Friday, July 4, 2014

Daily Times Editorial July 5, 2014

July 5, 1977 and how we got here It is 37 years to the day today when the process of altering state and society in a retrograde direction took off. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s (ZAB’s) PPP had won a majority of seats in what was then West Pakistan in the 1970 elections, but to ZAB’s chagrin, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League had won a simple majority because of its popularity in then East Pakistan, assisted by the boycott of the elections by progressive parties such as National Awami Party (Bhashani). The inherent contradiction in denying the majority of the people of united Pakistan their right to form a government of their choice led inexorably towards a bloody civil war, foreign intervention, and the breakup of an internationally isolated Pakistan, relegated to virtual pariah status because of the cruelties heaped on the people of what became Bangladesh. The military junta that overthrew General Yahya Khan’s inept military coterie installed ZAB in power on the basis of his majority of seats in the remaining Pakistan’s National Assembly. The PPP had swept the elections in Punjab and Sindh on a radical programme of ‘Islamic Socialism’. The latter half of this slogan was implemented in the shape of nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, land reforms (infructuous in the end), and gestures in the direction of rights to the people. This aroused a coalition of private property owners affected by the reforms, right wing political parties and the religious lobby against ZAB. The first half of the slogan translated into concessions to religious reactionaries, such as the anti-Ahmedi law, banning alcohol, changing the weekly off to Friday, etc, in what turned out to be a vain effort to appease the right wing religious forces. ZAB’s authoritarian ways in Balochistan and (then) NWFP and against any and all political opposition ensured this coalition’s life and effectiveness, particularly in the aftermath of the 1977 massively rigged elections. The opposition’s Pakistan National Alliance, once invited for negotiations with the government, came tantalisingly close to settling matters with ZAB for fresh elections. But COAS General Ziaul Haq struck that very night of July 4-5, 1977, with later accounts from participants in the negotiations process pinpointing differences over Balochistan as being at the heart of the military’s coup against ZAB’s government. The nightmare had begun. General Zia turned out to be so Machiavellian as not to hesitate to misuse the emotional attachment of Pakistan’s Muslim majority with their faith to twist and turn state and society in a direction that was inherently rigid in thought, intolerant in essence, and willing to open the door to first religiosity, then extremism, and finally terrorism in the name of Islamic jihad. Of course this project was ably and fundamentally helped by the Afghan wars. Pakistan today reflects these developments and suffers from the depredations involved in releasing the religious genie from the bottle, to the detriment not only of what the founding fathers of Pakistan envisaged, but also what enlightened, liberal, democratic and progressive individuals and forces see as the only possible future that offers any hope of wrestling control of the minds of large numbers of the people of Pakistan out of the cul de sac of blighted religious narrowness. The reason why this is proving an uphill struggle is because this necessary coalition of forces opposed to the negative trends that have set in over the last 37 years is itself scattered, weak, disorganised, and without the capability of giving effective voice to their ideas. There have been voices heard of late bemoaning the fact that in the current context of the anti-terrorism struggle, military means alone will not suffice. What can and must strengthen the hands of the antiterrorist front is the counter-narrative to the ides of the fanatics and terrorists. That counter-narrative is conspicuous by its absence. Appeals to the government to make efforts in this regard seem to have fallen on deaf (or even incapable) ears. It is therefore the duty of the enlightened, liberal, democratic, progressive camp to take up this task in earnest. Governments come and go. The timeline of this effort is not and cannot be confined to one government’s tenure. Rooting out reactionary ideas and attitudes may take years. All the more reason that a beginning be made now.

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