Muzakirat —Munir Attaullah

What sense can muzakirat make when a force that considers itself irresistible (the mindset that believes in armed Jihad) meets an object that considers itself immovable (the modern sovereign State)?

Politicians, TV anchors, panellists, and sundry analysts and commentators need to cultivate and maintain a reputation for wisdom and sagacity.

It is their bread and butter. As the voice over, in the promo for a well-known political talk show, pompously intones, Khalq-e khuda ki awaaz bann-na itna bhi aasaan nahin. How thoughtful. But where is the humility that should follow such a realisation? Don’t we always have an answer, even when we don’t have one?

Here is where that ancient verbal art of appearing to say something profound, even as you talk nonsense, comes to the rescue. This particular type of sophistry, as employed by us, has often found mention in my earlier dispatches. I tread familiar ground again today because the latest miserable intellectual crutch — the ubiquitous counsel to resort to muzakirat — seems to be very much in vogue these days as the vague solution for all our trials and tribulations.

For, you cannot beat the warm and satisfying buzz of this word when it comes to political correctness. Thrust a mic in the face of the common man on the street to ask his opinion, and he will murmur ‘muzakirat hone chahyein’, without so much as scratching his head or stroking his beard. For, is there anyone who does not prefer — like health and wealth over illness and penury — a peaceful resolution of disputes rather than bloody confrontation?

But this reflexive and semi-automatic one-dimensional response is a sure recipe for muddled thinking and consequent confusion. Why man! Even the President, and our Lal Masjid and Taliban types are all for muzakirat (when it suits them)! As far as I can see, only our dreaded Agencies, in their own twisted thinking, seem free of this scourge. But then they would be, wouldn’t they?

What do I think? At my age, concerned as I am now only about the hereafter, I too approve of the procedure, but for a different good reason: here’s hoping the Almighty is tuned in to the clamour of his favoured ones among the ashraful-makhlukat, and buys this nonsense. For us sinners, the possibility of one such last-ditch procedure to salvage our cause on Judgement Day — through muzakirat of course — is of enormous present comfort.

Hang on, though. I am a little puzzled by a little problem that I foresee in the suggested procedure. If both parties are agreed on muzakirat, while simultaneously insisting there can be no compromise on their own asooli mauqif, can there be any meaningful outcome of such negotiations and parleys? To my puny mind, the answer to that question is obvious enough: zilch. By definition, will not such muzakirat, where one implacable asooli mauqif confronts another, end in stalemate? So why is such an offer made, or accepted?

I start with three good possible reasons. The first is the vanity associated with the belief that one’s own asooli mauqif is so obviously correct that no sane person can do other than grudgingly accept it after it is explained to him clearly. Then there are two other Machiavellian reasons: to buy time to re-group, against an adversary that currently has the upper hand in a stand-off; and the public relational eye-wash, associated with going through the motions of such an exercise, to score brownie points for reasonableness with a watching public.

But, when all is said and done, the reality is that there is, ever, only one good, overriding reason for muzakirat: that is when both parties to the dispute will be substantial losers if they continue to stick to their asooli mauqifs; and the possible future gains for both, through compromise, are perceived to be preferable to current and future losses (on the ‘half a loaf is better than no bread’) principle. You don’t need to be an expert at game theory to work that one out.

Muzakirat, as a procedure, is therefore for normal, sane, sensible, and practical people, and not for those who are really (I mean really, really!) hung up on asooli mauqifs, to the point even of being ready to die for them.

These four factors, in varying degrees, are all in play when we consider the current three main issues we are confronted with (the judicial crises, the status of the President, and religious militancy). But, while there is usually some overlap, it is vital to be clear in each case between primary and subsidiary reasons why the various protagonists adopt the postures they do.

Analysed in this fashion, it is easy to see that muzakirat between the PPP and the PMLN, on the first two issues mentioned above, are both possible and desirable despite all the posturing about asooli mauqifs. Of course, what such muzakirat might achieve or not achieve is another matter, but at least the principle is validly applicable because it meets the fourth criteria mentioned above. It is that which provides the fundamental impetus, even though the other three reasons are contributory factors.

But what sense can muzakirat make when a force that considers itself irresistible (the mindset that believes in armed Jihad) meets an object that considers itself immovable (the modern sovereign State)?

In principle, none; for, crucially, that same fourth criteria is missing. For the Jihadis, the possible motives never go beyond the first two reasons, the other two being considered irrelevant. For the government, the second and third reasons are the prominent ones. The first is not applicable to governments, and to consider the fourth as relevant is to admit to the no-no that to confront the challenge to the writ of the state is either impracticable, or too costly.

What this means is, we need to make a clear-cut distinction between our problems in the frontier regions and what is happening in our settled areas.

To even consider muzakirat as a procedure for ending armed confrontation with the Lal Masjid types in our settled areas is to give up on the fundamental modern principle that state authorities are the sole legitimate repository of coercive power. I note that those who urge muzakirat with such armed groups slink away from answering this conundrum that is a logical outcome of their advice.

On the other hand, it may well be the case that we have no choice but to parley with the warlords of the tribal belt. Whether the ‘writ of the state’ in these areas currently is, or ever was, anything other than a convenient fiction is a question that demands a serious answer. In this case, those who recommend muzakirat because it is probably the only sane option of dealing with the reality of mini ‘states-within-a-state’, never consider the logical outcome of their position: why then be so hung up on our ‘sovereignty’ as applied to these territories?

The writer is a businessman

Daily Times, 16/7/2008

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