The declining writ of the state, which is another way of describing our ever-increasing crisis of governance, is the real danger, along with a collapsing economy. Within its ambit come the major challenges that confront us.
The loss of control over the tribal areas tops the list because it presents both external and internal dangers. Internally, the Taliban movement has inevitably spread to the settled area of the NWFP because administrative boundaries are no check to its ideological message. At its core, this is a vision of an idealistic Islamic state providing justice to all its citizens, rich and poor alike. This is in sharp contrast to the Pakistani state whose elite are seen to be predatory and whose institutions are considered incapable of giving the poor either justice or a stake in the system.
For a long time, in the primarily non-Muslim states of Latin America and Asia, such movements of the poor also arose as a result of the anger generated by similar deprivations. They assumed a Marxist colour because their leaderships were captured by a revolutionary vanguard espousing such an ideology. The poor only wanted a better deal for themselves and their families, but the Marxist ideology became superimposed on the movements because of the ideological bent of their leaderships.
Its practical struggle, however, had straightforward pro-poor goals because they targeted the control of the local elites over resources and wealth. China, Vietnam, Cuba and many other movements in Asia and Latin America had such origins. They were inspirational for leftists all over the world, including in Pakistan, because not only they were seen as struggles of the poor for a better life but also because it meant a socialist/Marxist takeover of the state. Even in Pakistan, when the peasants of the Peshawar valley rose up against the Khans in the 60s, the entire left became charged and the rallying cry was “Hashtnagar, Hashtnagar.” This referred to a particular place in Mardan district.
The left, of course, also owned the armed struggle in India, in places like Naxalbari where a Maoist movement was active but the entire Marxist project took a nosedive after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The left, as a force in the politics of underdeveloped countries, virtually disappeared. There were exceptions, of course, but only in places where the poor could not bear the inequities and injustices of their existence. Colombia still has a socialist movement of the ethnic native people and the Nepalese poor under the banner of Mao waged a long and bloody armed struggle. Similar struggles are going on in many parts of India but nobody hears of them because the Marxist project is dead.
In Islamic countries, the poor have not had a particularly good deal either, but it is only in recent times that revolutionary movements have begun. Invariably it has happened where the state is weak and incapable of delivering to the poor. It is not a surprise that the guiding vision of such movements is an ideal Islamic state, because as a concept it is easily understood and no Muslim can question it. It also appeals to the poor Muslims because an Islamic state promises to give justice and fair play to them. Thus, at its core, all movements of the poor, whether Marxist or Islamic, seek a better dispensation for the downtrodden.
In Pakistan, the first manifestation of such a movement was the Sufi Mohammad uprising in Bajaur that started in the 90s. It has had its ups and downs, but it has gained strength because of the anger in the tribal belt triggered by the American invasion of Afghanistan. Al Qaeda, which had established itself in this region since the 80s, has capitalised on this by pouring arms and money into the movement. The American factor also helped in its leadership passing to Al Qaeda-influenced elements such as Baitullah Mehsud. This has given the struggle an anti-American, anti-imperialist tinge.
While its strength in the tribal areas comes from the American presence in Afghanistan, its spread to the settled districts of the NWFP and beyond is because of the deprivation, and the resultant anger, of the poor. It is helped by a collapsing state structure that can provide neither justice nor a fair deal to the poor. Take any element of the state structure like education or the health system, the police or the courts and the truth of this statement becomes self-evident.
The transformation of Swat from an idyllic tourist resort to a hotbed of radicalism is a classical example. Until the sixties, it was ruled by the Wali and the system, particularly of police and justice, operated strictly on Islamic lines. It may have had its shortcomings, but at the very least it gave quick and ready justice to the people. This did not put bread in the mouths of the poor but it protected them against the highhandedness of the rich.
With the amalgamation of the state into the Pakistani governance system, this protection disappeared because the system that replaced it was both inefficient and corrupt. This led to widespread disaffection, and perhaps more in Swat than in other places, because people had the memory of something different. This allowed the likes of Mullah Fazalullah, who, being related to Sufi Mohammad, had the motivation and the training, to take advantage of this opportunity. He was able to create a support base because his message resonated with the people, and still does. The fact that he and his ilk have not been eliminated despite a strong military operation is a testament of this.
The message of an Islamic revolutionary movement with its vision of an ideal Islamic state is spreading in other parts of the NWFP because the poor do not see the state giving them a stake in the system. It has not yet reached with the same intensity to the rest of the country but it will, because whatever ability the state had in the past, and it was less than perfect, is declining as time goes by. The real decline has been in the primary duty of the state, which is to maintain order and provide justice. This has hurt the poor more because they are unable to buy security or justice from a corrupt system. Inflation, with its devastating effect on the ability of the poor to feed their families, has added to the stain.
The situation is thus ripe for a revolution, and in our context, with Islam as the rallying cry, however cynical an exploitation of religion this may be. The only way to prevent it is for the state is to reorient itself and give justice, security and a fair deal to the poor. This is a tall order, but there is time. The revolutionary army is knocking at the gate but is not yet in a position to storm the citadel.
Source: The News, 25/7/2008