History is a harsh mistress. Its true wickedness lies in its ability to blind you at the most significant crossroads of your career. So today, here we are asking ourselves if we are about to become a moderate democratic polity or are we just being fooled again. Our cynicism knows no bounds. Like bile, it works its way up to our mouths and leaves a bitter taste behind. But some of us have become addicted to the very foul taste and choose to live with it despite strong reasons not to. One step forward, two steps back, then, doesn’t signify a Herculean albeit failing attempt to move forward but just another dance routine.
So which one is it? True progress or just a false start? Conviction or pretense? Transformation or misguiding conservation? If you are judging it all by one hanging or the hanged man’s funeral, then don’t bother. It won’t matter in the least. Five years down the lane no one will remember who Qadri was. And similarly, no one except the immediate family or friends will have time to recall who Taseer was. Just in case you have forgotten we are in Pakistan where we die every day. Our loved ones and followers want to build huge tombs, start a cult. But all attempts fail. A series of unfortunate events, of constant death and destruction, have reduced most of us to operate on the most primal instincts. So, go ahead, build sand castles all you want. Just don’t expect them to hold for long.
The true measure of progress lies somewhere else. In the cold calculations of realpolitik and statecraft. In the realm of identity and careerism. At the time of its birth the state was desperate to build an identity. There was no help in sight. Moderates and liberal Baloch, Sindhis, Pashtuns, Bengalis and why even Punjabis were revolting. Only faith seemed to give a plausible explanation. Only authoritarianism offered the means to survive or so the power elite led the people to believe. This tragedy of errors continued unabated for 55 years. Then came 9/11 and something shifted. The state no longer had the lifeline offered by the clergy. But authoritarianism was still young. An ‘enlightened despot’ was in office. This is where your average everyday liberal went wrong. He went ahead and pledged allegiance to the ‘enlightened moderate’ autocrat. But autocrats will be autocrats. When the going got tough, enlightenment and moderation both fled leaving no trace. A new brand of fascism was invented. Today those fans of his make fun of the Mukhtaran Mais and declare the Malalas and the Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoys the stooges of the enemy.
While this class is still quite influential in the media, its spell is fading. As for the clergy it failed in two basic tests. It refused to openly and collectively condemn the acts of barbarity exhibited by the terrorists using the name of our faith. It also failed to harmonise its interpretation of Pakistani identity with the changing times. Consequently, its assertion that Pakistan should retain some trappings of a theocratic state appears more untenable with every passing day. So the causal dialectics in the country have changed. The struggle is no more between liberalism and theocracy but between the forces of fascism and those of democracy and liberty. The state has chosen to side with the latter because the choice offers it incredible soft power that it never knew could exist. In the dying days of his rule Musharraf did at least one good thing. Unlike his predecessor Zia, he allowed parliament to complete its full term. This has led to a growing realisation among all organs of state that it works in the state’s favour. Musharraf and his fidayeen today desperately try to bring down the legacy he inadvertently built by letting moderation and democracy flourish in at least some shape. But they won’t succeed.
Things are most definitely not hunky dory yet. Terrorism has still not been rooted out. A significant part of our population is still brainwashed. Our media remains mostly anti-democracy. But all this will change with time. Education and prosperity will cure us of all these diseases. Onus now is on the democrats and liberals. They can keep their cynicism and their dance routines or put their talents to use for the greater good of their country and reshape the country in their own image.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2016.