The video of two parliamentarians being forcibly offloaded a PIA flight from Karachi to Islamabad has gone viral. The incident is generally being viewed as an indicator of how a peculiar behaviour, which was associated with old style patronage politics, will get challenged. The national carrier may find it increasingly difficult to treat its passengers differently — trap over two hundred souls in an aircraft while allowing VIPs to sit in a comfortable lounge as the aircraft recovers for two hours from its technical problems. Surely we can all clap at the event as a forward movement, this also indicates militant attitudes creeping into our political and social lives. Here I am not taking a position for or against but only suggesting what has changed.
This is not even an isolated incident. Those enjoying video evidence must also see the manner in which the police have been taking a thrashing from the ‘Naya Pakistan’ protestors. While we can all sympathise with Imran Khan’s right to change the political tone, it would be worthwhile for him to envision how he would, if he did become the prime minister of this country, put the genie back into the bottle. Much that he likes to compare himself with Jinnah, Imran would not be able to ensure that the same police, which get battered and bruised during the rule of his opponents, will get respected when he becomes the man in charge. No one seems willing to tell the story of the tired policemen who have been doing their duty for the last 30 days with little to boost their ego.
Many believe that the police deserve such treatment because they are corrupt. But then which element of our law and security apparatus is not? The bigger issue is that people would like to target any weak segment of what is considered as a colonial state. Here are these uniformed people, who are probably awe struck by Imran’s celebrity status and a realisation that if they tried to do their duty and stop him from forcibly freeing PTI workers and get beaten in response, the state machinery will not stand for them. One has to look carefully at what at least some of the demonstrators are fighting for — is it to introduce a new system in the country usable by all or to shift power from the old elite to the new? I am reminded of my recent visits to some of the parks in Defence, Lahore, where the guards sitting outside ensure that members of the working class does not get in and sit around as they are viewed as ‘disturbing’ to the health conscious begum sahibs walking there, some of whom go regularly to the dharnas.
Perhaps, this is the new change in which a new elite will push the old one to a corner. This is certainly not the time for old behaviour. No justification for not comprehending that the mob can set the rules faster and more brutally. The elite can no longer take cover of a weak state against an increasingly powerful mob.
Notwithstanding justification for change, both democracy and the concept of evolutionary change has taken a big hit. This is not to argue that people wouldn’t stand up for their right but stating a fact that the PTI/PAT versus old parties politics has severely damaged democracy. Watching the sit-ins, the people’s increased wretchedness, and the directionless and knee-jerk response from the government, who would want to believe in democracy? It is now becoming fashionable to argue that democracy has done nothing to serve the people’s interests. It has left a scar that will be difficult to erase even if Imran Khan finds his way to the throne.
There certainly are beneficiaries of the anti-democracy rhetoric. While the outside world and the international donors may look at Tahirul Qadri as a man with ideas to restore moderate Islam to Pakistan, the natural beneficiaries of his kind of politics are the militants and ultra-religious right who are at the forefront condemning democracy. The new al Qaeda leadership, for instance, argues for destruction of the four pillars of democracy — the Parliament, the judiciary, the civil bureaucracy and the media. They are not the only ones. Then there are the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the Islamic State and a few others who argue for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. Their argument being that since democracy is an evil system, which is anti-Islamic, it should be eliminated and replaced with an Islamic system of governance. The narrative is that many hundreds of years ago there was an Islamic state where it was all peaceful, laws were followed, the caliph used to stitch his own clothes and roam around the streets in search for those who were not given justice. Those were also the times when the Islamic world, we are told, excelled in science, art and literature. Notwithstanding inherent flaws in a linear linkage between a particular system of governance and advancements made during the period, the fact is that we are gradually creeping towards a situation where an Islamic caliphate becomes the only possible (if not viable) option. In many ways, the so-called liberal and the militants share the same space as far as the future of the state is concerned. The former believe that democracy is redundant and the latter are waiting for the liberal and other societal elements to get sufficiently tired of the system to suggest replacing it with another one.
Of course, the blame for such impending death of democracy is not just on the new political elite but the old one as well. Pakistan has passed the stage of evolution. We will see a revolution happen in parts which will be even messier and prolonged. One ditch effort is for members of the ruling elite to remember that they will have to cover their old habits quicker and nicely as has the leadership of the new political actors. It is a long game of narratives which may already have been lost. Even militants know better how battles are won through capturing people’s imagination.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2014.