Recently, an All Parties Conference (APC) resolved to “give peace a chance”. As with nearly every other matter of concern to the Pakistani public, the resolution is an attempt by the powers that be, to dodge the real issue and hope it goes away. Surely no country wants to be at war with its own people. Yet, instead of addressing the circumstances that have led us to a situation whereby the government cannot establish its writ in large parts of its territory; an ostrich-like approach was adopted resulting in an absolutely futile exercise and a meaningless resolution.
Perhaps the point was not to address the issues that face the Pakistani public at all. For if that were the case, then other matters too would have been on the agenda, namely; the acute electricity shortage, the floods in Sindh, uncontrollable spread of the dengue virus in Lahore, as well as the worrying law and order situation. More likely, the idea of the APC, which included some one-man parties that have not come in through the ballot but reflect establishment thinking, was to send America a message.
The likes of Hamid Gul, simultaneously, appeared on television to reiterate the line that the Pakistani public must unify in the face of recent American accusations against Pakistan and forewarn this wayward superpower by a show of strength. Clearly, General Gul, hasn’t a clue about public priorities. When countries in the developed world undergo recessions, most people protest domestic issues like high unemployment and could not care less about foreign policy, which is generally the domain of a select few. What the public in Pakistan has had to face is far worse than any recession. Then why should average people care about foreign policy?
A state can only expect to rely on its people for a show of strength when it strengthens its people. When the bulk of the people in the state are weakened such that they have neither health care nor education nor electricity then the state as a whole will be weak and bullied by other powers, no matter what type of chest-thumping politician or general is at the helm of affairs. The political government, for its part, is too busy in its “politics of reconciliation”. What this really means is a politics devoid of all ideology. When masked boys can enter a government school in Rawalpindi, beat up students and teachers alike and order the school closed, assured that there will be no action against them need anyone say more about giving peace a chance?
Giving peace a chance is political speak for living in fear. Many law-abiding citizens in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were subjected to similar incidents before any kind of military action was contemplated. Inevitably, when armed groups operate with impunity in one part of the country, it becomes difficult to contain their ambitions to do so in other parts. Enabling law enforcement to cope with this serious issue is the crux of the matter if any type of peace is to prevail. Far more urgent than sending America a unified message then is sending these groups a unified message. But that would entail taking stands on ideological grounds, irrespective of cheap populism and building consensus on societal reform.
Pakistanis often tell the world that Islamic parties do not get voted into power in Pakistan. Yet an agenda more draconian than theirs is consistently imposed on society and is met with appeasing silence. How ironic that when Salmaan Taseer undemocratically imposed governor rule in Punjab, he had the backing of his political allies, but when he took a principled stand for a poor Christian woman, he became a political pariah! On the other hand, a former judge unabashedly and vociferously lends his services to Taseer’s self-confessed killer. Lack of courage and an unwillingness to take bold stands to counter an ideology that promotes fear can threaten peace for generations in Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2011.