An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Ghazi Sallahudin writing in The News:

A fantasy it would seem to many but just imagine the possibility of Nawaz Sharif changing his political stripes and, lo and behold, becoming a modern, progressive and even a secular leader to challenge the Pakistan People’s Party not from the right but from the left. That the PPP has become critically vulnerable on this flank is something we can leave for another time.

Well, even as a fantasy, the thought is prompted by his remarks on the May 28 carnage in Lahore and, more significantly, by the response that came from the religious leaders. My script would be that Nawaz Sharif takes a few days off to reflect on the state of the nation in the company of just a few advisers, remaining inaccessible to the rest of the world. It may be possible to draw an agenda for this reflection.

For instance, there has to be a crash course on history, with specific focus on how Pakistan came into being and how it was led into wilderness. Naturally, this has to be studied against the backdrop of world affairs. What are the lessons that we can learn from what is happening in other countries in the region and beyond? If guest speakers are acceptable, how about inviting Ayesha Jalal for this session?

But the main subject of study in this retreat should be the havoc that has resulted from a virtual ‘Islamisation’ of our polity. Even the intellectually blind in our society should be able to see that the induction of religion in politics has divided us. This division is prominent in the religious parties and groups themselves. And since they do not understand the ethos of a democratic dispensation, their differences are not creative but terrifyingly inflammable. Just calling Ahmedis ‘brothers’ can blow a fuse.

My flight of fancy, though I fervently wish it is not entirely wishful, is rooted in the realisation that Pakistan’s existence may be threatened if it does not readily change its course and, in a sense, make a new beginning. For that – for anything, for that matter – we need inspired and visionary leadership. Where will it come from if not from the available, though seemingly awful lot? Yes, Nawaz Sharif is seen as a rightist reactionary. There were those early hints of wanting to become an Amir-ul-Momineen.

But, as Shakespeare said, there is a tide in the affairs of men – and in the affairs of nations, in our context. If it is taken at the flood, it leads on to fortune. “Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries”. The point is that the rising challenge of religious extremism and intolerance is also an opportunity for a courageous and creative politician. There is dire need for a sweeping rejection of the kind of ideology that has brought us to our present state of desperation. And it is for Nawaz Sharif to “take the current when it serves”.

I am tempted to recall how Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who rose under the shadow of a dictator, responded to the call of the moment in the late sixties and created the most powerful political movement after the creation of Pakistan. Look at how his legacy has survived and the PPP is still a formidable force. In fact, it is the mounting failure of the PPP in maintaining its initial thrust that there is obvious scope for a more radical message to the people of this country.

By the way, all our aspiring politicians want to be a Bhutto but they do not have the intellectual vigour and a grasp of history that ZAB had. Indeed, one of our great tragedies was that Imran Khan, who potentially had a tryst with destiny when he entered politics, was led astray when he decided to play on the wicket of political Islam.

When I daydream about Nawaz Sharif’s political makeover, I am also conscious of the grim reality. I feel that the real significance of the attack on the Ahmedi places of worship in Lahore has not yet been comprehended by our politicians. In many ways, this was a negation of what Pakistan was meant to be. Yet, Nawaz Sharif is being praised for just condemning it and saying that Ahmedis are “my brothers and sisters”. He still did not have the courage to visit the site of the tragedy and condole with the elders of the community.

More than ever before, the liberals in this country feel totally betrayed. There must be a lot of them in a country where religious parties have never won a national election. Yes, a political party professing secularism as its ideal – and projecting Turkey as an example – will not readily become a popular party. But this is an idea whose time has come and it has to be objectively and peacefully debated in all political circles.

That a paradigm shift in our sense of direction is imperative may be judged by what is happening all around us. It is not enough to re-insert the word “freely” in a clause of the Objectives Resolution that called for making adequate provisions for the minorities “freely to profess and practice their religion”. More crucial is to look at the Objectives Resolution itself.

The subject that I have chosen has kept me from reviewing some important events of the week. I wanted to quote from Declan Walsh’s piece in ‘The Guardian’ on the Lahore carnage in which he said that Jinnah’s Pakistan now “lies in tatters”. An attack on NATO trucks near Islamabad deserves a proper appraisal. Sectarian tensions have resurfaced in Karachi and so have the targeted killings of doctors. Gang war in Lyari, Karachi’s PPP bastion, has continued in its second week. Et cetera, et cetera.

However, let me just refer to two assessments of Pakistan by foreign observers, made in structured analyses. Pakistan has been ranked the fifth most unstable country in the world in US State Department’s Global Peace Index. It is better only than Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Sudan. We have fallen for the second successive year in this scale.

The Amnesty International has issued a 130-page report on the human rights situation in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Reports said that it is based on an extensive survey. The title of the report says it all: “As if Hell Fell on Me: The Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan”. It said that nearly four million people are effectively living under Taliban rule in northwest Pakistan and have been abandoned by the government. The acting head of the Amnesty has remarked that the government “should fulfil its promise to bring FATA out of a human rights black hole”.

Would Nawaz Sharif want to read this report, when he has time to think about the ground realities of a country that he aspires, one more time, to govern?


Filed under Pakistan

17 responses to “An Idea Whose Time Has Come

  1. Raza

    Brilliantly written. One of the best pieces I have read.
    I think since Nawaz Sharif caters to conservatives, it is much more important that PML (N) moves more towards secularism. Conservatives can be seculars as conservatism is broad umbrella holding postions in economics, crime, role of government etc.

  2. Mansoor Khalid

    The liberals have finally stood up against the religious extremism and I am sure that they will win this war. The simple rationale behind this is because today education and knowledge have spread a lot through so many informal means. Every man and woman knows what’s best for him and can make sane choices so why not leave the choices to them. The time for Pakistan to move forward as a liberal and dynamic state has come.

  3. Farukh Sarwar

    The human rights condition in our country is certainly in the worst of conditions, but it is not right to say that the government has abandoned the 4 million living in FATA; the army is on offensive against the militants and will soon get rid of them.

  4. muhammadhassanmiraj

    wonderful work

  5. Mohsin

    People in Sudan & Somlia still think they will rule the world. So are Pakistani Islamists? They have slowly made Pakistan a Paleedistan, as they predicted.

    I think this article is more of a wish, could not Shareef’s send some one to the site, like law enforcement people? None came. The business is as usual. Nawaz’s comment was just an eyewash, as his brother negates the truth of Punjabi Taliban being present under his chair.

    Govt is none existent, perid. You can show n number of factors. Media which is crucial to bring forth the truth is also hijacked by Islamists read terrorists. U don’t see a day when some one does not come on TV and incites a mass murder. Pakistan is doomed. Unless some nationalist wakes up and changes the tide.

  6. Ammar

    The liberal elements are now gearing up and speaking against the extremist tendencies in our society. We have suffered long in the hands of bigoted Mullah it is time to stand up and let our voices be heard. Active citizens can bring peace and harmony!

  7. Mustafa Shaban

    Well before we talk about Nawaz Sharif political oreintation, lets just look at his credibility and history. Nawaz Sharif is curropt and is part of the curropt political system. His history speaks for itself. PML N has good people but the leadership is corrupt.

    On the other hand the author mentioned Imran Khan going off track because of embracing what he called ”political islam” . This is not true, Imran Khan is only referring to the principles of Islamic thought which is justice, humanity and self esteem, he gives example from the first 4 caliphs and also from different leaders like Tun Mahathir Muhammed, Chavez, Lee Kwon Yoo , Quaid E Azam and others. He is a liberal, liberalism with the ideals of Islam which are peace and justice. He is not a fundamentalist neither is he a conservative. He has a completlely liberal agenda tied in with the ideals of Islam which has some similarities to ZAB style of politics but is different as well.

  8. bciv


    Tun Mahathir Muhammed, Chavez, Lee Kwon Yoo , Quaid E Azam

    unlike the other names here, jinnah believed in democracy. doubt imran khan appreciates that critical difference. since you have never explained to us – despite numerous opportunities and requests to do so – how your khilafa system would be democratic and pragmatically accountable, we have no reason to be surprised at your failure to point out that crucial difference.

  9. Mustafa Shaban

    @Bciv: I wasnt talking about Khilafat system, I was talking about how people like the author misinterpret and misunderstand Imran Khans political orientation. I prefer the Khilafa system but even if we just have a parliamentary democracy with a honest and sincere leader, that will also take us forward and solve most of our problems. The main problem with Pakistan is corruption and rule of law. Rule of law and corruption mainly in top levels of government and also in lower levels as well. Once this is solved every other problem will either be solved automatically or will become easy to solve.

    The Khilafah system is slightly complex, I will take some time to explain it and put it together.

  10. Mustafa Shaban

    @bciv: Chavez is very democratic, so is Mahathir Muhammed and other names I mentioned. There are some very good democratic governments, there are some very sincere leaders like Fidel Castro as well but I dont support the idea of dictatorship. When IK gives examples of other leaders, he is talking about leadership, not thier politcal oreintation or the system they chose to put in place. All great and sincere leaders, democrats or dicators follow similar rules and principles. There is a common characteristics in all good leaders. What Pakistan needs is good leadership. A bad democracy, curropt dicatorship and corrupt officials wont help. Before discussing political oreintations and political and social systems , we need to pay attention to rule of law and accountability, if there is no rule of law and accountability then no system in the world will work.

  11. bciv

    but even if we just have a parliamentary democracy with a honest and sincere leader, that will also take us forward and solve most of our problems.

    as long as you make no compromise on insisting on such a person being freely and fairly elected, through a transparent system based on universal adult franchise, i have no probelm with you wishing and praying for her/him to be a good person.

  12. bciv

    All great and sincere leaders, democrats or dicators follow similar rules and principles. There is a common characteristics in all good leaders. What Pakistan needs is good leadership. A bad democracy, curropt dicatorship and corrupt officials wont help. Before discussing political oreintations and political and social systems , we need to pay attention to rule of law and accountability, if there is no rule of law and accountability then no system in the world will work.

    so musharaf’s crime was not that he was a criminal and a traitor under article 6 of the constitution, but that he was a corrupt man? so you are looking for a robin hood to rule pakistan? as log as he gives it to the poor, it does not matter that he steals from the rest? you want to re-enact the fairy tales your grandma used to tell you about in real life?

    why not let me be the next dictator of pakistan? support my coup d’etat? of course, you will support it. or do you think i am corrupt??? you’d at least give me a chance till i prove myself to be corrupt? of course, by your own logic, you would. alas, i’m not the COAS, nor likely ever to be the COAS.

  13. Jamal

    What’s on Pakistan TV talk shows? Extremists. — Christian Scicne Monitor

    Pakistan TV talk-show hosts like Zaid Hamid and Amir Liaquat Hussain peddle anti-American conspiracy theories and bash minorities.


  14. Zainab Ali

    Its true that our people have been supporting nuts like Zaid Hamid, who openly express his anti US and anti India views on different TV channels. This needs to stop, because in order to create harmony between the two neighboring states and the US, it is important to stop such persons to go on air.

  15. Tilsim

    Yes, I think we should be optimistic. Terrorism and religious violence is the ugly reality that follows the hubris filled literalist and fundamentalist thinking. Terrorism and our societal failure is a result of a mindset that hides behind absolutist certainty. A mindset that does not have the tools or the willingness to engage with the world. This mindset negates the possibility of spiritual and intellectual growth that comes from observing the world around us and engaging with it, holding firm to ethics.

    Terrorism has provided right minded people whether liberal or conservative a cause to fight back.

  16. Mustafa Shaban

    @bciv: You completely misunderstood me, i thought I was very clear. And your reply didnt make sense either.

    Musharraf is a criminal for the reasons you mentioned. I am not advocating stealing from the rich, neither was i trying to say all the bullshit you thought I was saying. What I said was pretty simple and then you just started talking nonsense things that had no relation to what I just said.

    My point was that even some good officials who are not corrupt lack good leadership and management skills, all leaders who serve thier people and successfully create a thriving society, peace, justice and progress in different feilds share similar characteristics. Leadership is an art that is not understood by most. Management is also another art. Pakistan lacks management and leadership skills, if we can develop on those skills and apply them in our governance systems then we can go a long way. There are many leadership books and management books out there, also lots of seminars on those things to. We can take the advice that good leaders, either leaders of nations, CEO’s of corporations and other types of leaders give us. By bringing good leadership and management most of our problems will be solved.

  17. Sadia Hussain

    Radical version of Islam is not just constrained to Pakistan or Saudi Arab its proponents are spread across the globe. We need to propagate the true preaching’s of Islam which deify violence and extremism. Extremism is a phenomenon which is not geographically bound and it needs to counter at a global level.