Of scripted marches

Published: January 17, 2013

Just as we had thought that Pakistan was reaching a major watershed in its political history, the old spectre of religion misused for politics has arisen to haunt us. At the time of writing these lines, tens of thousands of spiritual disciples of a moderate mullah have assembled outside Parliament House in Islamabad, claiming to represent 180 million Pakistanis. The central character Dr Tahirul Qadri, neither elusive nor transparent, is a man with a mission. His agenda — couched in reformist language and anti-corruption jargon — is vague and rhetorical, except that it brazenly disregards a consensus that the Constitution of Pakistan drafted, restored and amended with historic struggles. Pakistan’s history is nothing but the quest for domination by unelected, post-colonial institutions trying to prevent democracy from taking root. The underlying argument for autocracy and top-down governance has been the supposed “incompetence”, “corruption”, and “ineligibility” of civilians to govern the country. I have met many a bureaucrat who is convinced that politicians at the local level are not capable enough to rule local institutions. Similarly, from Iskandar Mirza to General Musharraf, all military strongmen have made similar claims about the inability of the political class to manage national institutions. Pakistani children read textbooks that glorify autocrats and ‘saviours’ of all kinds, and therefore, their acceptance for authoritarianism is pretty high by the time they enter adulthood.

Dr Qadri wants the electoral system to be cleansed of corrupt politicians. General Ayub’s regime enacted laws in 1959 to disqualify corrupt politicians. Before every election, such tall claims are made. General Zia raised the slogan of ‘accountability first, elections later’, Farooq Leghari promised the same in 1996, and our most recent ‘saviour’, General Musharraf, also kept on reiterating the same throughout the years of his dictatorship. Consequently, we are a country with large numbers of influential people in media, academia, bureaucracy, and other spheres, who hold that the worthless crooks, i.e. the politicians need to be ousted every time we get on to the business of implementing democracy.

Politicians, on the other hand, are not the best role models available. Even the most daring and visionary of them i.e. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was nurtured by the military in the 1960s. His successors followed suit and always found engagement and deals with the military as the route to power. Quite honestly, what else can they do when the rules of the game are determined by the civil-military apparatus of yore, and military-intelligence complex of today!

This is why Tahirul Qadri’s faux revolution is both suspicious and dangerous for the future of Pakistan’s democratic trajectory. We know that the military has denied any role in spurring this ‘revolution’ and, frankly, there is little evidence to counter its claim. However, the advocacy of unconstitutional solutions to Pakistan’s political problems smacks of the GHQ script used in 1958, 1969, 1977 and 1999. The same obsessions — corruption, misgovernance, incompetence and ‘loot maar’ — appear to be the underlying reason for this revolution. Marx and Marxists worldwide would be devastated at the abuse of the term ‘long march’, which is being used to invoke the unelected institutions i.e. the judiciary, the military and the media, to undermine and sabotage the will of the people and representative governance.

The other dimension of this ‘revolution’ concerns the assumed shift within Pakistan’s security doctrine. There have been reports of a big strategic rethink underway, which attempts to replace jihadist Islam with a moderate face in line with the global pressure on Pakistan to do something about its Deobandi-Salafi strategic assets. Perhaps these speculations are far-fetched, and only time will tell how far the state has moved on. One reality is getting clearer: the impending transfer of power, managed and overseen by civilians through parliamentary processes, is not seen as a great idea as it might squeeze the already-shrinking space for military domination in Pakistan’s public life.

The forthcoming elections, now facing a question mark, are likely to return a prodigal-son-gone-rebel Nawaz Sharif or the wily chess player Zardari back into power, and that too within a few months! Such a prospect is troublesome for many within the enclaves of Pakistani state power. Therefore, the failed ‘Bangladesh model’ of neutral technocratic caretakers looms on the limited imagination of the power-wielders. Qadri could push events towards that. Or he may just succeed halfway in getting a caretaker arrangement which inspires confidence among the unelected bosses of Pakistan. Regardless of what happens next, this is the gravest challenge to Pakistan’s democratic process since 2007 when Benazir Bhutto was murdered in Rawalpindi and the country was gripped by anarchy and uncertainty.

This is also a time for testing the honed skills of President Zardari, who is no walkover, and the measured instincts of Nawaz Sharif, who has been through the mill over decades. Imran Khan, whose legitimacy also hangs in the balance, will need to show more foresight than he has demonstrated thus far. Above all, Pakistan’s out-of-control electronic media needs to remember that by celebrating extra-constitutional deviations, it may just be inflicting self-harm by curbing its own future freedoms.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Mirza
    Jan 17, 2013 - 12:40AM

    A thought provoking political analysis for the future of democracy and Pakistan. You said it all when you state the facts “advocacy of unconstitutional solutions to Pakistan’s political problems smacks of the GHQ script used in 1958, 1969, 1977 and 1999. The same obsessions — corruption, misgovernance, incompetence and ‘loot maar’ — appear to be the underlying reason for this revolution.” We have been fooled by the same script again and again and are willing one more time. In a country where people still go to mullahs to double their money and jewels, send women who do not have children or for male kid, go when they are sick instead of doctors says all about our national character. We love to hear the lies and big claims without details or proofs. We do not question the timings of all things happening on just one or two days at the same time!


  • Arindom
    Jan 17, 2013 - 1:04AM

    I think Muslims in general and Pakistan in paticular are not made for Democracy. The people should stop trying to impose “democracy” and instead set up either an Islamic Theocracy or encourage the army to set up another Dictatorship. I say this because Pakistan tries to be ‘Democratic’, but insists on barring minorities from top offices, implement patently unjust laws like ‘Blashphemy Laws’ to harass and kill minorities, declare itself a ‘Citadel of Islam’, nurture Extremists as ‘Strategic Assets, surrender all Foreign and Defence Policy to the Army and so on. So why try to get a sham democracy at all when the core of the country is anything but?


  • Saleem
    Jan 17, 2013 - 1:49AM

    Author what democracy are you talking about. The one based on NRO. The political parties do not have democracy in their set up. Stop calling corruptocracy as democracy. Look up the requisites of a democracy and stop calling mafia bosses politicians.


  • Jan 17, 2013 - 3:21AM

    Odd number years, really proving odd for Pakistan


  • shahid
    Jan 17, 2013 - 3:30AM

    How about joining hands with your friends who share your views and ideas and leading a similar march to Islamabad to counter this march?


  • Jan 17, 2013 - 6:29AM

    @ Arindom: What makes you think that Muslims and Pakistani Muslims in particular are not good (or bad enough) for democracy? Are we less (or more) human, is there a problem with our genes and if so, what is the reason for that change in our genetic make-up, which make us unique from all the humankind and civilizations that history has seen so far? Sorry but I am as much curious as I am annoyed.
    All the reasons you have given are products of dictatorial regimes. For example, military has taken over foreign policy by force; strategic assets doctrine has again been a creation of the military. Pakistani military and civilian establishment, in nexus with the mullahs, have indoctrinated the rest of us long enough. Let us breathe some fresh air, now. Please!


  • Jan 17, 2013 - 10:57AM

    So we should keep on quoting such things and allow two parties what they want to do? Those were also the politicians who support these dictators. Current assembly 2/3 member are same as Musheraf assembly…What is the difference between democracy and dictatorship than??

    We should come forward and purify our politics according to our constitution. Regardless to this that these salogan use by dictator or any one else.


  • Sajida
    Jan 17, 2013 - 12:05PM

    That lawyers march just set the stage for more. Should have thought about future. Anyway, these marches happen all the time in India. Pakistan Governments should just learn to accept them.There is the recent rape case, the marches against corruption, the landless march etc.
    Rural India marches on Delhi over landless poor


  • Jan 17, 2013 - 12:27PM


    Genetically no, Pakistanis and Indians are the same. Historically and Spiritually, Indians and Pakistanis are not at all alike!

    Historically speaking, you hear of Jinnah, not accepting the simple principles of Democracy and asking for special privileges. When refused, he resorted to violence, calling it Direct Action, curiously during the month of Ramzan. He used the communal passions and created Pakistan. The very people who he opposed are Gandhi and Nehru, giants and icons for people the world over! Secularists, Humanists and people who believed in Democracy. Thats the brief of it with History.

    Spiritually speaking, Islam is a much more Politically oriented Religion than the Religions and cultures of the sub-continent. Be it Buddha, Mahaveer or Gandhi, all have put non-violence above all else!

    Islam is strictly codified and being politically oriented make a potent combination. It opens up Islam for violent interpretation, much more than any other Religion! You see this with Muslim majority countries all over the world! Even Turkey has a Islamist premier. Malaysia, a modern country, with 40 non-Muslim population, implements Sharia.

    There’s not getting out of this. First there will be a call for Sharia, then an Islamic state. Thats the trend in most countries which have Muslim majority. Egypt just adopted a islamic leaning Constitution, Ethiopia is struggling with its minority Muslim population, India has separate laws for Muslims, Mali is turning Islamic. So many countries.. Same trend..


  • Jan 17, 2013 - 12:30PM

    Democracy is not in Pakistan’s blood, simple..


  • Usman
    Jan 17, 2013 - 1:52PM

    Article is nothing but a conspiracy theory


  • Ayz
    Jan 17, 2013 - 2:07PM

    @BruteForce: There are far too many contradictions in your argument for me to address but I’ll try to address two of them anyway.

    First, your thesis (that the failure of democracy in Pakistan is because it’s a majority Muslim state) conveniently neglects all of the Christian majority states in Africa that are also struggling to implement an effective democracy. Just look at what’s going on with the upcoming elections in Kenya. Or the recent rebel advances in CAR. Or the wide spread claims of voter fraud in Ghana. To me these examples point to a cause other than Islam for the failure of democracy in a lot of developing nations.

    And second, your examples of Turkey and Egypt only serve to prove exactly the opposite; that not only can Islam and democracy co-exist but that the religious right can succeed in their goals (whether or not one agrees with them) through a democratic process!


  • elementary
    Jan 17, 2013 - 3:58PM

    @BruteForce: You are as much misinformed as you are biased.
    Your Historical arguments is just claims ……I can make any such numer of claims for the opposite.
    Your spiritual argument does not discuss the spirituality of Islam and veers off to the political(not spiritual) aspect that too seen with a tainted glasses of bias.


  • elementary
    Jan 17, 2013 - 4:25PM

    If majority of the populace is kept illiterate, superstitious,dependent and starved by the dynastic politicians ( as is now the case in Pakistan) such a sham democracy even if allowed to continue for next hundred years will yield the same results. Especially when every criticism ,of the democratic process as practiced or political leaders, is seen as attack on democracy itself and is sternly hushed up. I can’t see the difference between this and Monarchy, except for the futile exercise of polling every 5 years or so.
    Without a more robust way of improving the democratic process oligarchy of these dynastic politicians can hardly be called democracy.
    Reading my comment people will think that I am in favour of military/Hero take over and against democracy (which I am not ) and that kind of proves my point.


  • Jan 17, 2013 - 4:49PM


    “Your Historical arguments is just claims ……I can make any such numer of claims for the opposite.”

    Direct Action is a claim? Jinnah calling for it during Ramzan is a claim?


    “Moslem League Boss Mohamed Ali Jinnah had picked the 18th day of Ramadan for “Direct Action Day” against Britain’s plan for Indian independence (which does not satisfy the Moslems’ old demand for a separate Pakistan)”

    Do you want me to quote Pakistani Historians?

    “Your spiritual argument does not discuss the spirituality of Islam and veers off to the political”

    Of course! They are one and the same in Islam!!

    Look at most Muslim countries around the world. They are caught between, literally, implementing Sharia and Islam; and modernity..


  • Anas
    Jan 17, 2013 - 6:32PM

    Raza Rumi: Is there such a thing as a “RIGHT TO RESIST”? Have you forgotten civil disobedience movements – perhaps even anticolonial movements that were necessary to topple the British? I recommend that you read Hannah Arendt’s essay or maybe some other jurisprudential and political theory. There are legal principles that underpin written law – it isn’t the other way around.
    Millions of people are “really” suffering at the moment…its not a joke. And what idiom would they use to articulate their grievances other than that of religion, when law has proved to be entirely defunct for the masses.


  • Shiv
    Jan 17, 2013 - 8:02PM

    Well, Turkey went through the same cycle of military rule before it stabilized politically. Even today, I would say Turkey is treading a fine line a little away from military rule.
    Egypt is not a democracy. They used the democratic process but is slowly and surely moving towards autocracy. Note the riots post the election of Morsi and his attempts to grab absolute power.
    You cite the example of other non muslim countries and the chaos there. You are right here. At the end of the day, the culture or religion of a community should inherently promote a refreshing, open and democratic mindset. Does any islamic society have such value systems in their kernel?


  • Jan 19, 2013 - 6:23AM

    Thanks Bruteforce, for the reply. I am sorry but I cant buy in your argument. Jinnah might not be the best example to quote as “a Muslim democrat”. But then, I admit I don’t see many examples. There might be many, if we look closely though. That is, people who are practicing Muslims yet believe in democratic norms, after all, at least some of these, though not all have already been exhibited during these centuries that Islam has been around.
    Secondly, it’s not Islam per se but religions in general have been the subject of extreme (and casual) interpretations and hence subject to political use/ misuse. Examples have been given, though you may still want to have a look at catholic South America or Orthodox eastern Europe.
    I, for one, have no doubt we as Pakistanis and Muslims are just a bunch of normal guys and lessons of history apply to us as much as they do to anyone else. That is, we are not worse or better off in any way, then rest of the humankind when it comes to power, politics and even the adoption of religion in our daily or political lives.


  • Jan 19, 2013 - 1:51PM


    “Secondly, it’s not Islam per se but religions in general have been the subject of extreme (and casual) interpretations and hence subject to political use/ misuse. “

    You did not get me. I didn’t say other Religions are perfect or are not misinterpreted. I am saying some Religions are most prone to “violent interpretation”, more than other Religions. Islam fits the bill perfectly here.

    Christianity is one Religion most similar to Islam and I am not defending it in anyway. Christianity’s history is too drenched in blood, but Jesus didn’t carry a sword and hence, the non-violent people can use the source to push their interpretation. Gandhi too used Jesus to shut the Britishers up many times. Sacrifice and Love were Gandhi’s and Jesus’s biggest weapons.

    Religions like Buddhism are least prone to violent interpretation. Thats because the very essence of the teachings of Gautama Buddha is steeped in the Indian ethos of non-violence and strict vegetarianism. There can be NO violent interpretation in his teachings.

    Not all Religions are the same and if you can’t understand this simple fact, you will go wrong more often than not.

    “I, for one, have no doubt we as Pakistanis and Muslims are just a bunch of normal guys “

    No. Not people are the same. Society, values and upbringings differ and that matters. History and dominant cultural ethos of the geography matters. Islamic ethos are completely different from Hindu ethos.

    Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism are so alike! Eating habits are strictly vegetarian and all were born in india. All this does matter.

    Religions do play a role in how a society is formed and you know this too. Most Islamic societies display similar behaviour. India is home to many nations and these nations have majority Hindu population. All these nations within India behave similarly.


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