What can be done to set things right?
If anything, the Gulshan-e-Iqbal attack on innocent children women and the elderly sends two clear messages; that Pakistan society has changed and changed drastically from a forward-looking and tolerant society to a retrogressive and extremist one; and that a small minority of violent religious groups considers everyone not submitting to their brand of Islam as non-Muslim worthy of killing.
Three grave developments, occurring almost simultaneously, have rung alarm bells in the heads of majority of the people; the Lahore blast, violent protest in Islamabad by Mumtaz Qadri’s supporters and manhandling of Junaid Jamshed at Islamabad Airport. But the questions raised in its aftermath go beyond the immediate security or intelligence failure. They pertain to the degeneration of society as a whole, the erosion of the concept of state itself and the response of the state to the existential threat.
These are reasons enough to scare one to death; more so, the insufficient, some time, misguided response of the state to the grave threat that is staring it in the face. Why is the response of the state inadequate or misguided? It is because we have over-simplified matters; because we have focused on the short-term measures and believe that this approach will solve the long-standing problems; and, because those who have the duty to understand, and the authority to address them, have so far failed in fulfilling their responsibilities.
There is a long list of problems that is ailing this country. But for the purposes of this article we will concentrate only on those which are related to the subject. At the moment we are faced with the problems of; a) over-religiosity of the people and society, b) crisis of identification in which distinction between ‘religious’ and ‘national’ has blurred, c) lack of resources, imbalance between civil-military expenditures, corruption and its resultant poverty, d) weak political/civil institutions and the ever-increasing civil-military imbalance, and e) ideology-driven security and foreign policy objectives that are incommensurate with its capacity and that are out of tune with the changing times.
Most agree with this list, even some among those who have the power to revise policies. There are some inherent problems with the state which cause a hindrance; but lack of vision and weak standing of the political class, institutional inertia and paranoia of the armed forces, coupled with its dominant role in the governing structure make a meaningful change almost impossible. It’s a fact that due to misinterpretation and mishandling of the ‘idea’ that was responsible for the creation of this state is now turning into a threat to its progress, prosperity and peaceful existence. Not accepting this fact even at this late stage can be nothing more than living permanently in a state of denial.
If we have to innumerate the reasons that have so far been responsible for the continuation, rather expansion, of these problems, the first will be the reliance of the state and some of its organs on religion and its use for political purposes. The second is lack of vision in the political leadership, its exposure to dangers (fear), and the ideological leaning of some of the major parties (PML –N, PTI), plus the presence of religio-political parties who have considerable influence if not corresponding vote-bank. The third is state’s fixation with Afghanistan, India and, during the previous few years, with the USA in particular and the ‘West’ in general. The fourth is foreign involvement in aggravating the situation for Pakistan. And the fifth one, of course, is the great civil-military divide that has weakened the state to unimaginable extent.
Along with these, many more informal factors have been playing their role in the growing of misplaced influence of religion in the individual lives of the citizenry. In this race everyone wants to overtake the other to bring as many people towards the exhibitionist/extremist interpretation of religion as is possible. Be it the media or the corporate sector, and one feels as if they are not there for the journalistic or business purposes, but to Islamize the people more and more. The educational curriculum en vogue in private/public and madrasah sectors since Zia’s time is continuously throwing out its finished product into society. And the situation is sustained by the brute force of the madrasah establishment which was, not long ago, sponsored by the state as domestic and foreign policy tools and which has become so powerful over the years that now no government can think of taking any step without its blessing and approval.
And to complete the circle, it is but to state the obvious that the mis-governance that is prevalent in the country since long, is resulting in injustice and deprivation in society, leading to lack of basic amenities and services to the people like, health, education, roads, and other infrastructure. Poverty is but a natural outcome of bad governance. Combined together, these are the best ingredients to provide a breeding ground for having a good harvest of home-grown terrorists.
If we are interested to address the problems and return from the verge, the state – and all the concerned actors – will have to first realize the gravity of the situation and then take some inconvenient and uncomfortable steps. To begin with, the first in the long list of measures is that the ideological goals of the state must be altered; gradually separating politics and religion.
The second, and probably most important, step is to bridge the gulf between the civilian and military sides. It is most important because this civil-military imbalance has caused irreparable and indescribable damage to the state of Pakistan. What can be more unfortunate than the fact that today the government and the army are considered two separate and antagonistic entities by the majority of the people of this country? And that is why the actions of both, most of the time, appear to be at cross purposes and that is why a strong need is felt every day to reassure the people that both are at the ‘same page’. But which, nobody believes. This civil-military, political and institutional divide must go if we are desired to make this country a thriving and prosperous country.
Equally important is revisiting the foreign policy objectives of the country according to the requirements of the time we are living in and the capacity which Pakistan as a country can continue to pursue and sustain. Revising curriculum and bringing madrasah establishment under lawful state control are the most immediate steps that should be taken as it takes years to see its results.
It goes without saying that unless governance is improved all the above measures will not bear much fruit as far as the country’s journey towards progress and prosperity is concerned. Good governance will automatically translate into social and financial justice, improved educational and healthcare facilities and a better and respectable living standard and lifestyle. And that is how this country was conceived by its founding fathers.
But good governance by the political and civilian side can become a reality only when the political class is cleansed through a democratic process and they are allowed to do their job without interference. Foreign policy objectives are revised realistically which undoubtedly will result in the provision of resources for the social and developmental sectors.
People normally say that it is easier to hit the target when you are watching the game from sidelines. The real thing is to suggest how the prescribed things can be done. It is truer in Pakistan’s case which has been groping in the dark for most part of its existence. But the key phrase here is; to volunteer.
Pakistan can come out of the mess if the relevant actors and institutions voluntarily let go of the things, powers and control which they are holding by force; when they voluntarily vacate the domains they have intruded beyond their constitutional mandate; and when they voluntarily submit before the will of the people and the rule of law.
100% agree, Sethi sb, but unfortunately I don't see any well (sustained actions and policies) from the government or military side. Still most of these so called elites looking solution for peace in FATA/KP which in fact is not the reality.
What about Supreme Court? They too have a responsibility to protect citizens and the Country unless there has been a change!
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