OVER A COFFEE: Migratory birds and elections —Dr Haider Shah
While it has stressed upon timely elections, the ANP has called for a comprehensive national strategy on dealing with the spectre of ever-growing militant extremism
Nature scientists tell us that migrating birds are excellent forecasters of changing weather. Using their sensitivity to air pressure, they can time their migratory flights to favourable weather conditions. In Pakistan, certain writers in the popular media, a few political, non-political groups and characters also help us in predicting what the ‘gods’ of political weathers want.
In Pakistan, the gods of political weather choose influential people that have some nuisance value for the prophetic role. Lesser ambitious men do not fit the bill though. For instance, when Maulana Edhi was approached for this purpose, he preferred leaving the country instead of becoming someone’s henchman. As per Maulana Edhi’s public statement, Imran Khan had already been tasked to do the role. Now just as a wizard brings out a rabbit from his black hat, Dr Tahir ul Qadri has suddenly appeared on the national scene threatening to upset the applecart if not taken seriously.
Professional orators, like Sophists of the ancient Greece, make a living out of windy speeches. It was not, however, difficult to decipher the main import of the harangue delivered amid great fanfare by Dr Qadri. Stating that the state should be preferred over politics rings a familiar bell, as this has remained one of the most frequently recurring lines in the speeches of military dictators. A very meaningful reference was also made to the Italian model. In fact, in one of my earlier articles, I had also referred to the Italian government’s replacement by a technocrat, Mario Monti, 13 months ago. The underlying intent is however important when an example is quoted. When I referred to the example, I was underlying the importance of fiscal management as even a European country like Italy could not prevent interference of external donor agencies when its finances were in a state of mess, but the change in government was effected within the constitutional framework. I have no problem if Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan People’s Party jointly support any gatecrasher to be the next prime minister but no solution other than democratic continuity can guarantee our deliverance.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is a very special political institution, which can run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Perpetually remaining in government, it does not feel tired of raising revolutionary slogans as well. While it seeks sympathy by presenting itself as the victim of establishment, it is also one of the first parties to follow any pied piper wearing military boots. The duet sung by Dr Qadri and MQM is therefore not without some coded messages. It seems that iron is being made red hot by the discourse of these programmed facilitators before the real hit is launched by those who have the big hammer.
Of all political parties, the Awami National Party (ANP) has the strongest case for postponement of elections, if any. One of its senior ministers, Bashir Ahmed Bilour has been martyred besides a number of other killings of its leaders and workers in the past. The party, however, has categorically dismissed any suggestions of delay in the forthcoming elections. While it has stressed upon timely elections, the ANP has also rightly called for a comprehensive national strategy on dealing with the spectre of ever-growing militant extremism. We need to take a break from our self-comforting idealism. We must realise that the tribal belt of our country is occupied by some groups that do not accept our state’s authority. From history, we learn that whenever a militant group becomes rebellious, there are three options left to the state. One, it crushes the militant groups and establishes its writ in the troubled area, just as Abraham Lincoln did in the Southern States or China did in its Muslim region or Sri Lanka did with Tamil Tigers. Second, it accepts the inevitable and hands over sovereignty of the troubled region to the militant groups, just as Britain accepted the Republic of Ireland or Pakistan accepted the emergence of Bangladesh. Third, it negotiates peace by giving more autonomy to the warring groups and in return those groups accept living within the constitutional framework peacefully, just as Britain and the warring groups did in Northern Ireland through the Good Friday agreement. Pakistan’s FATA is a unique case. On one hand, we are not ready to accept our defeat and hence, withdraw our claim to the troubled region so that those who are occupying the region have an opportunity to establish a social structure that they deem fit. On the other hand, we are also not doing anything to reclaim the areas lost to the militants so that they do not have sanctuaries where they can plan deadly attacks on innocent civilians of Pakistan and our neighbours. Those who call for the third option of negotiating peace may better listen to Ghalib’s line, “Hum hain mushtaaq aur woh bazaar” (We are keen and he/she is repulsively indifferent). Perhaps it makes sense to pay heed to the ANP’s advice that the negotiations must take place at the highest level but with a defined purpose. I believe timely elections and a clear strategy on militants are both equally important. It is, therefore, proposed that an all party conference be convened, which should form a committee to offer peace to militants on a single condition that they acknowledge Pakistan’s sovereignty and after renouncing militancy seek approval from the electorate for any kind of legal reforms they want. The deadline of the offer period should run up to the elections. After elections, whoever forms the government will have the backing of all stakeholders to consider either regaining control from militant groups or accepting their demands as doing nothing will no longer be a policy option.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org