Return of Nationalism

Published: December 25, 2014
The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc. She tweets @iamthedrifter

The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc. She tweets @iamthedrifter

What the founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah could not probably achieve may well be achieved by the tragic killing of 132 children in Pakistan — a more ideologically and politically cohesive state with a common or shared narrative. Everything that does not belong will either be ignored or pushed under the carpet.

The Peshawar tragedy has turned a new chapter in Pakistan’s life and history. The images of 141 dead bodies were so gruesome and overpowering that it is enough to silence us for a long time. Why ask bothersome and embarrassing questions about how national security was conducted, how different groups worked as proxies, or who is more to blame when ultimately what we want the most is our physical security. This also means that politics and dissent will have to take a backseat for the foreseeable future. This is a moment for existential re-definition.

When I wrote about the post-Peshawar moment not being our 9/11, a knowledgeable friend was quick to point out that actually this was indeed the case. Indeed, 9/11 had provided the essential rationale for the US to attack and destroy the enemy, build its heinous prisons like Guantanamo and carried out torture that came to the fore through a recently leaked report. The American state and society developed a consensus on a narrative that raised the essential issue of an existential crisis, which required re-setting the political and ideological standards to secure their homeland. Not only that the military would go and strike the enemy hard where it hurt, it would also have to define the enemy clearly and give precedence to national security over all other issues. While people such as Noam Chomsky kept reminding that this narrative changed the US to be like the enemy it wanted to eliminate, this didn’t make much of a difference. The average American was happy to shut his/her eyes while the state and its military did inhuman things with the enemy because it deserved nothing better. The ugly stories from Abu Ghraib had to be ignored. Protecting the state leaves no room for political or social niceties.

The US was just lucky or different that it had a well-entrenched democratic system. In our case, a political system has to be a direct or indirect casualty. For many, what is the use of keeping useless politicians who defend the militants and have relations with them? The political government, in any case, is too exhausted and has surrendered to the new reality. So, as some seem to be actively arguing on social media, would it even matter if the political government is sacrificed? Isn’t there a need to create a new Pakistan which looks different from the old one? In any case, even if the sitting government is not killed off, it will now remain confined to the backseat, taking ownership of state policy, which it may not be the author of.

The political class in general will have to understand the fact that the popular political narrative has been re-defined and no longer favours them. Ultimately, it is the military which saved the people, the first one to execute terrorists and the sole guarantor of security. Recently, I had the chance to see a message on Facebook comparing politicians with generals. While the former send their children abroad, the latter send their children to fight wars. No denying such service, but the more important issue is that politicians have little to market. Even the liberal civil society protesting outside the Lal Masjid seems to be endorsing this opinion. The chant from the crowd is why did the politicians provide security to Maulana Aziz? The crowd feels safe to challenge the mullah, who once ran away in a burqa because it finds the military on the same side as itself — going after the militant-mullah and imaging to liberalise the space. Of course, in the process, no one dare ask deeper questions about how the militant was produced, what is its politics and why many of the militants continue to roam around safely in many other parts of the country. Many in the crowd in front of the Lal Masjid and other parts of the country have begun to understand not to burden the military with more questions. As someone tweeted the other day: “initial response to Peshawar attack to go after both bad and good Taliban has now settled for ‘we stand with the army’”. Ultimately, the movement for regaining liberal space will manage to rescue just the social space at the cost of the political. There is even a greater problem with the new liberal narrative as it does not understand the depth of the militancy-radicalism problem. At least Maulana Aziz said what is in the hearts of many others of his ilk all over the place. Moreover, controlling the pulpit is not as easy as it may sound.

What has been buried with the 141 bodies in Peshawar is also dissent against the new national security narrative and the state. In the coming months and days, it may be difficult to ask questions about dumped dead bodies or missing people. There is, in fact, the likelihood of an increase in such actions because, like in the US, excessive questions are distracting. People are eager to see dead bodies of terrorists. It doesn’t matter if the military goes in partnership and kills the terrorists using American drones. Perhaps, many who made anti-drone films and talked against drone attacks will now have to chew their findings. There will be even lesser patience in urban Pakistan for causes that they were never a part of. So, stories of atrocities in Balochistan, Sindh or Fata will go out of fashion. Lest we forget, Chaudhry Nisar has already announced that the military does not kill women and children during its operations. And if there are stories of collateral damage and atrocity, these may not necessarily be told.

Wars or war-like crises often result in rebirth of patriotism which, in any case, is a highly linear narrative. The process of creating an ideologically cohesive state has now passed a significant milestone.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th,  2014.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • Zari
    Dec 25, 2014 - 12:29AM

    What a depressing read !


  • raider
    Dec 25, 2014 - 2:05AM

    after having go through this very piece and umpteen other writers writing about ill deeds and brutal killing and retaliation by govt and army, but i have just one question to this and all other writers and whole nation what is the cause of this terrorism


  • Omair Sohail
    Dec 25, 2014 - 2:07AM

    It is unfortunate that our nation is once again prepared to dust the real issues under the rug. For decades have we successfully found new enemies for us to fight and focus our energies on. This ememy was preceded by India, the Godless Communists and countless others and will be succeeded by Afghan Taliban, BLA and many others. All the while, education, health and infrastructure will be neglected. Our Prime Minister has, after months of pressure, finally caved in to the quarters who were never willing to hand over to him the foreign policy in the first place. The news coming out of the PM house is that PSDP funds are being diverted to the war on terror and projects, initially projected to be completed in three years, are going to get delayed. It is mortifying that we, as a nation, are so lacking in foresight. A security state for eternity, we are. On other thought, the nation was far better discussing metro buses and electoral rigging than being hurled in a constant state of paranoia by our security brigade.


  • wb
    Dec 25, 2014 - 2:17AM

    “What the founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah could not probably achieve may well be achieved by the tragic killing of 132 children in Pakistan — a more ideologically and politically cohesive state with a common or shared narrative. “

    Nothing will change. Keep watching.

    How did 1971 change you? If such an even can’t change your country, this can’t.


  • Arsalan
    Dec 25, 2014 - 2:59AM

    This writer has a habit of finding negatives in every situation. What is happening in Pakistan is in fact the contrary. The horrific incident has opened up the government and armed forces to increased scrutiny. Members of civil society are now asking questions about all aspects of the Pakistani state. When a country is at war, certain security related steps have to be taken. Stop painting everything in a negative light and demoralising people.


  • MSS
    Dec 25, 2014 - 3:09AM

    Ayesha I hope and wish you are right in your assumptions. Realistically, a few hangings, a few speeches, a couple of policy statements and we will be back to normal, “Oh we can’t do this, but that is not in national interest, those are our special boys” etc. etc. Unless we hear clear enunciation of state policy targeting ALL terrorists regardless of their Intentions, and, action on that policy, Pakistan will not overcome this existential threat.


  • SKChadha
    Dec 25, 2014 - 7:37AM

    “Return-of-nationalism” …. Are you sure madam?


  • afroze
    Dec 25, 2014 - 7:51AM

    Win win for pak army !


  • Fareed
    Dec 25, 2014 - 9:06AM

    That is it, when pakistani institutions call the terrorist by their nationality I understood that is when nationalism is rising in Pakistan!


  • Nadir
    Dec 25, 2014 - 10:07AM

    Okara peasant farmers, Baloch, Sindh, GB activists, people not making way for DHAs and Agri land for Brigs and above beware….swift justice awaits you.


  • Naeem Khan
    Dec 25, 2014 - 10:49AM

    I have asked time and time again that who failed us. I have pointed out several times that the intelligence outfits has not done a good job. It should have been clear to every one that Army was fighting in North Wiziristan and there will be revenge and they will hit Army run institutions with soft bellies. I have questioned the cushy jobs of these intelligence agencies in Pakistan and also pointed out that in Pakistan no one is going to resign their jobs voluntarily because they failed the nation, some how this resignation thingy is not in our DNA. None of my comments has seen the daylight in ET and perhaps you may be right that such questions are bothersome any more. The ultimate weakness came to the surface when the PM and his colleague from different parties agreed to special courts run by the Army for two years, do they really think that extremism will be over in two years., It took 3 decades to reach to this stage and most likely the same time to pacify the extremists. Mind it there was no mention of repealing the draconian Hodood and Blasphemy laws and cleansing the school syllabus when prime minister stated the consensus goals to eradicate this menace of terrorism. Personally I am not going to have high hopes of this outfit in the Prime Minister House. Both brothers looked the other way while religious extremism was on the up swing in Southern Punjab as long as they did not create mischief in Punjab.


  • abhi
    Dec 25, 2014 - 10:57AM

    rightly said. With the level of illiteracy in Pakistan, militarily combating the terrorism is not possible. Pakistan need to spend more on education and building the society rather than doing shadow operations against militants.


  • Asghar Ramzan
    Dec 25, 2014 - 12:17PM

    can we called it “shock Doctrine” (To take a phrase from Naomi )??


  • Anjum Mannan
    Dec 25, 2014 - 2:08PM

    I see no reason why Ayesha must present an anti army view in all her writings. This is more like Asma Jahangir, and appears to seek browny points with a small group of PPP apologists at home and abroad. Army has had its share of faults, but the devastation caused by the so called democrats is indescribable.


  • Babur
    Dec 25, 2014 - 6:35PM

    Such negativity, only an Indian can say such things


  • Irshad Khan
    Dec 25, 2014 - 7:35PM

    We are a nation who can be easily exploited. There have been many many many big happenings which were forgotten just after few days. Remember loss of Kashmir, Junagarh and Hyderabd in the early days of Pakistan, Murder of Liaquat Ali Khan in Public, Dispute of Runn of Kuch, War of 1965 and our losses there-in including test of muscular power and benefits obtained by some politicians, Loss of half of the country in 1971 for the gain of power of some politicians, Loss of Siachin, acquiring of Kargil and then handing it back quickly to India by politicians. Interfering in the the Afghan war and allowing afghan refugees to our land and what not. Politicians have gained something for a short period in their their personal interest. The nation is now habitual of torture bearing psycology and is made to forget in waiting for another tragedy.


  • Wellwisher
    Dec 25, 2014 - 8:28PM

    Will Gen.Shariff handover Military Inc, I mean business interests of the Army, to the civilians. Will the Gen.Shariff take action against LeT/JuD etc. Will Gen.Shariff allow the Pakistan government to have normal business cum economic relationship with India. If he takes positive stand sooner than later, Pakistan’s path towards progress in peace would be more quicker.


  • Dec 25, 2014 - 9:46PM

    Great piece by Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, just read and think about it.


  • Sexton Blake
    Dec 25, 2014 - 11:17PM

    This was a good article by Ayesha Siddiqa, one of the the better ones I have read lately. Unfortunately, it mention Peshawar, and therefore like 9/11 sentiment tends to take over and rationality goes out the window. In America husbands kill their wives at a great rate on an annual basis, traffic deaths occur at a rate greater than 9/11, annual homicides are about 15,000. 9/11 deaths were just over 3,000. Similarly in Pakistan 3,500 people die every day and their loved ones quietly bury them without any fuss. US drones have roamed around Pakistan skies for many years and blown many more than 140 children to pieces. One could quote statistics ad infinitum, but at the end of the day 9/11 and Peshawar tend to stick out, and allow governments to introduce draconian legislation. Unfortunately, as the Americans have found to their sorrow and after spending a minimum of 600 trillion rupees militants abound and appear to be expanding. The US military, after bombing and killing hundreds of thousands of Muslim militants/ troops is still in Afghanistan, they have initiated their third invasion of Iraq, and Libya/Syria is not cooperating. Getting back to Pakistan, can we suggest that Pakistan will handle the situation any better than the US? I think not. The Pakistan people will have to accept a fate of high taxes, high military expenditure and routine mayhem for perhaps another 13 years, whilst living under draconian government legislation and brutal military forays.


  • Faizan
    Dec 26, 2014 - 12:12AM

    ISLAM AND JIHADRecommend

  • salman
    Dec 26, 2014 - 12:29AM

    The only way the above author can stay relevant is to always be cynical or critical of the army.
    What a disgrace to Pakistan the author is.


  • Sam@ABE
    Dec 26, 2014 - 1:12AM

    The author provides an interesting read and the Peshawar tragedy may well be a centripetal force in Pakistan. Another school of thought though is that the centrifugal forces generated are very high.


  • asd
    Dec 27, 2014 - 1:20AM

    No wonder Jinnah did what he did. You Indians are so full of hate. Thank God that Pakistan was created.


  • Khan of Jandul
    Dec 30, 2014 - 10:18AM

    stories may not be told, but people will know. Madam! This is age of globalization and means of communication are very advanced now. These days people do not watch PTV.


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