Monday, February 15, 2010, Safar 30, 1431 A.H   ISSN 1563-9479
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Opinion Archive
The News International Pakistan

 A hapless surrender and the MQM's big chance
By Ayesha Ijaz Khan
I am shocked and dismayed when I hear members of our educated class claim that the negative reaction to the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation ("NAR") is connected to a panic or instant fear that sets in among "westernized elites" at the mention of Islam. Let's be honest. The NAR has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with uncontrollable ambitions of a ruthless, misogynistic, anarchic group of thugs who see the Pakistani state as too weak to stand up to them and want to challenge it to the point where they are confirmed authorities and the state only a meek rival struggling to appease.

A dangerous concession; a brazen disregard for the functions of Parliament and the institutions of the state; and a hapless surrender are the only words that can describe the NAR aptly.

Not too long ago, the same Taliban sympathisers who are now promoting the NAR told us that Baitullah and his ilk were Indian agents or plants working for the CIA. Well done, then. Even Indian agents and CIA plants are acceptable to us if they sport beards, pull up their shalwars and flog a few women. Is that really all it takes to throw the government on its back foot and convince society of patriotism? Have we become so vulnerable to anti-state elements that we cannot condemn them for what they are even when they are staring us in the face?

This is not about anti-imperialism or convincing ourselves that our elected representatives have suddenly overcome American influence simply because they are too scared to stand up to those who will condemn them as apostates. This is about setting a dangerous precedent to erode the power of the state so that our country can disintegrate into fiefdoms run by Afghan-style warlords, running parallel militias, collecting their own taxes, administering their own "justice" and terrorizing populations.

Afghanistan was a war-torn country, having suffered years of bombardment, first by the Russians and then by the Americans, it had no state structures left. Thus, it was a result of this unfortunate vacuum that it fragmented into the control of rival warlords, many of whom were patronized by the Americans and remained on CIA payroll even as they propped up the Karzai government. The Americans played a similar game in Iraq. Having gone in for regime change, instead of taking the pains to nation-building, they began supporting local groups who would "keep the peace" in a certain area for a certain price.

Nation-building relies on effective and strong state institutions and is weakened by transferring authority to parallel structures. Our politicians, in collusion with our military, have done to us what the Americans did to Afghanistan and Iraq. Hence the outrage amongst the real patriots of Pakistan!

The Afghan people have fought valiantly against foreign intervention. Yet, their warlords have often sold them out and thus the life of an average Afghan was no better than it was under King Zahir Shah. In fact, it was much worse. For those who claim that the Taliban ran the best government ever (and yes, I have heard this outlandish remark on television from the likes of Orya Maqbool Jan), according to the UNDP's Human Development Index, Afghanistan ranked 172nd out of 178 countries, tying for last place with several African countries. Easily preventable diseases such as measles, flu, and diarrhoea killed thousands, infant mortality was the highest in the world, and life expectancy for women only 44 years. Access to education was one of the lowest in the world. Adding insult to injury, when the world community tried to assist Afghanistan in holding a Loya Jirga, there was no building in all of Afghanistan to house such a large meeting, so Germany provided a huge tent, normally used for beer garden festivals along the Rhine. Whether the Taliban knew it or not, in the beer garden festival tent they sat, deciding the future of their unfortunate country.

This is the price of weakness. The price of leadership that cannot see beyond its own nose. It is vociferously argued that the legal systems of Swat and other parts of the north were never fully integrated with those of Pakistan at large. Well then, integrate them. Take it forward. Not backwards.

The passing of the NAR accomplishes nothing and destroys much. It is shrouded in confusion. The thugs with whom the deal has been struck have refused to lay down their arms. We are told by some "experts" that the deal is not much different from what was in place in 1994 and 1999. If that is the case, then why is it being hailed by the other side as a major victory in the way of Sharia? And if their understanding of it is different from that of the parliamentarians who rubber-stamped it without so much as a debate, then what is to prevent the thugs from rising up again in a few months?

Anyone who cares about Pakistan and its future should be depressed at this point. We have a coalition of the buffoons for a parliament. The PPP has become a party without a soul. They cannot take a stand on any principle. On the wrong side of the judges' issue, marred by scandals of corruption, and worst of all, no courage to lead on this crucial point of whose writ is to be established in Pakistan: the government's or armed thugs'? The PML-N, after cashing in on the goodwill it had earned by standing with the people on the judiciary, should have had the moral courage to question and debate the provisions of this bill. Instead, those who claimed that the PML-N cannot see beyond Punjab and do not have the vision for national leadership have been vindicated. The ANP will go down in history as the party that abdicated and ceded its province to militants. No one expected anything of the PML-Q, a combination of opportunists, ready and willing to serve the military as and when required.

In these unfortunate and demoralizing times, the MQM has emerged as an unlikely hero. I never thought I would say this but desperate times call for desperate measures. If the party I had criticized for its support of Musharraf's dictatorial regime, for its opposition to the restoration of the rightful judiciary and for its involvement in illicit activities in Karachi, is now the only party willing to take a stand in the wake of threats, the only party facing off the enemies of Islam and Pakistan, then I must look to them.

This is MQM's big chance to deliver. It must come out of its ethnic fold and prove its affiliation with the middle and educated classes of Pakistan, regardless of which province or part of Pakistan they come from. Instead of taunting the ANP with the legacy of Bacha Khan, it must demonstrably show the Pashtuns in Karachi that it is not against them but against extremism, no matter what garb it takes. It must reach out to the Punjabis, the Sindhis and the Baloch. The MQM has control over Karachi that few would deny. It must use its influence in this multi-ethnic, multi-racial, religiously diverse and cosmopolitan city to ensure its citizens peace and an equal sense of belonging. It must demonstrate to the rest of Pakistan the difference between tolerance and bigotry, between education and illiteracy, between the inclusiveness that Islam preaches and the exclusiveness that the militants practice.

If the MQM puts its heart and soul into making Karachi a model city built on the foundations of moral courage and the richness of diversity, it will be assisted by civil society and together we must stem the tide of extremism. We must build Karachi as an alternative, Jinnah's home, a symbol for the rest of Pakistan to emulate.

The writer is a London-based lawyer turned political commentator.

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