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November 9, 2018

Still at a standstill


November 9, 2018

The country was brought to a standstill by a frenzied mob last week, with a sheer display of disdain towards the Pakistani state, people and its institutions. Emboldened by a lukewarm response of the incumbent government, the TLP-led mob carried out a campaign to mutilate the ethical, pluralistic and rational face of our society and impose a new political idiom.

Attacking at secular elements, moderate Muslims, minorities and progressive political forces is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. But this time around, it was full of murderous intent. Khadim Hussain Rizvi mobilised the youth from the lower socioeconomic strata who unleashed a reign of terror across the country, forcing the government and security agencies to succumb to the mounting pressure of looming political unrest and bloodshed.

This was perhaps the beginning of a new era of religious politics in Pakistan spearheaded by an ideologue of the hitherto pacifist Barelvi brand of Islam. Khadim Hussain Rizvi advocates violence and vulgarity as a means of political expression. The TLP’s political tactics are more sinister than those employed by other religious outfits in the past because of the political mood of upfront confrontation with the state, particularly those institutions that are perceived to have pampered such violent religio-political parties in the past.

The equation is not so simple this time with the diffusion of power centres in the age of social media and information technology. There are multiple power loci in the age of social media. The monopoly over knowledge and narratives has been challenged through the very process of knowledge production and its use in the age of the free flow of information.

Having said that, it would be imprudent to believe that this dispersion of knowledge has necessarily led to a better and equitable world. There is no doubt that knowledge production has become a public enterprise and an open source of shared ventures. But this very phenomenon has reduced the human agency of transformative assertion into a virtual world of capricious palm tops.

The simulated world of windowed wisdom has disengaged citizens by turning them into good consumers of cyberonomics – a virtual economy that doesn’t account for public ethics, social cohesion, equity, intellect and human welfare. Cyberonomics creates celebrities out of people like Donald Trump, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, and many others of their ilk.

The edicts issued by Khadim Hussain Rizvi against the top brass of state institutions are no less than sedition. Unmoved by this blatant mood of religious extremists to attack national institutions, the government and other key state functionaries acted like the minions of some medieval monarchy.

The credibility of the government in protecting the fundamental rights of the people to live a life with dignity and peace was badly shaken. Much has been changed in international politics since the era of the cold war, except for our conventional political wisdom about the strategic assets of the state. The monster has grown too big to be tamed for strategic objectives and it is time to rethink policy choices to safeguard the national interest. It is time to formulate a hybrid and multipronged strategy to address the challenges of diplomatic isolation that the country has faced despite its sacrifices as a frontline state in the war on terror.

A stable and consistent foreign policy requires a stable domestic political system, strong institutions, and economic stability. Unfortunately, the country has witnessed political turmoil coupled with an economic meltdown and cultural degeneration in recent years. Religious extremists have been able to exploit this situation to galvanise political support through slogans of the fanciful dreams of prosperity and welfare.

From the politics of the water crisis and moral self-righteousness to the anti-corruption mantra, Pakistan has become a battleground for polarising groups vying to control state apparatuses as the ultimate goal. Gaps between the people and the ruling class have widened in recent months due to the disillusionment with the government that has failed to deliver on its promises of change. The unidimensional narrative of change by cleansing the political system of corrupt politicians has lost lustre, partly because the anti-corruption drive has been selective and political in nature.

The PTI’s torchbearers of a corruption-free Pakistan carry the blemishes of corruption and plunder as most of them have served under dictatorial regimes in the past to protect their ill-gotten wealth. The most visible contradiction of the slogan of Naya Pakistan is that its very political architects have been part and parcel of the old system and will continue to benefit from it.

The inflated political sense of a welfare state is also losing its meaning in the face of mounting inflation wherein the poor have to bear the brunt of economic recovery. The government has also failed to provide a roadmap or inception plan of its five-year strategy to transform the economy and reduce the burden on the poor.

The old taxation system continues to work, albeit with more taxes being imposed on the poor and the middle class. Meanwhile, the rich enjoy amnesties like they did in ‘Old Pakistan’. Contrary to its claims of introducing drastic tax reforms by broadening the tax net, the government has, in fact, reversed some rudimentary reforms introduced by the previous government.

The current government claims to have the panacea to treat all our political and economic ills, but it has failed to offer even a single policy guideline to address the ever-increasing political and economic instability in the country. The government seems to be waiting for a miracle to take place that will rid the country of all its accumulated problems and herald the dawn of Naya Pakistan.

In fact, there is less focus on governance reforms while a new wave of events have unfolded in the recent past that repudiate the promises of Naya Pakistan and reflect the PTI’s governmentality. From beating a citizen in Karachi and deposing a DCO in Punjab to suspending the Islamabad IG, the story of the PTI’s governmentality has been a detrimental affair, risking the sanctity of public institutions and the fair play of public-office holders.

The will to exercise discretionary powers at the cost of institutional processes is the only visible political intent thus far vis-a-vis good governance.

There are no easy answers to the simple question of why we have become a pariah nation in the international community. Our streets, neighbourhoods, public places, and social spaces of expression are being ruled by fear-mongering thugs, moral goons, baton-laden mobs and anti-social elements that can bring our cities to a standstill within hours. It seems as if they are the ones who call the shots when it comes to introducing reforms to strengthen democratic processes. Human curiosity, inquisition and reason have been pushed to the margins. In these lean times when the politics of sanity is needed, we must discover alternative ways of reclaiming our social spaces.

Can we defeat the monster of our own making or do we still have an axe to grind? When the assets turn into liabilities, the prudent way is to dispose them off.

The writer is a senior socialdevelopment and policy adviser,and a freelance columnist based

in Islamabad.


Twitter: @AmirHussain76

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