A tale of two Pakistans

Published: February 14, 2012
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Sarmila Bose at the KLF (L), and the Difa-e-Pakistan-Council (R). PHOTOS: ARIF SOOMRO/EXPRESS TRIBUNE/REUTERS

Sarmila Bose at the KLF (L), and the Difa-e-Pakistan-Council (R). PHOTOS: ARIF SOOMRO/EXPRESS TRIBUNE/REUTERS

The weekend that went by showed well the dichotomies and contradictions inherent in today’s Pakistan: a land (with apologies to Charles Dickens) of two separate societies — one apparently conservative, rigid and orthodox; the other presumably liberal, progressive and willing to change. Of course, it could easily be argued that the liberals in Pakistan are perhaps as illiberal as the extremists they deride, because like the latter they (the liberals), too, are rigid in their views, especially of those who disagree with them and have a different worldview. However, there is a crucial difference between those on the right and the left and that is in the degree of violence and force used by a group to thrust its ideology on others. This is something that usually those on the right of the political spectrum do, especially the ones allied with the countries religious parties. Those on the left, usually, may have positions that are as inflexible as the conservatives, but they do not use force to convince others of the validity and/or pre-eminence of their opinions/beliefs.

Of course, one speaks of all this keeping in mind that this past weekend, the country’s largest city, Karachi, played host to two distinctively separate — in fact opposed — events. The first was the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) which was attended mostly by thousands of the city’s well heeled elite and had a smattering of international well-known writers and intellectuals in attendance. Such events provide the city’s English-speaking elite with some much-needed public space/platform to gather and perhaps, heave a collective sigh of relief that there are others around in Pakistan, like them, who share the same worldview.

The other event that took place was the rally of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), which was held on February 12. It was attended by a moderately large crowd and this is worrying — certainly for the likes of those who would have attended the KLF — because its main components include the Jamaatud Dawa and the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, now retooled as the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat. It also includes the likes of Ejazul Haq, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed and former ISI chief Hamid Gul, leading to a wide public perception that perhaps, the Council is an alternative platform through which the military sends signals to civilians.

Let’s take a look at the agenda of the DPC. It calls specifically for a continuation of the ban on Nato trucks passing through Pakistan, vowing to stop them by any means necessary should the government permit them to operate. This is part of a generally anti-American agenda that centres on supporting both the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban as a legitimate resistance to the US. At a time when our relations with the US, whose aid keeps the country afloat, are at their lowest ebb, a group such as the Council taking on this role — as a defender of the nation — reinforces the suspicion that perhaps, it is part of a larger agenda, with a higher authority. On other key issues as well, the Council’s view is quite similar to that espoused by Pakistan’s hawks. For instance, one of its key points is that the decision to grant India the Most Favoured Nation status should be taken back, because India has always been and will always be Pakistan’s arch-enemy. Juxtapose this with the KLF, where several participants and attendees said time and again that India and Pakistan need to loosen their visa regimes so that travel across the border could become easier (one participant also mentioned that the Pakistan correspondents for both The Hindu as well as the Press Trust of India were denied permission to travel from their base in Islamabad to cover the festival).

So the question arises; what can be done about these two Pakistans? In an ideal world one would want some kind of dialogue between the two sides, or at the very least, tolerance for each other’s opinions and worldviews. The media could play an interlocutory role in this regard, though much of it, presently, seems aligned with the right — or else it will just be a case of (which it is) preaching to the converted. And it is here that the country’s political parties, especially the PPP which is in theory a socialist left-leaning party, must take the lead in reclaiming public space for moderate ideas and worldviews.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • gt
    Feb 14, 2012 - 4:20AM

    The Indus is a natural boundary that suggests that 2 natural states could spring up; one built on those who build their lives on hatred of Hindus, and hatred of many other things. In short, those who define themselves by HATRED. Then, there are those who define themselves by HUMANITY, humane values, for all, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, caste, creed, beliefs etc. Perhaps there might be an unequal distribution of population at first, but this is the logical progression of the TWO NATION THEORY: the Qau-i-Nafrat and Qaum-i-Insaaniyat.

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  • Arindom
    Feb 14, 2012 - 5:09AM

    This article starts off well on the premise of 2 Pakistans – but falls flat in that it equated both the two!!! This is ridiculous. The writer falls short of calling a spade a spade (due to fear?) One Pakistan is leading to chaos, extremism, violence, and in short taking Pakistan backwards. The other is trying to project a normal, civilised and progressive society in Pakistan (I will not use the word ‘liberal’ – since it has now come to have wrong connotations in Pakistan).

    Choose which Pakistan do you want to be part of?!

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  • David Salmon
    Feb 14, 2012 - 6:52AM

    To be sure. Someone to bell the cat.

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  • Mir Agha
    Feb 14, 2012 - 8:45AM

    If one is to take this (false) dichotomy further, one has to completely disagree with your opinion that the leftists don’t use or support violence in order to advance their narrow world-view. The left likes to hide behind “legitimate” entities to advance its agenda: the military operations in fata that kill men, women, and children, support for “war on terror” from the current government/establishment, and towing pentagon and langley narratives that are essential to carry out brutal terror. Their agents of violence wear uniform, fly high above the clouds, and push buttons from half-way around the world. You could call the agents of violence from the other side – supposedly the right – less hypocritical and less cowardice.

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  • usman
    Feb 14, 2012 - 9:38AM

    the editorial is balanced as it calls for not shedding held beliefs but tolerance for opposed beliefs and renunciation of violence in prving eminence of one particular belief. It calls for a modus vivendi of two Pakistans and let the rational one win the day not by violence but reason.

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  • SharifL
    Feb 14, 2012 - 11:02AM

    When people are killed in a country for disagreeing with illeberal laws, the so-called ‘liberal’ party being charged with contempt of court, their leaders being killed for the last 35 years, the stand for a liberal society has to come in small doses. But that is not sufficient to change anything in Pakistan. In my view the number of liberals is very small and reading english papers do not convey accurate picture.
    Things will get worse before they get better.

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  • naeem mullah
    Feb 14, 2012 - 6:25PM

    currently Pakistani masses fade of all so called well heeled elite and jihad’s nor likes politician neither any new emerging party in Pakistan believe in change. all these people have has metro- moli- alliance. all have own agenda and they want to sale hopeless and helpless people of Pakistan.

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  • Asam Baloch
    Feb 14, 2012 - 11:45PM

    the elite who attended the festival are laregly the ones who created the other side of paskitan(call it DPC) and they will never want that side of pakistan to vanish no matter how afraid they are from it.
    you will find an industrialist,feudral,breaurocrate or army behind every elite family who delibertely created the famous’ opiam’ called religion and to create parallel education system to protect their feifdom.Recommend

  • sIDHARTHA
    Feb 14, 2012 - 11:50PM

    nice editorial, but the point is that the two gatherings are not same at all, one 1 side we have religious fanatics who want to solve every problem with weapons and want to impose their brutal agenda forcefully on the people and on the other hand we have rational and educated layer who wants to understands the requirements of the time.DPC based its agenda on the obsolete issues which historically and by the objective conditions are about to die(the concept of nation state and national industry),and thy are since 1947 has been rejected by the masses on every ground.while on other other side peolple know that now the social ,economical and other problem will be and can be solved by mutual dialogues. now youth is capable of judging the difference bw the two…n u will see as aid get started all such fanatics will vanished from the scene.

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  • Cynical
    Feb 15, 2012 - 1:58PM

    And there is a third Pakistan who is tired of both the categories mentioned in the article.
    While liberals continue to preach to the converted,extremists continue with their mayhem.

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  • Singh
    Feb 15, 2012 - 8:46PM

    Above all both side given a chance will migrate to west with whole family without any hesitation especially to USA.

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  • Shakky
    Feb 15, 2012 - 10:43PM

    Creating two Pakistans is a great idea. Lets give the religious extremists their own country so that everyone else can live in peace. Let them take the name Pakistan – they seem fairly attached to it. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare after they implement their ridiculous bigoted ideas and are subsequently ostracized by the rest of the world. In the meantime, the other country will be free to implement progressive civilized reforms and hold its head high as a proud member of the community of nations. It’ll be fun to wave to the Dafan-i-Pakistan from across the border.Recommend

  • Barbara
    Feb 16, 2012 - 4:55AM

    As the article stated concerning the DPC, “This is part of a generally anti-American agenda that centres on supporting both the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban as a legitimate resistance to the US”.

    If the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban were only putting up a legitimate resistance to the US, this would be a believable agenda. Unfortunately, the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban continue to conduct both random and planned attacks against civilians and institutions that do not conform to their belief system. Both groups are creating mayhem, chaos and instability in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.

    It appears that the main agenda of the DPC is to ensure that both countries will be ruled by the Taliban.

    It is interesting that the DPC calls specifically for a continuation of the ban on Nato trucks passing through Pakistan, vowing to stop them by any means necessary should the government permit them to operate.

    It is irrelevant if the ban on Nato trucks is continued or removed. This blatant statement indicates that the DPC is willing to override (or possibly overthrow) the elected government in Pakistan to implement their own agenda.

    Pakistanis must choose between chaos, extremism and violence, or trying to create a civilised and progressive society in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Cynical
    Feb 16, 2012 - 1:12PM

    @Shakky

    A novel idea.Should be given a try.

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