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Giving peace a chance

Published: October 17, 2011

The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London

Recently, an All Parties Conference (APC) resolved to “give peace a chance”. As with nearly every other matter of concern to the Pakistani public, the resolution is an attempt by the powers that be, to dodge the real issue and hope it goes away. Surely no country wants to be at war with its own people. Yet, instead of addressing the circumstances that have led us to a situation whereby the government cannot establish its writ in large parts of its territory; an ostrich-like approach was adopted resulting in an absolutely futile exercise and a meaningless resolution.

Perhaps the point was not to address the issues that face the Pakistani public at all. For if that were the case, then other matters too would have been on the agenda, namely; the acute electricity shortage, the floods in Sindh, uncontrollable spread of the dengue virus in Lahore, as well as the worrying law and order situation. More likely, the idea of the APC, which included some one-man parties that have not come in through the ballot but reflect establishment thinking, was to send America a message.

The likes of Hamid Gul, simultaneously, appeared on television to reiterate the line that the Pakistani public must unify in the face of recent American accusations against Pakistan and forewarn this wayward superpower by a show of strength. Clearly, General Gul, hasn’t a clue about public priorities. When countries in the developed world undergo recessions, most people protest domestic issues like high unemployment and could not care less about foreign policy, which is generally the domain of a select few. What the public in Pakistan has had to face is far worse than any recession. Then why should average people care about foreign policy?

A state can only expect to rely on its people for a show of strength when it strengthens its people. When the bulk of the people in the state are weakened such that they have neither health care nor education nor electricity then the state as a whole will be weak and bullied by other powers, no matter what type of chest-thumping politician or general is at the helm of affairs. The political government, for its part, is too busy in its “politics of reconciliation”. What this really means is a politics devoid of all ideology. When masked boys can enter a government school in Rawalpindi, beat up students and teachers alike and order the school closed, assured that there will be no action against them need anyone say more about giving peace a chance?

Giving peace a chance is political speak for living in fear. Many law-abiding citizens in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were subjected to similar incidents before any kind of military action was contemplated. Inevitably, when armed groups operate with impunity in one part of the country, it becomes difficult to contain their ambitions to do so in other parts. Enabling law enforcement to cope with this serious issue is the crux of the matter if any type of peace is to prevail. Far more urgent than sending America a unified message then is sending these groups a unified message. But that would entail taking stands on ideological grounds, irrespective of cheap populism and building consensus on societal reform.

Pakistanis often tell the world that Islamic parties do not get voted into power in Pakistan. Yet an agenda more draconian than theirs is consistently imposed on society and is met with appeasing silence. How ironic that when Salmaan Taseer undemocratically imposed governor rule in Punjab, he had the backing of his political allies, but when he took a principled stand for a poor Christian woman, he became a political pariah! On the other hand, a former judge unabashedly and vociferously lends his services to Taseer’s self-confessed killer. Lack of courage and an unwillingness to take bold stands to counter an ideology that promotes fear can threaten peace for generations in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2011.

Reader Comments (16)

  • ayesha
    Oct 17, 2011 - 11:13PM

    Dear Ayesha,

    Not only do we share a name but I also agree 100% with you thought process. The repeated attacks against the Hazaras in Balochistan, the attack on the girls school by the 60 vandals in Rawlpindi, the kidnapping of school boys in KP because their tribes had raised lashkars to oppose the Taliban and the recent events in Karachi make you question where exactly is the sovereignty – in which province – that the army and ISI keep talking about. Nowhere does the government have writ and nowhere are the people safe. Unless the extremist agenda is challenged head on, these problems will get worse day by day.

    As youi mentioned, even if the religious parties are not in power, their ideology rules the roost.


  • John B
    Oct 17, 2011 - 11:19PM

    Unless the economically weak strata of society feel that they also have stake in PAK, there will never be peace. The gulf between them and the rest who govern PAK will continue to grow and divide.

    The present structure of PAK, created by the governing class exclude the poor in governing decisions and feudal in nature, as it was when PML was formed.

    If a poor peasant farmer in Sindh, or KP does not have the opportunity to sit in NA next to the Oxford elite and argue on issues because he or she is not a college graduate, then the farmer has no interest in following NA decisions.

    The disconnected masses come with their own ideology and run a shadow government. Since they are majority, they are more effective than the degree class.


  • faraz
    Oct 17, 2011 - 11:42PM

    Transport mujahid ordered Afghan Mujahedeen to undertake a frontal assault on Jalalabad on the request of US. Thousands died in the resulting massacre. In a briefing to the parliament, he claimed that Pakistan will conquer Kashmir, Afghanistan and Central Asia up to Turkey through its strategic assets. Despite the disastrous failure of the Afghan policy and 40,000 deaths at the hands of strategic assets, he still appears on television as a strategist.


  • Oct 17, 2011 - 11:44PM

    A well balanced article.She express the reality of Pakistani politics.


  • Oct 17, 2011 - 11:46PM

    There are probably different ways to bell a cat. What matters is that you succeed. Military operations by Nato and our own forces have not succeeded in stemming the tide of extremism. Nor has Osama bin Laden’s elimination dampened the Jihadi fervour. The US authorities are so fearful of symbolism that they do not want to leave any trace of OBL. They have still not brought KSM to trial. The Americans are tired of the war in Afghanistan and openly seek an exit. The Europeans are even more skeptical of success in Afghanistan. Will negotiations with the militants bring peace? It is doubtful but not ruled out. Can talks take place while fighting rages on? Yes, history is full of such precedents. So let us not belittle the call for giving peace a chance. The fact that All Parties accepted the idea says something about the general mood in a country suffering from war fatigue.


  • Falcon
    Oct 18, 2011 - 1:14AM

    @John B:
    Thanks for bringing this up. I have yet to see more insightful commentary on the root cause of these issues. What our educated folks keep forgetting is that there are deep social injustices that have been perpetrated for over 60 years in this country that are aggravating this issue. Rest everything is a symptom; religious violence, political violence, sectarian violence, domestic violence…you name it…every kind of violence exists in our country because the strongest of the society have not fought for the weakest of the society and this is the blow-back of our convenient indifference.


  • SaudiRules
    Oct 18, 2011 - 2:05AM

    Excellent comments from both the “Ayesha” sisters, the author and the poster #1.


  • Amjad Cheema
    Oct 18, 2011 - 3:44AM

    Very well written


  • Noor Nabi
    Oct 18, 2011 - 4:59AM

    Hamid Gul was Zia-ul-Haq’s Rasputin. The two of them, abusing the de facto powers of the military establishment, have hammered Pakistan’s future good and proper. Coming out from under the existing rubble seems impossible but then God can make miracles happen.


  • Khurram
    Oct 18, 2011 - 9:27AM

    Ms. Khan: Your article, like always is akin to a breath of fresh air and a ray of hope for a great majority of us living in the present suffocating, apathetic and fear-stricken environment. I too wish for a long lasting peace but chances are very few because to sustain it there is a cost apart from political maturity, moral courage and an unmitigated sincerity of purpose; unfortunately there is no one in sight in the present leadership to foot the bill.


  • Fahad Shaikh
    Oct 18, 2011 - 11:05AM

    Partly Disagreed!

    You say, “Giving peace a chance is political speak for living in fear.” …

    Ayesha, this is the high time to give PEACE A CHANCE…. no matter who threw the idea. Establishment or Islamic Parties, yet the time for this Idea has come!

    Now it is in the hands of our NRO bestowed-cum-so-called-democratic Government to find out the means to achieve this.

    Further, How can you claim that supporting that women was “principle stand” ?

    Neither that assassination of Taseer can be justified in any way, nor was his support to that women was a principle stand.

    This is what this war on terror has gifted us !!!!! Extremism at its best!


  • Oct 18, 2011 - 11:14AM

    It is not wrong to support a “criminal” in court through legal process…and this is the different between khaja sharief and sulman taseer!!


  • Oct 18, 2011 - 10:10PM

    @ Hamza Baloch—your point, i.e., the right to representation, needs to be clarified as follows: while it is correct that any criminal, even a self-confessed murderer, has the right to a lawyer and his/her day in court, there is a very significant difference between a criminal approaching a lawyer and the lawyer subsequently taking his case versus a lawyer volunteering his services through a public statement (Khwaja Sharif’s case). The matter is further complicated by the fact that the lawyer in question was also a retired judge of the Lahore High Court, an office that calls for a certain decorum and impartiality. Under these circumstances, one must conclude that Khwaja Sharif’s actions lend support to a culture of violence that breeds fear in society, and not one that is suited to peace.


  • Oct 19, 2011 - 11:49AM

    Ayesha Ijaz Khan

    This is also no problem, if a x judge become a lawyer, i dont think any law stop this act, and also it should be considered in tolerance if someone support any one in court within laws than doing public press conferences like ST did.


  • Oct 19, 2011 - 10:15PM

    @ Hamza Baloch—you did not understand my comment. Please re-read it. The issue is not of a an ex-judge acting as a lawyer. The issue is if prominent lawyers or ex-judges volunteer their services publicly to criminals they are by all means promoting violence in society and endorsing those actions. Your argument about Salman Taseer’s press conference would have merit if Taseer was defending a murderer but that was not the case so your analogy is wholly misplaced. The nature of Asia’s case and the nature of Qadri’s case were completely different.

    First, Asia said that she did not commit the “crime” she was being accused of, while Qadri confessed to a murder, a most heinous crime. In the overwhelming majority of blasphemy cases, innocent people are accused by their societies with little evidence to back it up. Yet even if we assume for a minute that she was guilty of blasphemy, does the state have the right to ask for her death? That is not a tolerant position at all. More importantly, nor is it an Islamic position. I suggest you read Surat Qafiroon in the Quran. Surat Qafiroon defines the Islamic position on tolerance of other religions, and particularly of unbelievers. If there are those who reject the Prophet (peace be upon him) then, as Muslims, if we behave according to the Quran, we must say “lakum deenukum, wali ya deen”—that means—-to you your religion and to me mine. And we must leave it at that. The state does not have a right to condemn people to death for their beliefs. The state does have a right, according to Islamic principles, however, to condemn murderers to death. These are two completely different acts. By equating them, you are not only promoting lack of tolerance and violence, you are drifting from the stated Islamic position.


  • Oct 20, 2011 - 10:28AM

    Ayesha Ijaz Khan

    Strange, at 1st part you putting barriers which even law allows, in second part you going beyond the law about ST case.

    In both case, our law`s punishment is death. Second,even some one himself says he does this still he is allowed to have lawyers. And also there is no law prohibit anyone to become a volunteer lawyer… Simple,we may do not like any action or reaction, but if the opponent using the law procedure than its not wrong, without looking about the action of criminal or without seeing the status of lawyer… Following the law is fine. I wish ST used that procedure!

    And about second situation,we often misinterpret the blasphemy law issue when we use “only” QURANIC reference ,for Muslim HADIS and SUNNET is also part of authority of their religion.. And also even you did not agree with any law it does not allow you to break the law. Right now state have this right to give death to the “criminal” usner “blasphemy law” so we mush be tolerance to follow the law, even you dis agree… this is real tolerance:)

    Lastly, blasphemy law or blasphemy issue against Asia bibi is nothing to do with Christain religion, its about an individual so do not take this Surat Qafiroon Ayat.


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