Militarisation of the Punjabi mind

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Muhammad Ahsan Yatu

I create an embarrassing situation for myself before the start of almost every wedding ceremony that I attend. I reach the venue on time, the time mentioned on the invitation card. The ceremony always starts at least two hours late. The place is usually a hotel. One can relax in the lounge or have a cup of tea and wait for a familiar face to appear. It does not. An hour passes. No one comes. Then I start looking in all directions to find someone other than the invited ones or the hosts. Not to meet him, to avoid him. I have heard too often, ‘Only fools follow the rules and the writing on the invitation cards’.

The wedding dinner I most recently attended embarrassed me, but, for a nauseating reason. I was as usual punctual. To my surprise there were three familiar fools already seated in the sofas of the lounge. ‘We knew you will come soon, we were waiting for you.’ ‘Where is Pakistan going?’ Before I tell the readers about the answers I gave, allow me to introduce my friends and myself. All four of us are engineers. My friends had a liking initially for the Jamaat-e-Islami and now they support the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). I support the socialist-democratic side of the PPP’s early face. Time has changed. Pragmatism or even opportunism and not ideology guide the working of political parties now. However, their old supporters have not lost their rigidity. The questions and answers came basically in this context and also for two more reasons.

I had predicted Pakistan’s division into two countries. Even a child, if he was a Bengali or Bihari, could make that prediction, but the militarised Punjabi mind could not, because it thought that the military might was the cure for Pakistan’s all ills. In the university I had friends from both nationalities. I have yet to see the kind of hatred that they had for each other. Their disconnection meant a political disconnection that had its impact countrywide, because the Biharis stood always with the Punjabis, who were taken as the colonisers by the Bengalis. So talking in 1968 about the separation of the East Pakistan was not a prediction, it was the writing on the wall.

The situation after the elections of February 2008 for most of the Punjabis was similar to the one that had emerged after the elections of December 1970. They were troubled by the victory of the Awami National Party (ANP). A common question they invariably raised was what would happen to Punjab in case the ANP forms government in the NWFP. They thought that the ANP would declare independence of the NWFP soon after. And that would cause chain reaction and other smaller provinces would follow suit. Nothing happened that way and nothing will happen that way, unless the Punjabis themselves wished so. The East Pakistan separated because the Punjabis did not want to give it financial autonomy.

The Baloch, Pukhtoons and Sindhis do not want separation. Like Bengalis, the most they want is financial autonomy. So, ‘Where is Pakistan going’ is a relevant question. The Punjabis will have to learn to live mostly within their own means and that will require significant reduction in military and administration’s budgets. Once it is done Pakistan will go nowhere. It will stay and stay stable.

The other reason behind my friends’ question was the person of Asif Ali Zardari. ‘Why did he agree to send the Director General ISI to New Delhi? Why did the PPP government admit Ajmal Kasab’s Pakistani identity? Why did Pakistan not defend al Dawah in the UN? Why did he allow drone attacks? Why did he say that the violation of our airspace was a technical error? He has not changed. He is not restoring the Chief Justice because of the NRO. We are praying for Pakistan.’

Everybody is praying for Pakistan, though for many reasons, and Islamic militancy is one of them. I told my friends that Rajiv Ghandi had summoned General Zia regarding the Sikh insurgency and the general had promptly agreed. His visit to India was propagated as the ‘Cricket Diplomacy’. None raised any objection then, because the general was a Punjabi, Chief of the Army Staff and Martial Law Administrator. President Zardari is as good or bad a person as we all Pakistanis are but he is a Sindhi, and that is perhaps his unpardonable ‘sin’. Asfandyar Wali, Khair Bakhsh Marri, Attaullah Mengal and many more sensible leaders from smaller provinces are victims of similar ‘sins’.

The Director General ISI should have gone to New Delhi. It would have been a timely move. It would have saved us from the agonies that we faced afterwards. Accordingly, if we had admitted Ajamal Kasab’s Pakistani nationhood earlier that too would have helped us in averting the embarrassment that we faced afterwards. As for the ban on al Dawah, it came because of an old UNSC resolution. Not only that the entire world believes that the organisation is an extension of Lashkar-e-Tayeeba.

Whether or not Zardari has changed is not a relevant question. What matters is that as an elected president what does he deliver? What I know is that General Musharraf’s military regime had made the bureaucracy awfully corrupt, and to clean Pakistan now is not an easy job. However, I must admit that Zardari-led government has so far provided almost zero governance at peoples’ level in this respect. The relief that the common people need will not come from his reforms in macroeconomics. It will come from a reformed bureaucracy.

The deposed judges had given a hope to common people. For the first time we had seen morality emerging as a force in our actions. Their judgment on the Steel Mills had saved Pakistan from a huge loss. Similarly, the restoration of the Chief Justice was another bold decision. Yet all that the judges did was not right. They should not have allowed Nawaz Sharif to return unconditionally. His return should have been linked with the cancellation of his deal with Musharraf and re-opening of his cases. Their second controversial decision came on the NRO. This decision too should have been linked with the deal that Nawaz Sharif had made. The decisions that can affect the destiny of nation must be made with utmost care.

Their third decision, on the eligibility of General Musharraf’s status as presidential candidate, was terrible in the sense that the judges did not dare to confront the army, which was against the removal of its commander from the political scene. The judges shifted the entire burden on the shoulders of politicians. On this decision in a recent TV interview Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday said that we allowed the general to contest the election in national interest. What national interest, we have been hearing about it since we became a nation. Given our continuing social and economic decline someone from Lahore and Rawalpindi should come forward and explain it?

Controversial decisions notwithstanding, Asif Ali Zardari must fulfil his commitment. A statesman and a gentleman politician are two sides of the same entity. He must restore the judges. The restoration is also necessary to create a clean, corruption free, environment in Pakistan. As far the NRO is concerned I told my friends that we live in a country where a sealed FIR was revived and consequently a prime minister was hanged; and if you and I know about it, thinking that Zardari is an unaware person is sheer stupidity.

The embarrassment inflicted on me in the wedding ceremony was due to one of my friends. When everybody was busy with his food, he put his hand on my shoulder and spoke loudly, ‘He supports Zardari.’ The words for a moment shook my faith in Pakistan and myself. Imagine what the propaganda has turned us into. We may not take seriously the writing on the invitation cards; we must read carefully the writing on the wall. The military and so-called national interest will not keep us together. If our biases based on ethnicity continue the sensible leaders of the smaller provinces will be replaced by a kind of political lot that will not feel happy with their people living in the present Pakistan.

Courtesy: The Post, 14-feb-2009

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