The new beginning
07 December, 2006
By Riaz Missen
The recent pro-women legislation by the government despite the disquiet of the religious alliance, MMA, has been termed as the new beginning by General Pervez Musharraf. While promising more steps in this regard, he has urged on womenfolk to vote for their liberty through rejecting extremist elements in the upcoming general polls. The polity is on its way to change its relations with its people as well as the comity of nations.
The coincidence of Pakistan's creation and the onset of the Cold War proved a defining factor for the newly emerged state. Anglo-American obsession with the expansionist designs of the Soviet Union, socialist orientation of the All India Congress and anti-India feelings of Pakistani decision-makers made Pakistan a garrison state.
The partition of India caused the influx of about a million people — wanting food, shelter and comfort — into Pakistan. Hindus and Sikhs left this country in equal number. Given the low literacy rate and little experience available for running modern state institutions, the civil-military bureaucracy was recruited from the immigrants. So the trauma of partition found expression in Pakistan's foreign policy. It was India-centric and based on the fear of invasion. Once the foundation stone was laid and the building erected, none would dare to change the course of the country even after its break-up in 1971.
The Indian threat led Pakistan right into the Western camp, and the US was more than willing to feed and equip its allies to fight the menace of socialism. This camp also took India as a dangerous polity due to the socialist tendencies of the ruling Congress. The Pakistani state did divert funds received from the West to the religious organisations willing to wage jihad against the 'infidels'. More and more groups emerged to benefit from the tide of time.
These militant groups were willing to stage street agitation to keep governments on the 'right' track. They also kept a check on the progressive organisations. During the days of jihad, they would forge unity in their ranks; when there was nothing to do, they would fall apart and turn to infighting.
In principle, the militant groups would have been demilitarised and debriefed after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan, but the anarchy in Afghanistan did not make their existence irrelevant: The Taliban, most of them fed and trained in Pakistani madrassas, were encouraged to fight against the rest of the Afghan ethnic groups. As Pakistan strove for strategic depth in Afghanistan, Iran, India and Russia pushed their Afghan allies to counter the Taliban. Even China got threatened. It hurried to form the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with the specific agenda of countering ethnic/religious militancy in Central Asia.
9/11 convinced the US to take action against the Taliban regime being allegedly patronised by al Qaeda, the perpetrator of the attacks on the twin towers. The joint action of the US-led international coalition force and the Northern Alliance made Mullah Omar flee on a motorbike. The Musharraf regime came under sharp criticism from the politico-religious parties for taking a U-turn on Afghan policy and taking sides with the West. Failing to convince the General, they would make the best of the mayhem by getting allotted in 2002 polls the 'book' as an electoral symbol for their alliance, the MMA, and would manipulate anti-US feelings in the Pushtoon belt of the country.
The success of the MMA in the last general elections does explain a tension in the polity. The sufferings of Pushtoons on the other side of the divide since the onset of the war on terror have caused the retreat of the moderate forces in the areas bordering Afghanistan. The same factor can also influence poll results in future as well if Afghanistan remains under the spell of anarchy. How long will neighbours keep on determining Pakistan's destiny?
It is encouraging that Pakistan is on course to improve relations with India. China has recently shown willingness to play a positive role in the ongoing peace process in the South Asian region. Moreover, the state has initiated a process to heal the wounds of the people wronged by the partition process. None other than General Musharraf himself is patronising the promotion of sufi thought that preached love for all and hatred towards none!
Pakistan has asked Iran to settle its difference with European nations regarding its nuclear programme through peaceful means. No more turbulent borders, please! Musharraf is also trying to convince the West that al Qaeda is no more operative in this part of the world and Mullah Omar is leading Pushtoon nationalists, not the Taliban.
he people of Pakistan, who live on the earth from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea, find their fate hanging in the balance until the state returns to a normal course. Both mullah and military will have to return to their professional tasks. At the same time, state institutions — legislature, bureaucracy and judiciary — will have to be efficient in their working. Before the military returns to barracks, religious organisations will have to abandon their political role. Musharraf has duly appealed to the masses to reject them in the upcoming general elections. To deprive them of their constituency, he is now bringing round the US and Western powers that bread not bombs, and dialogue not war, can bring peace to Afghanistan.
The military-led political system has undertaken reforms during the last seven years. A structural reform process has been initiated to make the working of state institutions fair and transparent. The media has been set free to bridge the communication gap between state and society. The apex court of the country has reverted to activism to correct the anomalies of the liberal economic order taking effect under the guiding influence of democracy.
Great responsibility rests on the shoulders of political parties of the country. The people need them to act on their behalf. They want their leadership to bring their dear state closer to them through changing its objectives and orientation. Pakistan has to transform itself into a democratic entity with pluralist orientation. In a global age, Pakistan must change its role vis-à-vis the world as well as its own people to take due advantage of its strategic location.
What has been lost during the last five decades can't be regained but there is a lot that can be saved through riding the tide of time. Some would suggest that it is time to go back to square one. But remember, history is not on its cyclic course. It is rather in a progressive mood. Pakistan has to move ahead.