OVER A COFFEE : Between the devil and the deep blue sea — Dr Haider Shah
Whether the organisers of the Qadri-Altaf circus are our own spymasters or international string pullers, Pakistan finds itself in the midst of two crushing jaws
In London, hundreds of
thousands of people lined the banks of the River Thames for a spectacular New Year ’s Eve fireworks display. A similar outpouring of enthusiasm was seen all over the world. In Pakistan, the year 2012 was bid farewell amid the explosion of bombs and the New Year was welcomed by bloodstained bullets. And as if that was not enough, yet another set of messiahs has been unleashed on us from nowhere.
This is not to say that the countries where New Year was celebrated with traditional festivity have nothing to worry about. The US Senate resorted to desperate fire fighting to deal with the ticking bomb of the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’, as tax rises and huge spending cuts would have come into force on January 1, 2013 if no agreement had been reached between Democrat and Republican Senators, which would have triggered another period of recession. In Europe, the alarm bells keep ringing as Europe grapples with the deepening debt crisis. In her New Year message, the German chancellor cautions that the economic situation will not improve in 2013, and forecasters in the UK predict that the economy in 2013 will show little or no growth, amounting to a rerun of last year’s dismal performance.
Faced with the existentialist threat, we are not debating what 2013 has in store for us in terms of economic difficulties. When a man is drowning, he has no concern what his hair looks like or how much will be the next month’s electricity bill. Like many other writers, I have been consistently advocating that every era is shaped by peculiar geopolitical concerns and security doctrines are not cast in stone but change when a new era begins. From Pearl Harbour to the Dutch Indies, in the 1930-40s Japan was bombing every major military installation in the Pacific to pursue its doctrine of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. At the end of World War II when, militarily and financially, Japan found itself devastated, it very honourably swallowed its pride and embarked upon a new era of a closer relationship with the US-led democracies. Doctrines are for countries and countries are not for doctrines. It gives us some reason to be hopeful that Pakistan’s security establishment has now acknowledged homegrown militancy as the number one security threat. After the birth of two antagonistic states in 1947, outmanoeuvring each other in getting more territory and natural resources, the resulting environment of mutual suspicion and enmity between India and Pakistan is understandable. But 2013 has little resemblance with that era and we live in a totally different world today. Facing similar issues, the South Asian countries need to have a combined voice in international bodies like the World Trade Organisation. Our long-term developmental ambitions are best served by greater regional cooperation. Militant extremism is a shared threat and the security establishments of India and Pakistan need redefinition of security doctrines to deal with this destabilising spectre.
Dr Tahirul Qadri had marketed his credentials well in the western world as an enlightened cleric who stood for interfaith harmony. Similarly, Altaf Hussain has also been quite vocal against the Taliban and had been publicly demanding action against the extremist outfits. In this background, if Dr Qadri had spearheaded a campaign for national consensus on an anti-terrorism strategy and the MQM had extended its support, no one would have doubted the urgency of their calls. But confounding everyone, instead of mentioning the central issue of an existential threat, they are making very amorphous and frivolous demands. If a Canadian citizen suddenly returns to Pakistan and embarks on a one-man-demolition-squad mission threatening the state of Pakistan, one can dismiss this as comic relief in the tense environment of Pakistan. But when the MQM, a well organised political party that enjoys the lion’s share in the coalition government, announces its support and makes available its well-trained cadre of agitators, the development cannot be dismissed as trivial as one can easily smell a rat.
All mainstream parties deserve appreciation that despite many failures they have kept the system in place. We deride militants because they do not accept our legal system and want to impose their will on 180 million people by brandishing their guns. The MQM, despite being an urban-based political party, is not acting much differently. Instead of following the process provided by the constitution, it wants to use extra-constitutional methods to make demands that are as absurd as the demands made by the TTP. To make matters worse, Altaf Hussain, in his telephonic address, threatened journalists of dire consequences if they did not toe his line. From Musa Khan Khel to Saleem Shahzad to Wali Khan Babur, journalists have been falling victim to the guns of those who roam the streets of Pakistan like gods of life and death. The journalist community has therefore rightly taken a serious view of foul mouthing by a political leader.
The year 2013 could be the best of times and it could be the worst of times. Many crucial changes, including the retirement of the Chief Justice and the Chief of Army Staff and drawdown of NATO forces with complete withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan are scheduled during this year. Whether the organisers of the Qadri-Altaf circus are our own spymasters or international string pullers, Pakistan finds itself in the midst of two crushing jaws. One is moving from the northwestern tribal belt while the other is emerging from the port city of the deep blue sea in the south. We need a strong collective will to survive and decimate all monsters that want to devour the democratic setup. Successful transition of power from one civilian government to another will go a long way in solving our problems through collective action, and not through the magical cures of messiahs.