For the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on my response to the two long marches led by the leaders of two separate parties. Mostly, I have found myself opposed to both these marches, and, being a socialist at heart, this negative response to two popular movements has forced me to attempt to tease out the genealogy of my own response.
Is it because I support the policies of Nawaz Sharif government? Obviously, this is the first question I asked of myself. Absolutely not. In fact, my opposition to all forms of neoliberalism, privatization, and free market policies is a matter of public record both in my academic and popular writings. I owe no allegiance or loyalties to the likes of Sharif and their other market fundamentalist friends.
Yet, at this historic moment when people are storming the so-called red zone, I have chosen to oppose both PAT and PTI. I must, therefore, delve deeper into my political consciousness and figure out what stops me from supporting these peaceful and committed groups.
I think I am at a stage in my own thought where I am more interested in seeing democracy established in Pakistan rather than the politics of agitation. One reason we do not fully understand democracy in Pakistan is because we have never really lived in an uninterrupted system of democratic norm. This is only the first government that saw a transition from one politically elected government to the other. In the long run, it is this peaceful and democratic transition that will ensure a more responsive, egalitarian, and inclusive democracy in Pakistan. This is how we will learn the habits of democracy.
So, for me the actions of Khan Sahib and maulana sahib, no matter how pure, are a threat to the construction of the democratic norm. It is this threat to developing a democratic norm that troubles me the most. Furthermore, even if both these groups are successful in ousting the current government, what alternatives do they have to offer:
- One of them offers a total restructuring of our national framework according to his vision of Islam.
- The other wants us to believe that he, somehow, can solve our problems quickly and more efficiently.
To me both these lines of argument are flawed. The state that Pakistan is in politically and economically, cannot be fixed by one party or one leader. And it can certainly not be fixed through one or two grand gestures. A change in the culture and politics of Pakistan would need time and would depend upon long-term educational and political reforms and even if these leaders come to power tomorrow, they will still have a long road ahead of them. So, why disrupt the current system to replace it with yet another that itself would need more time to mature and become functional. Why can’t Pakistan continue without the leadership of any of these two fellows? Are they simply too special?
Let us look at both these leaders.
The PAT leader is a Canadian citizens, who neither believes in Pakistani constitution nor in the Pakistani court system. His movement, therefore, aims to reconfigure Pakistan according to what he deems is right for Pakistan. This, of course, is an extreme form of political hubris: this means that one person can, somehow, envision the future of a whole nation. And since he cannot get elected democratically, his only way to power is through the politics of agitation and disruption.
On the other side of this national divide is Mr. Imran Khan. I have always had deep respect for him. I was one of those thousands who loved him when he represented us in the world as the team captain of our Cricket team. I was there with him when he and his team won the world cup. For us Pakistani men, Imran was a sort of masculinity that we all wanted: dazzling, charismatic, and confident. He could talk to the so-called goras in their own language and defeat them at their own game. Thus, when he became a politician, I was amongst the first silent few who were in his camp. For a few months I actually sent in my small donations to his party as well. I stopped supporting Imran when he became a rationalizer for the Taliban actions. I stopped being his supporter when he did not say a word when the Taliban eliminated, one by one, most of his ANP opponents in the last election. I had expected Imran to stand up and speak loudly against the terrible things that the Taliban did in our country. Instead, I have found him moving constantly to the right and it is this betrayal of expectations that led me to give up on Imran Khan. I should, however, point out that pretty much my whole village voted for Imran in the last election, a mistake we are not to repeat ever again.
So out of both these leaders of two agitating groups, I have no sympathy for the maulana and I have stopped being the supporter of the cricketer.
Another thing that bothers me about both is the politics of personality: I am tired of these kinds of demagogues who keep trying to suggest to me that I, somehow, need their leadership. No, in true popular politics it is the people who lead and not the so-called leaders. Both of them speak with this hubris to their constituencies: For Imran, his followers need to govern their own actions “for their leader” and for Maulana sahib, it goes without saying, that his words are almost divine, for his followers call him “Qibal hazur.” In other words, in both these leaders we have two humans claiming to be more than us mere mortals. If this is not the politics of individual hubris, then I do not know what else is.
So, in the end, to answer my own question: the reason I am against both these movements is because I see their efforts pointless and untimely. Both these groups avowed to launch their agitations the very week when the Pakistan army launched its offensive against the Taliban. So, precisely at the time when we needed national unity, these two leaders placed their own political agenda ahead of the national interest. I am no army tout and my criticisms of the army elite are also in the public record, but I believe that the operation currently in progress is the one for the survival of Pakistan, and to divide the nation at such a juncture is stupid and dangerous for the future of Pakistan.
That both Maulana and Imran Khan failed to consider the bad timing of their movement and decided to launch their quixotic efforts at this time already proves that their own political self-interest is more important to them than the future of Pakistan. Instead, both thee groups could have mobilized their followers to bring aid to the IDPs and to build support for a united front against the Taliban, who, let us not forget, also do not believe in Pakistani constitution.
So, finally I think the following things have forced me to take this stance on these two movements:
- I am more invested in the long-term development of democracy in Pakistan.
- I believe the nation needs to be united during this war against the Taliban.
- I believe we need to get rid of the politics of personality.
And let us also not forget, there is a chance that this democratically elected government will be sacked and a quasi military-civilian government would emerge. If that happens, then Imran and the maulana would have already sold the country and its democratic future for their personal political gains.
During a meeting with one of the regional leaders of PTI, a few months ago, I was told that the PTI did have the support of the intelligence agencies until a few months before the elections. This PAT official was saddened that the intelligence agencies withheld their support of PTI at the last moment. The sad things is that this friend of mine did not see the irony in his statement: instead of being enraged at the lost support of the intelligence agencies, he should have been incensed that his leader and his party had relied on the intelligence agency’s support, for that does not bode well for the future of their party.
Similarly, if the maulvi sahib is so intent on creating an Islamist system, why does not he do that in Canada, of which he is a citizen: isn’t there more of a need of Islam in that country than in Pakistan? I mean Pakistan is pretty much an islamic nation already.
Anyway, I feel comfortable in stating that I would stand for the continuous progress of democracy and democratic norm in Pakistan and am, therefore, opposed to this new wave of agitational politics. It may help oust the Sharifs, but it will also help in hurting the long-term democratic aspirations in Pakistan as well.