’ would not push them in to a clash.
The minimum price of such adventure would be providing an opportunity to ‘un-democratic’ forces to intervene in the name of ‘law and order’ and overthrow the elected government. This could lead to another decade of oppression and perhaps an end to moderate voices while extremists get even more powerful under friendly autocratic regimes. In the event that this issue is taken to the streets, a clash and chain reaction thereof is as certain as anything. Where it will lead the country and hundred and sixty million of its population may not be in anyone’s imagination.
On the one hand president Zardari has blood of Bhutto’s, his close associates like Salaman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and thousands of workers. On the other hand, he is the custodian of the legacy of these brave men and women – the PPP, for which they sacrificed their lives and countless others who fought against oppression. The party is also the last hope for a moderate Pakistan and the country itself. Zardari’s dilemma is that time has repeatedly put him in the same situation of a young Benazir when stood at the time of the assassination of ZA Bhutto.
Either he opts for revenge and sacrifices countless innocent lives or continues picking up the dead bodies of his associates killed by the blood thirsty enemies of humanity and Bhutto!