Barbarians at the gate – by Ghazi Salahuddin

Sunday, December 21, 2008

There has been no dearth, for some time, of foreign experts and analysts who imply that Pakistan is becoming a failed state. That Nawaz Sharif should now have reasons to corroborate this assessment is surely ominous. Reflecting the impression that the global media has projected about Pakistan being the most dangerous place in the world, he has said that the country has become ungovernable, though he pointedly attributes this to the damage done by the dictatorial rule of Pervez Musharraf.

If Pakistan is beginning to present the look of a failed state and if it is ungovernable in the eyes of a politician of Nawaz Sharif’s importance – and that too in the aftermath of the Mumbai carnage that has planted frightening thoughts in the minds of most Pakistanis – what lies ahead?

At one level, remarks made by the leader of his faction of Pakistan Muslim League in Geo’s ‘Aaj Kamran Khan Ke Saath’ on Thursday evening signal the advent of a flaming confrontation in domestic politics. But this confrontation can only be played out on the sidelines of the great crisis in which Pakistan finds itself. Given the stance that has been adopted by both Pakistan and India with relation to the terrorist attack in Mumbai, the situation is likely to get worse, at least in the near future.

As for Nawaz Sharif taking an offensive against the Pakistan People’s Party-led government in Islamabad, the bugle had actually sounded on Wednesday when he revealed that he had been offered a deal to keep quiet over the Farah Dogar case. That this time was chosen for an offensive against the ruling coalition has intrigued some observers, though many had seen it coming against the backdrop of politics in Punjab and the red rag that Salman Taseer has become.

However, the main crisis of Pakistan transcends this confrontation and the other issues that keep bubbling in the media. I have always held – and this view has repeatedly surfaced in my columns – that the conflict between the potentially militant Islamist forces and the democratic forces of enlightenment will decide the fate of this nation. This historic contest is surely becoming rather ferocious, mainly because of the complexity that has been injected by the global war against terrorism and the social and economic deprivations of the people of Pakistan.

Unfortunately, not all our political players and opinion makers are aware of the seminal nature of this antagonistic tussle. Hence, there are parties and leaders who straddle the dividing line, often for short-term expediencies. But the time has come when all of us should be aware of what is really at stake and have the courage to speak out and act in defence of our beliefs and, indeed, our survival.

One problem in this encounter is the power and the role of the establishment that had initially promoted Islamist militancy. There is general confusion about what the establishment has learnt in the face of emerging realities and the imperative for Pakistan’s progress and prosperity. At the same time, the parties that have supported the jihadist sentiments have to understand the consequences of their approach.

Let me now refer to a few instances of what the jihadists are doing in this age and time. On Tuesday – this was December 16, a day that lives in infamy – there was this report published in some newspapers that the militants exhumed the body of Pir Sameeullah and hanged it along with four followers in a public place in Mingora. The pir had been killed in a gunbattle with the militants. Have the leaders of the likes of Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Imran Khan expressed their horror over this act of barbarism? Have the people of Pakistan had time to contemplate the meaning of this incident which, alas, is not out of character for militants who have been allowed to thrive in our northern areas?

The next day, on Wednesday, I read this report, quoting BBC Urdu, that the “Pakistani Taliban have issued a video of five slain people, accused of spying on key Al Qaeda leader Abu Laith Al-Libi”. The report added that the beheaded bodies were found in different parts of North Waziristan Agency at different times. For many people, this may not be totally surprising because this is how the jihdists have behaved as a matter of routine. Remember Daniel Pearl, who was brutally killed in front of a video camera in early 2002?

In a different context but relevant to the struggle for enlightenment and sanity in the country, there are increasing reports of honour killings and inhuman, tribal ways of administrating ‘justice’. For instance, this newspaper’s Islamabad/Rawalpindi edition published on Tuesday a large picture of a man walking on burning coal to prove his innocence in a murder case in Dera Murad Jamali in Balochistan. What is more lamentable is that a tribal leader, when interviewed by a private TV channel, defended this practice. Remember Mir Israrullah Zehri and Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, now members of the federal cabinet?

Coming back to the thought of Pakistan becoming a failed state and being ungovernable, who should we expect to pick up the pieces and set a direction for Pakistan that is in consonance with the dictates of the modern world and, to invoke a cliché, the vision of Mohammad Ali Jinnah? I wonder if Jinnah would be able to live in Pakistan of today without feeling threatened and insecure.

We know that Pakistan of today is beset by grave challenges, the aftermath of the Mumbai carnage being only one dimension of what our ruling ideas have wrought. One of my major regrets is that the forces that should be on the side of democracy and enlightenment are not united and have not been mobilised into action. This is one reason why I feel disenchanted with the leadership of Asif Ali Zardari and mourn his apparent loss of credibility and moral authority.

Could Benazir Bhutto, had she been spared by the forces of evil, done better – given the ‘deal’ that was made? Well, this is the week that will revive our memories of a great charismatic leader who symbolised, in her person, the struggle for liberal values and our political emancipation. She had the capacity and the courage to take difficult decisions and to adjust to emerging realities. She was the only major leader of Pakistan to have come out so forthrightly and boldly against religious militancy and terrorism.

As we grieve for a leader whose assassination – (and who were her murderers?) – has left a void in our polity, it is necessary, as the poet said, “to find strength in what is left behind”. We still have our ruling ideas and we do not know if the establishment has the power and the will to finally slay the monster of militancy.

The writer is a staff member.

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