Ayesha Ijaz Khan
Something’s gotta give. The people of Pakistan have been far too oppressed for far too long. Yet, I was heartened by a recent piece in Dawn which reported that a “people’s court” held by peasants found a powerful landlord guilty of kidnapping family members of Mannu Bheel, a liberated hari, who had been struggling for the release of his relatives for over a decade.
What was particularly inspirational was the picture that accompanied the story. Sindhi peasant women, in colourful dress and arms adorned with traditional bangles elbow-high, sat proudly displaying the Pakistani flag, as a testament to their struggle against injustice. So much for “Pakistan khapay” and “Pakistan na khapay.” Our people realise that Pakistan was created on a notion of justice for all, not just one community, or the economically secure. It is not the average person who is ethnically motivated but the elites, in whose interest it is to harp on the divisions so that the real issues can evade confrontation. This land of teeming millions wanting for food and electricity cannot much longer suffer the whims of the few wealthy tax avoiders who have once again got away with not paying capital gains tax in return for a measly weekly dastarkhwan! Get a life!
A few months ago, a timid Kamran Khan gently posed the sensitive issue of revenue collection to Mr Shaukat Tareen, who responded by saying that the government should not be too aggressive with taxation, because if it is then the capitalists will pull their money out of Pakistan and find other homes for it. Mr Kamran Khan deferred to Mr Tareen’s greater knowledge on the issue without further questioning. I say good riddance! If the wealthy tax avoiders would rather leave Pakistan than pay up, then perhaps Dubai is a more suitable home for them, where they can revel in the comfort that taxation does not exist, even though the poorest of the poor go without incomes for three months at a stretch and cannot even take to the streets in protest.
It is in this context that talk of a Pakistani revolution seems appropriate and has indeed been the subject of other pieces in these pages. Nevertheless, I was struck by Shafqat Mahmood’s piece on July 25, entitled “Crisis of governance is the core issue.” I admire Mr Mahmood’s columns and have great respect for his views, with which I often find myself in agreement. I was therefore surprised that in his latest piece he drew comparisons between the Marxist/Maoist/Bolivarian movements and the growing influence of brutal extremists like Fazlullah in our northern areas, and thus, in my view, incorrectly glorified the Taliban and related movements. Revolutionary army? Idelogical message? I don’t think so. If they had one, they wouldn’t need the arms to force their ways on the petrified local population. The vote in the NWFP is a testament to the fact that the people are not seeking a religiously oriented dispensation. Of course, if the ANP fails to deliver, then their constituents have a right to be disillusioned, but given the ways of the militants, I doubt that they will have willing supporters.
It is also a grave injustice to the revolutionary leftist movements to compare them to the current monstrosity in Pakistan’s north. Cuba boasts one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Chavez has sought the assistance of Cuban doctors to improve the Venezuelan healthcare system in exchange for free oil. The militants in our northern areas, on the other hand, are denying children rudimentary polio vaccinations. The revolution brought about by Mao, for instance, may have been imperfect but encouraged and ensured greater education. In Swat, on the other hand, the militants have blown up numerous girls’ schools, ensuring only that literacy rates go down and not up. In Venezuela, the media has historically been controlled by elites who are not in the least sympathetic to Chavez, yet he has never attempted to curb their message, even when they hailed a coup against him, which was soon foiled because the people took to the streets in his favour. The good-for-nothing extremists in the north, on the contrary, have permitted the beaming of only three channels, according to an Aaj News source, the Quran channel, a news channel and a cartoon channel.
Their message is weak and cannot win support amongst the people, except with the power of an AK-47 Kalashnikov. The Bolivarian Revolution, on the other hand, started in Venezuela and survived not only the virulent attacks of Venezuelan media but was exported to Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador, in some cases throwing up a leadership that is even more capable than Chavez. Thus, to say “that the left, as a force in the politics of underdeveloped countries, has virtually disappeared” is simply not true.
What is, however, disturbing and extremely sad is that the extreme elements that have taken over in parts of our country are too illiterate to even comprehend the message of the Quran itself, which repeatedly talks of Islam as “a religion for men and women of understanding.” So although we may call these new arms-bearing extremists a fascist army, they are certainly not a revolutionary army. The Bolivarian revolution was just as anti-imperialist and anti-American, but in a far more intelligent way, not in the self-destructive methodology being employed in our midst.
Looking back, the Muslim League was able to achieve Pakistan because Jinnah refashioned the League and made it a progressive body. He once told the students at Aligarh Muslim University: “What the League has done is to set you free from the reactionary elements of Muslims and to create the opinion that those who play their selfish game are traitors. It has certainly freed you from that undesirable element of Maulvis and Maulanas. I am not speaking of Maulvis as a whole class. There are some of them who are as patriotic and sincere as any other, but there is a section of them which is undesirable. Having freed ourselves from the clutches of the British government, the Congress, the reactionaries and so-called Maulvis, may I appeal to the youth to emancipate our women.”
Pakistan’s impending revolution, and I hope there is one, will be led by a new left and not a militant right. One that is brought about by lawyers and human rights activists and led by women like Ghazala Minallah, Tahira Abdullah, Asma Jahangir, and men like Aitzaz Ahsan, Munir Malik, Ali Ahmad Kurd, Pervez Hoodbhoy and the countless others who are educated, and some even wealthy, but are willing to share both their resources and knowledge in the hopes of creating a better Pakistan. One that promises equal rights for men and women, Muslim and non-Muslim, rich and poor. Not one that leads by the fear of the gun but by the wisdom of the pen. Not one that burns CD shops but marches to the beat of the dhol, and thereby proves to the world that our music is second to none. A revolution focused on progress, and not one fixated on destruction simply because it has no competence, whether in the arts or the sciences.
What Pakistan needs is a New Left — a liberal movement rooted in people power.
The writer is a London-based lawyer and can be reached via her website www.ayeshaijazkhan.com
Source: The News, 1/8/2008