Apr 172008

Race and/or religion have been the cause of both association and conflict since time immemorial. Economic disparity is a major discrimination factor. Discrimination leads to anger and bitterness and invariably leads to strife. Wherever discrimination can be held in check, associations like the European Union (EU) succeed. The scene of two of the most devastating conflicts in history in the 20th century, and preceded in every earlier century by internecine conflicts between nations, Europe is a prime example. While they cannot be totally ignored, for the sake of national unity and racial cohesion some excesses need to be deliberately glossed over. Pragmatism has to take precedence over platonic notions.

Created on the basis of religion in 1947 and coming asunder because of ethnicity in 1971, Pakistan remained a democracy only till the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan on Oct 16, 1951. Unlike elected representatives the bureaucrats who took over were insensitive to emotive issues that concern the masses, they decided to make an example of the large-scale Bengali protest against Urdu as the dominant national language. The “show of force” police firing that killed many students in Dhaka on Feb 21, 1952, signalled the end of the finest experiment in nationhood of its time, the inevitable was delayed till Dec 16, 1971. People died in enormous numbers in 1947 because of religion, people died in enormous numbers in 1971 because of ethnicity. In a country that has twice witnessed human sacrifice and devastation because of these two factors, one has to be extra-careful to ensure that these do not be exacerbated again. The breakup of the country should have taught us some lessons.

May 12, 2007, is nothing to be proud of. For reasons they now publicly regret, the MQM lost control of their street activists, dozens died as a result, among them a handful of their own followers. May 12 was overtaken by the carnage of Oct 18 and as if that was not bad enough, the tragic assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto on Dec 27, 2007, was the ultimate watershed in the country’s sordid history. For a brief ugly moment secession’s ugly head reared itself as ethnic Sindhis took to heart the brutal murder of Ms Benazir, a mass of have-nots took advantage to create conditions resembling near-anarchy. Asif Zardari put secession down firmly and immediately. This man since has been constantly trying to forge national unity, for this alone he should be forgiven all his alleged transgressions of the past. The NAB (and before that the Ehtesab Bureau) took their best shot for over a decade but failed to establish the accusations against him.

With undeniable charisma and a personality that politicians would give their right arms for, Imran Khan’s “Mr Clean” image comes from his now compromised campaign against nepotism and corruption. May 12, 2007, gave Imran the opportunity to be of consequence on the national stage and he grabbed it. The timing was unfortunate. The MQM’s strong-arm tactics in the urban areas that it dominates notwithstanding, the five years period of governance had mellowed their stance, striving for legitimacy they were well on the way to joining the national mainstream. Touching upon a raw nerve Imran got widespread support from embittered drawing rooms across the country. One really wonders whether Imran knows (or he even now acknowledges) that he was fuelling the streets with fire.

Mian Nawaz Sharif is in a different league altogether, a popular national leader far above Imran’s stature. He may not have won the outright majority of the popular vote in Punjab, but he is the acknowledged leader of the province. His actions and rhetoric are hugely symbolic on a national level, even though the PML (N) is presently mostly a regional party of Punjab, the MQM a regional party of Sindh and the ANP a regional party of the NWFP. When Mian Nawaz Sharif and Asfandyar Wali Khan rail against Altaf Hussain, the acknowledged leader of the Mohajirs, they inadvertently pit Punjabis and Pathans against Mohajirs. This may not be their intention but unfortunately symbolism is the basis of perception. And this perception of ethnicity has the hallmark of tragedy.

Except when reacting to police violence, till recently the demonstrations of the lawyers were largely peaceful. Like a tiger tasting human blood becomes a man-eater, the lawyers are now turning to unprovoked violence more frequently, particularly in violently stifling dissent, resembling fascist tactics employed by the Nazis before (and after) they seized power in Germany in the 30s, using force in the name of democracy to quell protest. Those sworn to upholding the rule of law have taken the law into their own hands. The motivated and planned attack on former minister Dr Sher Afgan Niazi in Lahore was brutal and dastardly, earlier my friend Naeem Bokhari has been violently attacked many times. Senator Farooq Sattar was sent to hospital, not to mention the brutality inflicted upon the media’s Khalil Malik and many others who disagreed with them. Has the lawyers’ movement gone out of hand as a result of the goading of those who are financing their movement for their own ulterior political ends? Which brings us to the question as to who is doing the financing? Senator Aitzaz Ahsan is a respected friend and one welcomes his immediate resignation (since withheld) as president Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) when he could not control the “legal” mob beating up the hapless Sher Afgan.

With the element of ethnicity creeping into the lawyer’s movement the implications and consequences for this country are grave indeed. While those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind, what about the hapless millions who cannot step out of the way of the devastation caused by the ill wind? Blood cycles do not take long to take hold and the leaders of Pakistan, to whatever region they belong, owe it to the people of Pakistan, to exercise maturity and restraint. With Pakistan facing internal violence, because of both internal and external pressures, our leaders have a fundamental duty to close the dangerous fissures instead of adding fuel to the fire for individual political gain.

His initiatives are certainly not popular in his own primary constituency. still Asif Zardari has shown great courage. That is what leadership is all about – the ability and willingness to take unpalatable decisions in the greater national interest. Mian Nawaz Sharif is a national leader and not only the leader of Punjab. He must now boldly reach out to the MQM to ensure that what is left of the Quaid’s Pakistan is not divided again. Do not force the MQM out in the cold, get them back into the national mainstream.

Nations are a composite of the sum of the individuals who live in them, race and religion being the focus one cannot play with the feelings or beliefs of human beings. Political leaders need to shun demagoguery to attract votes on account of race and/or religion, political maturity requires that care is exercised so that rhetoric does not lead to tragedy. Individuals can never be bigger than institutions, leaders can never be bigger than the people they want to lead. Stoking passions, inadvertently or not, amounts to criminal conduct. Our leaders are on a borderline, it is time to step back from the abyss.

The writer is a defence and political

analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com

Courtesy: The News, 17/4/2008

 Posted by at 9:59 am

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