If we take a multidimensional view of democracy in Pakistan, we will find many faults in it. Yet, it’s not the job of the critics to rectify those faults — they can only point them out. The onus of any such ratification squarely lies on the shoulders of the legislators who have been sent to the assemblies time and again but failed to bring about legislations that can prevent fraud, ensure transparency and inculcate accountability in the whole democratic process.
The recent elections and their results show a consistent pattern in our politics. “On surface blind loyalty to the party and its leadership” against the “subsurface awakening of the inner conscience”. At the heart of the opposition’s loss in the Senate election is the violation of a very simple principle — “never engage in a conflict that you are not sure to win”.
The opposition leadership that remained self-confident, over-assured, politically certain and convinced made a bad political judgment. “Secret balloting” was always going to pop up as a surprise and this is something they should have known. The fourteen senators who could not “conform to the political dictates of their parties” were absolutely right in what they did. These “politically non-conformist” senators voted to the dictates of their conscience and arguably helped to maintain and sustain a better Senate chairman than the one who was being ticked to replace him. Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo never had good words to speak about the state and he demonstrated the same when he attributed his failure to get elected to the “political wheeling and dealing” of the intelligence agency. Mr Bilawal Bhutto called the fourteen senators as “backstabbers of their political parties” and his considered opinion was that these senators “sold out their conscience”. All in all, the opposition parties made a mess of a major political event; the loss of which clearly speaks of voices of dissent present within their parties.
The government of Imran Khan has been able to overcome one major political hurdle. The second hurdle visible on the political skyline is the threat posed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman to march towards Islamabad and execute a political lockdown of the state, unless the Prime Minister resigns during the current month.
The initiation of the no-confidence motion by the opposition was a desperate act. Maulana’s “million march” threat is also a result of political desperation. To Maulana’s discredit, he has hardly ever used religion to build interfaith harmony — he always puts up a great demonstration of political and religious intolerance, and the venom he spits only pollutes the intellectually half-baked young minds of the madrassa students.
Over the years, through his political elevation, he has used the politics of division to institute religious and cultural intolerance in our society. We have a very short memory, but I can never forget the demonstration of Maulana’s great political acumen when he visited India as the leader of the MMA in 2003. Addressing the Indian media, he said, “Kashmir is a territorial problem rather than a religious issue.” For a man who has been heading the Kashmir Committee for such a long time, holding such an opinion only shows his lack of basic understanding about the Kashmir issue. The statement is a benchmark and glorifies the political mediocrity from which the Maulana continues to suffer.
Civil-military relations have never been so powerful, strong and intense as they are today in Pakistan. The new political reality is about an ‘us-and-them union’ rather than the previously misguided political thought of ‘us-and-them division’.
Maulana continues to represent that old school of political thought. He fails to comprehend that ideas today move faster and overtake other ideas that were shaped, grew and evolved in totally different political environments and circumstances. That political environment and those political circumstances have changed now. His political allies face strong and irrevocable accountability.
They have lost that moral high ground on which they used to conduct their politics. Sixty odd days later (Maulana has threatened to march towards Islamabad in October), the political landscape in the country may be devoid of some more political stalwarts (Maulana’s allies) as they may bite the political dust — courtesy of the unstoppable NAB accountability process.
As far as Maulana is concerned, I have a suggestion for him. I have been highlighting how our politics, like Shakespeare’s many dramas, always makes room for the acts of some clowns and jesters. One can only laugh away hearing some of their political squabbles and arguments — but not so with Maulana. There is this Shakespearean concept of a “whipping boy” as well — the concept in which “a person is blamed or punished for the faults or incompetence of others”.
Historically, this was introduced when kings would arrange tutors for their sons, and the tutors could not physically punish the prince. Hence, they would make the best friend of the prince sit with him and for every mistake that the prince committed, the best friend was punished. And so the tutors made sure that all the whipping boys acted as a great restraint on all the princes in order to keep their behaviours aligned to the dictates of the tutors.
If Maulana makes a move towards Islamabad, the state will turn him into a “whipping boy”, and punishment will definitely be unleashed on the misguided youths of the madrassas, that he would like to expose unnecessarily for his own selfish political gains. There can be many individual qualities that our political leadership may have, but the most pronounced of them that separates Imran Khan from other leaders is his iron will and that will count a lot when Maulana and Imran Khan will finally have a political face-off in October.
The military stands out to protect the physical space — it is mandated to safeguard and protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan. It is the other space — the political space — that Imran Khan and his government should be able to manage and control with non-military means.
But if that does not happen and the security of the state is threatened then there is no doubt that the state may finally like to put an end to the concept of a “million march” to Islamabad; and for which a boy may have to be whipped for all other political princes to exercise caution and restrain in the future.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2019.