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Which way to (re)start?

06 February, 2007

By Muhammad Ahsan Yatu


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Change of profession is a difficult proposition in Pakistan due to shortage of opportunities. The story of the extraordinary people who make up less than one percent of our population is different. They can change anything, even their gender, due to their hold over resources. They aspire to become politicians also. As Russell said, after having affluence, the next and the last step on the ladder of success is to have political power.

Our extraordinary lot comprises the urban and the rural 'aristocracy' and top soldiers. They run their institutions and businesses, accumulate ambitions and wealth, topple or help topple governments and take over the reins of the state. Or they turn democrats and manage their entry into the corridors of power through elections. They do so by replacing each other, often with ease and sometimes through a clash also. The clash among them is the clash of personalities and not of policies. Time eventually makes them politicians too. What kind of politician? That can be judged from the continuing decline of the political process in Pakistan. Regardless, their change of profession or, more candidly, their assuming of one more profession is not resented. Rather, it is welcomed and tolerated, and tolerated for long.

From old history we know that for ancient societies, stability, even if it meant submission, had remained a paramount need. It mattered little who brought it — the warlords, the chieftains, the kings, insiders or outsiders — and whosoever brought it was welcomed. Today in the West, including the Americas, and also in many societies of the East, stability is still a paramount need, but unlike the past, it is now directly proportional to people's participation in political and economic processes. An imbalance in proportionality is no longer tolerated. People rise and fight for their rights, using the platform of the political party to which they belong.

The story of society in Pakistan is the same as it was in a millennia old world. Despite joblessness, poverty, social disparities, coercion and political deprivation, our society is apparently not ready to fight back. It is due to many reasons such as the joint family system, a predisposition to live with the minimum, illiteracy, apathy, absence of organisation, belief in fate, fear of anarchy, and adaptability. But the dominant reason is that people do not have a direction, platform, or political party. They do not find much difference in the dispensation of various rulers, i.e. between a soldier's rule and a politician's rule; a feudal's rule and an industrialist's rule; an Islamist's rule and an enlightened moderate's rule. Phrases like 'the ugliest democracy is better than the fairest dictatorship' do not attract them.

People's acceptance of any rule is because of fear of anarchy. Anarchy is, as it was many millenniums ago, a cause of fear even today. The regimes in Pakistan since 1958, when the countrywide martial law was first imposed, invoked the factor of adaptability, i.e. tolerance for prolonged dictatorial rule. Like other species, humans too have strong traits of adaptability. However, it is not so with the people of the so-called first and second worlds and some of the third world countries. Their transformation into an 'intolerant' species, the fighters, is a result of a long intellectual and physical struggle. The people of this part of the subcontinent had learned, and even practised, this kind of struggle when the British ruled India. The momentum of the colonial era struggle remained with us, in one form or the other, till 1958. Afterwards, the generals and their friends from the urban and rural aristocracy attacked it and succeeded in eroding it gradually, and by the year 1999 it was almost gone.

It was done by changing the attitudes of people. Their interest in intellectual and physical development of society was diverted to non-issues, such as the Indo-Russian threat, Palestine, Kashmir, unity of the Ummah, superiority of the armed forces, atomic bomb, etc. In fact, the rulers themselves were fearful due to their elitist background and also due to the fact that they had little knowledge of modern statecraft. The incompetent bureaucracy that came to us as a colonial baggage was also fearful. Whosoever ruled, ruled under fear. Hence coercion and the attack on people's ability to struggle. In Pakistan, political power is not Russell's last step. Here it means self-preservation, multiplication of affluence, and extension of hold over resources. Here it means meanness and greed, regardless of who adopts it, the so-called aristocrats or the generals. This meanness and greed pushed us back by many centuries. The factors of capitulation and adaptability that had disappeared to a great degree during the rule of the British have returned and become entrenched.

Thus it should surprise none if President Musharraf has sustained his strange rule and has become a half-politician as well. If he doffs his uniform and participates in elections, he would become full politician. But even to become a politician like the ones that we have, he would have to pluck up courage. Would he? Soldier-presidents may be able to do anything they like, but they are not that courageous when it comes to fighting political battles without their uniform. Remember General Ayub Khan's reaction to the uprising against him. He became so fearful and nervous that he undid the very Constitution that he had himself contrived. The other soldier-presidents, General Yahya Khan and General Ziaul Haq, who came after him considered it safe to remain in uniform till the end of their respective careers.

It could be argued that before elections there are little chances of Musharraf's parting with his uniform. And after the elections, if they are held and if things remain undisturbed, his uniform would become a necessity also for elected politicians. The kind of politicians and political setup we have will not be able to rule the country in the grip of the fear of anarchy without the support of the army. However, keeping Pakistan's society composed and united any longer will not be that easy. People do tolerate oppression and exploitation for the sake of stability, but it does not mean things would remain smooth forever.

In Pakistan, conflicting diversities are in a much larger number than the cohesive ones. Add to them the increasing starvation and criminalisation of every aspect of life, and the resulting picture is a forecast for sudden anarchy. And sudden anarchy would remain a possibility till a pro-people party emerges and enters the political arena. Before the elections of 2002, most of us were of the opinion that the army was responsible for all the ills of Pakistan. During and after the elections, whatever happened was awful; whether it was a search for BA degrees, certificates from the madrassas, formation of alliances, manipulation of election results, the passage of LFO, vote of confidence for the president, Jamali's ouster, or the induction of Shaukat Aziz, the army and politicians did it together.

And that led many of us to believe that not only the army, but the nation as a whole is in terrible need of guidance. And only a social democratic political party can provide that. In fact, the absence of the political Left is the real reason for all the ills of Pakistan. Is the political Left, whatever exists in our part of Pakistan, ready to come out? It must, because there is no other way out.

P.S. The call for the Left's resurrection may have come from Lahore, but only those democrats who can rise and resist, and live and die in Pakistan can lead and succeed. Let us wait for a Mengal, Marri, Bizenjo and Bugti. They are around, but we will have to accept them first as human beings.

Ends

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