Tap on the metaphorical fuel tanks of any of the political parties operating in Pakistan and there will be a hollow ringing noise. A noise indicative of ‘empty’ beyond a whiff of whatever might have been the go-juice when the party was founded. To be sure there is a superstructure surrounding the tank that looks like a political vehicle, and it might be reasonable to expect that there would be, swirling around in the tank, essence of the elements that made the party whatever it was at its inception — leadership and moral authority. But nothing. And herein lies the answer to the question so often asked — where is the solution to the terror problem and why has it not been cracked thus far?
In large part it is down to an absence of moral authority and a failure of leadership. There is no shortage of bombast and rhetoric and soundbites by the basketful. Press releases abound as do vox-pops and occasional guest appearances in whatever elected body comes to hand. But there is no sense of unity of purpose in challenging the narrative grip that extremism has on the national throat. No party is the rally point of moderation, the flag to which sufficient will flock to make the moral argument against extremism.
The leaders of all the parties are anodyne ciphers, whatever charisma they ever had long rubbed off. Politics generally has been supplanted by single-issue rants. The ranter-in-chief has proved to be as empty as his party fuel tank and now, ticking over on fumes, is going to offer nothing once the paper chase is over. The ruling party and its monochrome mumbling leadership. General goods in the form of flyovers and metro buses is hardly a bulwark against an underwhelming poverty of ideas.
None of the religious parties is ever more than a political footnote, and most of them would anyway never wish to expose just how close they are in the contents of their own fuel tanks to the extreme ideologies that so pollute and corrupt the nation. They have consistently performed as an electoral footnote and offer nothing beyond baby food for dribbling sycophants and a comfort zone for irredeemable misogynists.
For the secular(ish) parties there is only the eternal struggle for power, and that not to or for the people they purport to represent, but more for the elites that crank the engines. There is for the most part an absence of intellectual rigour; and the parties are locked into an ossified dynastic model that allows no room for development or original thinking. Any hint of leadership that is indicative that it might want to climb out of the box is quickly stifled. All of the parties are ‘Old Guard’ in terms of their public aspects, and whatever their ‘youth wings’ may be projected as. There are no greenhouses in which future leaders may be nurtured and there is no sense anywhere that intra-party democratic process is alive and well — or even extant at all in most examples.
It is the moribund politics of the mainstream that has allowed extremists an entry, and the complete absence of any credible moral leadership that allows them to flourish unchecked. There are no leaders, only figureheads, the carved and very wooden valiant images that decorate the prow of the ship. They serve their purpose well enough, but the figurehead at the front is not the captain, nor the steersman. They are more towards the stern, the man at the wheel takes the orders that translate into a course, and none of these proud ships of state are willing or able to sail in convoy.
To be sure Pakistan is not a failed state nor has it ever come close to failure that being more a product of an overheated media than anything concrete, but it has the capacity to fail as a state of moderation because the ground ceded to extremism now exceeds in area that held by centrists or moderates. In truth the battle is long lost, and we live in an evolving extremist state. Go on…prove me wrong. Tootle-pip!
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2017.
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