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Another Pakistan movement

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Ashraf Jehangir Qazi

In 1971 we lost more than half our compatriots who offered up joyful prayers of gratitude on their deliverance from the hell we chose to inflict upon them in the name of an “ideology” interpreted largely by our military and clergy neither of whom played any role in the Pakistan Movement.

What did we learn from this traumatic humiliation other than to repeat the same exercise in Balochistan and execute an elected prime minister however flawed he may have been? Any commitment to “pick up the pieces” of a shattered Pakistan and build a tranquil and prosperous country – the only way to make Pakistan a blessing for all its citizens – was consistently trumped by what one of our most eminent foreign ministers called “the iron in the soul of our vanquished military”.

Two calamitous military dictatorships followed along with a succession of elected but essentially phoney democracies that undermined the political development of the country through a permanently intrusive role for the military. This led to the growth of malignant tumours in our body politic that have now metastasised, further humiliations on the ground, the surrender of our sovereignty and abject renting out of our security, foreign and economic policies on behalf of external agendas, and the perception that Pakistan is an unstable country unable or unwilling to defend and develop itself.

So what is the state of our nationhood today? We all support and are regularly disappointed by the same cricket team that insists on reflecting the political state of play in the country. However, nationally, we are more in a state of becoming than of being, because far too many people and communities feel marginalised and crushed. In countries of recent origin, the development of national identity is a function of perceived common interest and participation whereas our national identity seems to rely more on assertion, rhetoric and force majeure. Unfortunately, the development of mutual trust between the centre and the federating units of the country has never been a priority, and as Ghalib famously said of love, national identity cannot be forced.

As soon as Pakistan`s ideology – first as Muslim nationalism and later as Islamic theocracy – was used as a counter to the demands of the marginalised communities, regions and social groups, it was seen as a transparent cover for unacknowledged agendas pursued at their expense. More than 60 years after our country came into existence a poor Pakistani child born today is irreparably handicapped for the rest of his life while still a child, due to the lack of access to a minimum of basic services. These services have been pushed aside by other elite priorities couched in terms of security imperatives and financial constraints insisted upon by the global instruments of the Washington Consensus.

The irresponsibility with which we have been governed is reflected in the litany of gratuitous confrontations, range of crises, policy disasters, stratagems to thwart the rule of law, strategic pretensions to disguise the surrender of sovereignty, etc. The determination of our leadership never to take its national responsibilities seriously has been as amazing as it remains appalling.

What is to be done? How do we break out of alternating military despotism and democratic fascism? How do we prevent military spending, administrative expenditure and debt servicing from continuing to gobble up all our resources leaving development and the prospect of improved living standards to external assistance which is never free? How do we fashion a foreign policy that instead of serving the elite domestic constituencies facilitates double-digit growth for at least two decades? How do we escape a pernicious political and socio-economic system in which the people count for nothing except as targets of exploitation, manipulation and deception? Faiz Ahmad Faiz truly said he feared not so much the country would cease to be but that it would remain the same.

What needs to be done is the implementation of a whole set of transformational measures aimed at enhancing the real participation of the people in the formulation and implementation of policies that impact on their freedoms, rights and living conditions. Often observers write off such ideas as idealistic and romantic even when they fail to provide any credible alternative. Such cynicism and scepticism are in fact counsels of despair. However, they do indicate the scale of the challenge and our dismal record in dealing with challenges. Nonetheless, do we really have an alternative to trying? Do we really believe that our elite who have refused to learn anything from 60 years of disaster, defeat and disgrace will change their character merely because the survival of Pakistan is at stake?

We read about the shenanigans of our leaders in the newspapers, watch the inane arguments and accusations of party stalwarts on TV, see the sea of wasted human potential around us, witness the low cunning of political zero-sum games in place of good governance, suffer the benign contempt of foreigners to whom our ruling elite make constant and grovelling recourse, and resort to black humour as a coping measure. But, despite all, we know our potential and we know what must be done – peacefully, legally, and overwhelmingly.

What we need is discussion, organisation and communication repeated ad infinitum as part of a process of evolving programmes of action including mobilisation and information campaigns for achievable, comprehensive and inclusive goals. Leaders as such are not of much value since they generally work within established and corrupted frameworks of power. We need the likes of great humanitarian peace activists such as Akhtar Hamid Khan, Eqbal Ahmad, Sattar Edhi, Shoaib Sultan, Asma Jehangir and so many others. There are many such people all over the country. Some of our rural support and urban welfare programmes have already demonstrated what can be achieved even in unpromising conditions. Their efforts must be built upon on a larger scale. We must speak to each other. We must organise. We must agitate, inform, learn and work ceaselessly – not as leaders or a vanguard, but as part of a people`s movement – towards a Pakistan for all Pakistanis.

Meanwhile, our “smart and savvy” political commentators have suggested people like Imran Khan confine themselves to the minor league of social welfare and leave the premier league of leadership to politicians of proven calibre in hoodwinking the people. Do they even consider the eventual cost to the nation if their cynicism were to prevail? Sure, nothing is guaranteed, nothing will be easy and little can be achieved anytime soon, although good things can happen sooner than expected as momentum has a way of bringing things forward. But there is a whole world of real promise and possibility to be gained. Self-styled leaders and custodians, outmoded social and political structures, and elitist tinkering posing as expert-led reform have maintained the status quo which is taking us all down. Cynics and sceptics may counsel despair in the name of moderation and realism. But given our tragic past and lamentable present, the truth is that those who choose against a second Pakistan Movement choose against the future of Pakistan.

It will be necessary to outline the main features of a domestic and foreign policy that might flow from a second Pakistan Movement. Proposals will, of course, need to be discussed, tested and revised on a reiterative basis to be of practical value.

The writer is Pakistan`s former envoy to the US and India. Email:

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