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?