The contemporary resistance against Musharraf is new in form but old in spirit and rooted deeply in our cultural tradition. The difference is that there is greater political awareness and willingness to engage in civic action than before
There are many myths about Pakistani society, culture and values, which have been embraced uncritically by our national intellectuals and foreign scholars. One of those myths pertains to the apparent Pakistani non-resistance to military rule and dictatorships.
While the military generals ruled, a great deal of civilian collaborators from all walks of life sung praises for the junta for showing better ‘democratic’ indicators and being ‘selfless’ and ‘sincere’ about introducing stability, progress and prosperity.
Of course there were other Pakistanis who, by whatever means they could muster and whatever occasion they could use, attempted to de-legitimise the military rulers and their civilian cohorts. The bitter legacies of the martial rules that caused tremendous damage to state institutions and eroded a common sense of nationhood now verify the fears of those who questioned military intervention in politics.
The turncoats addicted to power and influence did not share the view of these civil democratic forces. Obviously they were interested in promoting self-interest more than national interest by serving with the military rulers. They defended whatever ideology the dictators preached or reform packages they pushed through. None of the dictators from Ayub Khan to Pervez Musharraf were without followers, or dedicated partners.
Naturally, observers of Pakistan weaved theories explaining the occurrence of military takeovers with boring frequency; they explained their durability by referring to the feudal culture, institutional imbalance, a weak civil society and a dominant praetorian class. Each of these explanations has a great deal of merit and value in helping us understand why the military rulers had large civilian groups supporting them, and even ever-ready to welcome them as their superiors.
In my view, the focus on the ‘passivity’ of society and the ‘acceptance’ of dictators gives a partial picture of Pakistani society. Since the social and political allies of the dictators secured prominent positions and controlled the media and dominated public discourse, the voices of resistance were drowned and didn’t attract much public attention.
As we make the transition to a new Pakistan and shape its democratic politics, let us not forget those who sacrificed their careers, families, and even lives for a modern, democratic Pakistan. We have countless unsung heroes who have played a critical role in shaping Pakistan’s culture of resistance.
It would require voluminous social inquiry to document the courage, sacrifice and resistance of our poets in all national languages, political workers of almost every political shade and opinion, social reformers, civil society activists and nationalists mainly from smaller provinces.
Their non-recognition stems from the role the state sponsored media and hired guns played in demonising every one who struggled for rights and against the authority of military rulers. They were dubbed ‘traitors’, ‘anti-Pakistan elements’, and of course ‘enemy agents’. What a shame!
Those who sided with the dictators should deserve these disgraceful labels, not those who struggled at the opposite end of politics and power.
There is no single way to define a society or its culture. You may find multiple cultural streaks in every society. Deference for authority comes from our feudal social tradition, but we also have a culture of resistance against injustice, unjust rulers, and their unjust rule. Social histories and folklores of all the regions of Indus valley from Balochistan to the Punjab, Sindh and to the Frontier show tremendous love and praise for those who stood with their peoples and confronted the rulers for usurping their rights.
My subject is not the colonial past but post-independence Pakistan and our native tormentors. But the roots of this culture of resistance go deep into our history and that fact needs to be acknowledged when we celebrate our contemporary heroes. How can we forget the great sacrifice of Bhagat Singh and his comrades that have inspired so many others to defend their peoples, rights and dignity that every imposition of military rule robbed us of?
Therefore, while we build our democratic future and try to take the country back from dictatorial hands, we must remember those who resisted Ayub Khan and languished in his torture cells. His successor applied greater brutality against his own people who were demanding respect for their mandate but instead saw the break up of the country.
Resistance against Zia-ul Haq was fierce and it was demonstrated in many forms. Women activists founded popular movement for their rights, while poets and fiction writers produced a new literature of resistance. The Sindhis launched one of the fiercest struggles to restore democracy. Some of the Pakistani youth took up arms as well, and those caught unaware by the intelligence agencies suffered the harshest treatment for years.
The contemporary resistance against Musharraf is new in form but old in spirit and rooted deeply in our cultural tradition. The difference is that there is greater political awareness and willingness to engage in civic action than before. This change has been possible by a growing middle and professional class that appears to be more autonomous and more self-confident.
The new generation is also sensitive to the national image that the dictatorships and their twisting of the constitution and electoral politics have damaged. And they are more wired into the modern world, with a feeling that they must have similar control and influence over power as other societies exercise in their respective countries.
A new generation of Pakistani men and women in all modern professions have in an organised fashion defied a military ruler. The way the culture of resistance has flourished in Pakistan, I can say with some measure of confidence that General (retd) Musharraf is the last military ruler of Pakistan. Soon, we will see him move back in the shadows of history, with few ‘lovers’ left to grieve his departure.
The positive turn in Pakistan that makes every Pakistani proud and confident of himself today is not without the sacrifices of brave men and women of our society and their heritage of resistance. But this culture needs to be cultivated, and the best way to do is to celebrate heroism and struggle of those Pakistanis who stood up to dictatorship.
Because only by fully recognising the suffering for decades of social and political activists, and educating our new generation about their sacrifices can we ever hope to keep military’s intervention in the past and ensure that it does not happen again.
Dr Rasul Baksh Rais is author of Recovering the Frontier State: War, Ethnicity and State in Afghanistan (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books 2008) and a professor of Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtesy: Daily Times, 22/4/2008