On December 16, 2014, a terrible catastrophe occurred. This piece is not about that tragedy. It is about the birth of an idea. A brilliant idea. A simple but powerful one. An idea that grew out of a realisation, the tacit acceptance of failure, of penitence. But an idea that owing to the lack of collective imagination was found very nearly dead on the first anniversary of that terrible tragedy. What realisation was that? That the country’s absolute reliance on faith for the quest of a national identity had backfired badly. That the country’s clergy, now smitten by the globalist demagoguery of the likes of IS and al Qaeda, was not only an unreliable ally, but also a clear danger. These things are not said but felt. And this feeling has been growing progressively stronger since 9/11. Back then there was a dictator ruling the country and obscurantism was provisionally substituted by a desi brand of fascism. But that too had failed. Need I remind you that regardless of all this, the country’s liberals had hitched their wagons to the star of the show — General (retd) Musharraf. And that went well, right?
So what was the idea that I just referred to? That in view of such challenges, Pakistan’s moderates and liberals would forge an alliance with the state to shape its collective future. That slowly, if painstakingly, they would build a truly liberal polity, reform things, do away with the poison of radicalism. That also meant another chance for the country’s only ostensibly liberal political party. But alas, that was not to be. Some liberals were so disillusioned by Musharraf’s betrayal that they cannot resist cynicism anymore. A few others had given their heart to Afghanistan. A very small number to India too. But if you truly think any of your neighbours has been on the receiving end of your country’s excesses, what better way is there to undo the damage than to help your state correct its course? Many from my generation were lost to radicalism because our liberals did not show the right kind of moral leadership when it was needed most. What is lethargic tut-tutting going to achieve now?
Or did you expect this to be an easy ride? That somebody would go out on a limb to cook your favourite meal and bring it to you on a silver platter while you sit idly by? Parts of your state and society are still deeply conservative, including your media, and it is their sworn duty to make your journey a most arduous one. But you were never supposed to give up. In a matter of a year, our conservatives have reduced the ambitious National Action Plan, first to Karachi and then to the PPP, while you were fussing over dotting your ‘i’s and crossing your ‘t’s. And when all this damage was done, enter big time parochialism and petty-mindedness. The liberals and moderates who could neither stand up for or show faith in Benazir Bhutto when it was most needed would now stake it for her redoubtable husband, as well as the jewel in the latter’s crown, Dr Asim. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was accused of many things, but never of financial misdemeanour. If Shaheed Benazir Bhutto was accused of any such thing, it was mainly due to one man. And to think her party would squander the golden opportunity of nationwide revival just because of one man’s paranoia simply breaks one’s heart. Consider this: not only did it choose December 16, a day infamous in Pakistan’s history for two tragedies (APS and the fall of East Pakistan) to curtail the Rangers’ powers, it also used the Sindh card in parliament a day earlier. The brutal murder of innocent children is a tragedy big enough to be kept away from political point-scoring. But some of the party’s overzealous supporters stooped so low as to use the first anniversary of the tragedy to demand an apology from the military for its Taliban policy. Let’s begin from the very start then. Let the PPP apologise first for giving the state the constitutional permit to intervene in religious freedoms of its citizens and for creating a cell in the Foreign Office to help the Afghan Mujahideen. It could also apologise for the start of militancy in Kashmir in 1989 and Mullah Omar’s rise in the spring of 1994. Meanwhile, go ‘celebrate’ as Zardari’s nihilism triumphs over Benazir’s moderation and liberalism.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2015.