What about those who beg to differ?

Published: June 4, 2011


Recently, a retired military commander spoke about redefining national security policy. Another writer laid down parameters for putting the country on the track of success and prosperity by paying taxes, accepting multiple ethnic identities, standing up to American exploitation, making politics democratic and a few other things.

All these things sound so easy until you begin trying to do at least some of them, or even laying your faith in some of these options. The response happens to be in the form of a bullet. Recently, two bullets did their job of silencing two voices — journalist Saleem Shahzad and Professor Saba Dashtyari. The former made the mistake of speaking the truth about the changing character of security forces and the spread of jihadism in the armed forces. The latter was probably shot because those in power did not like his views.

These bullets have a message written on them: Do not try to deviate from the dominant version of the security establishment, else it will be your end. Each bullet does the job of killing the immediate victim and silencing others whom those with real power think have “lost their objectivity and are becoming irrational”. These were the words of displeasure recently conveyed by the ISPR. Although I differed with their right to judge me, I still wonder, where does this put the personal security of those that beg to differ? Not surprisingly, after Shahzad’s assassination people were calling each other to make sure that friends were alive and safe.

I want to ask those who propose writing up a new national security policy whether they can ever attain the task without the necessary change in paradigm — a shift towards an environment where people can differ without violent repercussions. The current situation reminds one of the Italian mafia which basically guns down people without listening to reason — vested interest is primary in judging people’s fate. Life is inexpensive, especially if it gets in the way of those in power. So how can one begin to even think of any change? Under the circumstances, the simplest things become the most difficult. Asking for the state to appreciate and respect ethnic identity becomes a sin which can earn you a death certificate and nothing else.

We in Pakistan are at a juncture where there is a contest between a poorly done political vision of Pakistan and a national security vision of the country. The former is weak, as it is the product of the much maligned political forces who think that the only way to survive is to lay low. Although the political forces led by the present government are trying to make some right moves — such as the passing of the 18th Amendment — that focus on empowerment of the federating units, they have totally failed to empower the process. The first test of such empowerment was the devolution of the Higher Education Commission, which has fallen flat on the face because the centrist-pro-establishment forces were too powerful.

The other vision is centrist and top-down, and is based on the idea of unifying societies bureaucratically and through the power of violence. Surely there is a side option as well, which is to conform to the national security apparatus through becoming part of its plans. This vision also hopes to keep the state together but through liquidating alternative identities and making people subscribe to a singly identity. The making of cadet colleges and cantonments is one part of this scheme. The other, perhaps, is to create a unifying and single version of religious ideology. These ideologies do a wonderful job of forcing people to a single plan through the means of force. They will obliterate all opposition. The singular identity plan of the security establishment and the religious ideologue has a common flavour. At times, it becomes difficult to tell the difference.

Thus, it is hard to tell how it would be possible to negotiate the differences and bring change. Those in charge of making the national security policy do not seem interested in talk. There were times one hoped to initiate a civil-military dialogue with the intention of building bridges. Instead, what the society got were national security workshops that gave a top-down statist-national-security version. What we need right now is greater sanity. But more than that we need the capacity to draw rules of engagement in which we can talk sensibly without people losing lives.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (25)

  • Syed Nadir El-Edroos
    Jun 4, 2011 - 11:52PM

    For one I dont understand why our security establishment requires a cheer leading squad that nods their head in agreement to every decision they make? Why are they so insecure? Do they not realize that living in a state where people are fearful of not only terrorism, but the very forces that are supposed to protect them is poor reflection of our country as a whole? The security establishment should realize that praises they receive are coerced, and no matter how many banners they put up in Islamabad or how many CDA workers and government school children (not that they would pull out their own children from private schools) protest, will only erode their legitimacy. They are pulling the rug from beneath themselves! Recommend

  • Syed Agha Ali MOOSAVI
    Jun 4, 2011 - 11:53PM

    A full detailed investigation and judicial inquiry will remove all such doubts as indicated by Madam SiddiqaRecommend

  • Anwar
    Jun 4, 2011 - 11:56PM

    This is the land of Bigots. Those who differ are Qabil-e-Qatal (can be killed).Recommend

  • Jun 5, 2011 - 12:26AM

    ”The first test of such empowerment was the devolution of the Higher Education Commission, which has fallen flat on the face because the centrist-pro-establishment forces were too powerful.” Although I salute your courage that you always bravely attempt to challenge the status quo of our armed forces and security establishment but here I differ. HEC was being dissolved not devolved. Government was planning to break it into numerous factions and distribute its key functions amongst federal institutes. Raza Rabbani’s statements have been self contradictory and government did not laid out a clear pattern for retreating HEC. Like every other country, we need a central system of higher education. Provinces needs their rights – the citizens of smaller provinces need control over their resources. They need freedom to speak up. HEC has set uniform standards for universities of all provinces. School education and college education is under provincial control and we can see that they have turned into mess. Recommend

  • Egregious
    Jun 5, 2011 - 12:41AM

    we are hypocrites. we can do every bad thing with impunity if we keep on preaching morality at the same time to others. Instead of doing introspection of ourselves, do blame others for every bad thing which happens to us. this the best way to live in our country as we don’t want anymore to lose his life for searching and speaking those truths on which no one is going to believe.Recommend

  • Chacha
    Jun 5, 2011 - 12:50AM

    There is a lot of talk on Pakistani websites that thier press if more free and much more ciritcal of thier government than the press in India. Even assuming it were true, then with these kind of killings how can the press remain free. Reading the above article, the press is free as long as wild accusations and finger pointing is done. Once serious investigative journalism is done then the press is not free. Pakistan can never hope to emulate the “Tehelka” website genre of stings – imagine doing a sting wherin some ISI official admits Mumbai was planned by them, or that AQ Khan had the estiblishments blessings – if that were to happen journalists would be massacred !Recommend

  • Pakistan Khan
    Jun 5, 2011 - 2:03AM

    In fact we are being ruled by military mafia. God bless PakistanRecommend

  • AnisAqeel
    Jun 5, 2011 - 2:29AM

    “What about those who beg to differ”?
    They must differ forcefully, loud and clear if they love this country. This is a sacrifice our country demands direly at this time.Recommend

  • Jun 5, 2011 - 4:52AM

    so true, so sad, so bitter!
    being in a university where many radical groups rule i have learned one lesson: silence is a virtue. Not because im afraid of violent reaction (which actually is a possibility and happens quite frequently), its the look you receive in return. The deadly gaze which seems to be lamenting on ur “craziness”, like you are some ‘touchable’ creature from some UNholly planet. Its the hollow feeling which shivers through you when you suddenly feel isolated, knowing even those on your side who agree with your view wont dare support you.
    Im an individual, I’m entitled to my own views and because of that I can beg to differ. Thats another thing im denied the right. only mortal danger isnt the only threat here. I know by upholding my opinions i would become an outcast, which is why now i have learned to embrace silence. Recommend

  • Srinath
    Jun 5, 2011 - 7:52AM

    The manner in which the chief spook ticked off the politicos in the National Assembly recently drove home who the boss was. It was clear from Shahzad’s episode that those who beg to differ with the khakhis are asking for a bullet. Th biggest culprits for this state of affairs are scribes and legal luminaries who spin yarn like “Doctrine of Necessity”. The writer is among those few who champion against the security state. May her tribe grow.Recommend

  • ani
    Jun 5, 2011 - 8:12AM

    Why don’t the Pakistani masses come out in the street and assert their primacy over their mullahs, mafia (political) and military? The three have brainwashed the masses in religious bigotry and victimhood. Recommend

  • Syed Hussein El-Edroos
    Jun 5, 2011 - 9:17AM

    No lessons learned even after 63 years of repeated mistakesRecommend

  • Akhtrrao
    Jun 5, 2011 - 11:14AM

    I think someone need to know the ” national interets comes first”,I just want to say that some people within the state want to please someone, they should live them not in Pakistan. Already Pakistan is suffering and paying heavley then waht else,some intellectual,journalists,they try to deminise Pakistan.
    They should know what are they writing and who will benefit.India, Anerican they do not expose their flawas, but in our country people without thinking selling their ideas.Recommend

  • Jun 5, 2011 - 11:41AM

    a civil-military dialogue – Deewane ka khwaab-They are all are one —military ,Politicians and industrialist partnership this political mapping is so complex that you can not understand – example
    Malik Mohammad Qayyum (the former Attorney General of Pakistan, his brother is Pervaiz Malik MNA Muslim League (N) from Lahore and there Sister Yasmeen Rehman is MNA of PPP.Recommend

  • mazen
    Jun 5, 2011 - 11:59AM

    Do you know that why people are not coming out from their houses to oust this government,the reason is simple we all are corrupt,whenever someone get a chance to do corruption do it with impunity.We dont need revolution,infact, we need evolution.What would happen if people bring revolution to this country,either the new government will come consist of those thugs who already brought this country to the brink of collapse or again marshal law would be imposed by our so-called protectioners.Everyone of us have to contribute towards the betterment of this this country,all this can happen if we throw our own personal away and help pakistan by every means possible.Recommend

  • ap
    Jun 5, 2011 - 12:08PM


    I wish we had more columnists in India who were as good and sharp in their critique as NFP in Dawn, Najam Sethi and so many others who do a fantastic job. Please read the New York Times and other US papers online to see how their writers critique the establishment.

    I feel South Asians do like criticism. South Asian in any position of power – Professors in Universities, Managers in offices, Politicians in government are not open to suggestion, to delegation. I suggest that this is evidence of our insecurity and our role of ‘meri kursi, mera hukum’: my chair, my law!Recommend

  • Uzair Javaid
    Jun 5, 2011 - 12:41PM

    @ani: The political leaders at first were so deeply corrupt which provoked the military for a political upheaval. Time and again, not even a single politician came who led without making stupe blunders. Bhutto was a great leader with a vision and an ideology, but as I am not too updated on his historical account, I cant comment what lead Zia-ul-Haq to subvert him. But later again, we have leaders who now cash or capitalize on slain leaders. All this mess eventually ignored the fact that education was the dire need of the day ever for Pakistan. All this eventually throwing education centres reforming themselves into Islamic schools. How and why do you think this nation would protest? had it any shame they would have came out on streets when a foreigner killed our men and left with grace! we all gave the military this power, because we are corrupt. Recommend

  • Alsahdiq
    Jun 5, 2011 - 1:30PM

    Do we want a change? Do we? Are we sure? Charity begins at home. We have to, utterly no other way, start changing ourselves first. We all, yes all of us need to shed our bad habits to embrace good habits. The people who wrote history to bring about a very popular “peaceful revolution ” did exactly the same. They traded their bad habits for good habits.
    Among the bad habits the most deadly, most despised, yet most prevalent among the people is ARROGANCE. Iblees traded Heaven for Hell for the sake of arrogance. Every arrogant soul trades Heaven for Hell fire.
    When people shed their bad habits they become amicable, likeable and loveable. It is very easy for such people to come together to manage their common business. Common business is to create a responsible and caring society in every nook and corner of the country through self help. Such societies will become possible only when each and everyone of us will endeavour to come out to join hands with others to bring about the welcome change we all need.
    Is there another way? Have we not tried to leave our matters in the hands of others for so many many years? What was the outcome? 0+0=0. True or false? Should we not then try the tried and tested method? The method to bring about “peaceful revolution”? There is a very heavy price for it to pay. We will have to trade our bad habits for good habits. Are we ready for it? Let us all make up our minds and the act. Act to change. Not act to remain slaves.Recommend

  • parvez
    Jun 5, 2011 - 2:20PM

    Liked the article.
    It is evident that it was and is the armed forces that give direction to policy in Pakistan. The way this policy is formulated seems to on the basis of ‘ we know what is good for this country – period ‘.
    In such a situation where the politicians are incompetent and unwilling to asset themselves for selfish reasons, there is not much one can do but suffer the consequences. Recommend

  • narayana murthy
    Jun 5, 2011 - 2:24PM

    @Pakistan Khan. You are absolutely right and now watch out for that shadowy figure lurking behind you.

    By the way, if that your real name? You will have one hell of a time, pun intended, if you ever go to any other country apart from China, Saudi and perhaps Turkey :)Recommend

  • aman
    Jun 6, 2011 - 11:13AM


    The reason there are no columnists in India to write against establishment is this:
    Most of the media luminaries are pro-congress and the last thing they want to do is to embarrass the Congress.

    The moment BJP comes to power, you will find the full force of the free media and the likes of Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, Prannoy Roy, Mahesh Bhatt etc. etc will crawl out of the woodwork with their writings.

    CNN-IBN once had a sting operation on how MPs took money to vote; unfortunately, the guys caught were congress-men. So, they decided not to telecast it. In independent India, the Congress has the dubious reputation of being the most corrupt party and perhaps, the single most part with maximum Swiss bank accounts in the whole world. Congress leaders in India have got an MBA in corruption while Pak politicos are yet to cross the kindergarten stage.

    See how Congress party is thwarting every attempt to bring black money stashed in Swiss and Luxumberg banks. And the media will never write anything against them !!Recommend

  • Ravindra
    Jun 6, 2011 - 12:15PM

    @chacha – indian press is the worst in the world right now.all r paid news channels. and puppets to some or the other party indirectly.Recommend

  • Munir Ahmed
    Jun 6, 2011 - 11:44PM

    What about those who beg to differ? wait until Pakistan becomes a Saudi like state – With ghafoor haidri becoming the opp leader in the upper house, you wouldn’t have to wait long.Recommend

  • Gul Bukhari
    Jun 13, 2011 - 2:49PM

    One word: Wah!Recommend

  • Omar Haroon
    Jun 13, 2011 - 3:38PM

    @Ravindra: I can’t say much about the indian press since I don’t have much experience with it but I have found The Hindu to be quite a balanced and interesting newspaper. Granted I’ve only just started reading it (thanks to suggestions from a few Indian friends), I was overall satisfied with the standard and general tone of the articles.Recommend

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