Foreign operations

Inviting the military is in principle an appeal identical to the familiar ‘doctrine of necessary’.

Saroop Ijaz August 28, 2011

“Nisar mein teri gallion pay aay watan, ke jahan chali hai rasm kay koi na sar utha kay challay,” (I give my life to your alleys, O nation, where custom now dictates that one walk with head bowed) wrote Faiz Ahmad Faiz. August 26 marked the fifth anniversary of the martyrdom of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. The most glaring aspect of the anniversary, held in Lahore, was the resounding silence, almost the non-acknowledgement of the event itself. The historical irony surrounding the present anniversary is unmistakable, i.e. it comes at a time when the debate dominating the national discourse right now is regarding whether a military operation is a viable option to subdue the bloodshed in Karachi. The two scenarios seem to be quite different in context and specifics, yet have a common thread. Apart from the inescapable viciousness, the implied rationale is that the appeal to brutish khaki force absolves us of all culpability and critical thinking.

Akbar Bugti’s martyrdom was followed by lukewarm and obtuse condemnation by political and social leaders across Pakistan. There was token mourning, Pervez Musharraf decried it, yet conspicuously absent was any meaningful mention of the Baloch cause and the right of self-determination. Probably, the real tragedy of the brutal murder was on the next day, when a call for a complete strike failed abysmally in Lahore and Islamabad. The message to the Baloch was unequivocal and loud, that Punjab has made its pick. At some level, towards the end of Akbar Bugti’s life the trajectory was clear. Akbar Bugti was bound to be eliminated because he represented a secular, nationalist struggle, which is as difficult to swallow for the uncritical rightist as it is for the naïve liberal. The stubbornness and the deliberate ignorance surrounding the Baloch struggle is manifested by the reluctance to use the word ‘nationalist struggle’ instead of the docile term ‘grievances’. After the fall of Dhaka, the Baloch movement has posed the single-most formidable challenge to the two-nation theory. Religion has no play in Balochistan right now. George Bernard Shaw in the preface to his 1904 play John Bull’s Other Island wrote: “A healthy nation is as unconscious of its nationality as a healthy man of his bones. But if you break a nation’s nationality it will think of nothing else but getting it set again. It will listen to no reformer, to no philosopher, to no preacher, until the demand of the Nationalist is granted. It will attend to no business, however vital, except the business of unification and liberation.” The assassination of Akbar Bugti was neither the first nor the last blow on the Baloch, but it certainly was the most symbolically significant.

Balochistan is a salient example of our acceptance of violence as a mode of solving problems. The Baloch are murdered by the state daily under the extraordinarily ignorant impression that if sufficient force is used, Baloch nationalism will eventually extinguish. The amnesia regarding the genocide of Bangladesh is surreal. Balochistan represents a failure to comprehend a basic human instinct that people do not like to be occupied, be dictated to or be patronised. By sending armed mercenaries into Balochistan, the state expresses its mistrust of the Baloch to speak for or govern themselves.

The situation in Karachi has reached a point where there is unanimity in the acceptance of the idea that drastic measures are needed. What exactly is going on (apart from mutilation and murder) and why, is soaked in uncertainty. The superficial consensus instead of giving clarity obscures it further. One is reminded of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, in which the Prince commenting on the war hysteria says, “Yes, all the newspapers do say the same thing”. That’s true. But so it is the same thing that all the frogs croak before a storm. One can hear nothing for them.” The government has not yet sanctioned an army operation and instead decided to employ the rangers and the police to conduct an “indiscriminate surgical operation”. The oxymoronic semantic absurdity is a manifestation of the muddled thinking. Recently, the federal interior minister has also emphatically claimed that he is not ‘Spiderman’. Coming from him, this statement should be taken with a pinch of salt, especially given his abilities to weave fantastically tangled webs.

Karachi has no easy, one-dimensional, binary answers. To attribute the turmoil to one political party or group is becoming increasingly tedious. The violence is no longer the highly regulated and ritualised affair that it once was between opposing political factions. However, one thing has increasingly become clearer, that answers are to be sought from within and not imposed from without. I agree, it is easier said than done, especially keeping in view the body count every day. The orgy of sadism should not tempt us into inviting the military and substitute one type of lawlessness with another. Yet broad-based national consensus will not solve Karachi. The feeble attempts to ‘make nice’ and hollow slogans of coexistence and reconciliation coming from people having no stake in Karachi are meaningless. Local political leadership will have to sort out the mess, since they are the only ones capable to do so. It would be unrealistic to expect the situation to improve immediately, but hopefully once equilibrium is achieved, it would be more sustainable than the knee-jerk reaction of encouraging the khakis to streamroll and provide an ephemeral relief.

Karachi and Balochistan both highlight the failure of importing wholesale solutions for indigenous problems. The army marching into Karachi and Balochistan, treating the natives as a subject population, is only going to increase the fragmentation. Inviting the military is in principle an appeal identical to the familiar ‘doctrine of necessary’. Expediency should not allow us to disregard the basics of democratic norms. The maintenance of a semblance of rationality is critical at this juncture. The martyrdom of Nawab Akbar Bugti should always be remembered not only for the Baloch people and their struggle for freedom but also for the aftermath of military operations.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th,  2011.