2006: Pakistan's vulnerable revolution

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Mon Jan 1 14:52:02 UTC 2007

2006: Pakistan's vulnerable revolution

By Nasim Zehra

Throughout 2006 President Pervez Musharraf led the call for moderation in
Pakistani politics and society. In the closing weeks of 2006 he also
shepherded state institutions and parliament to take concrete steps like
the passage of the Women's Protection Bill and introduction of an
additional bill to end illegal, unconstitutional and un-Islamic practices
against women including domestic violence. A long overdue revision of the
school curriculum took place to broaden historical and cultural horizons
and to remove the language handicap the Urdu medium students face,
impeding their academic and professional development.

While credible democracy is still missing, on the ideological plane there
is an overall spirit of tolerance and inclusion that the
Musharraf-controlled state and official politics is displaying. These are
almost revolutionary steps coming from a state and political class that
through acts of commission and omission has, for almost quarter of a
century, beginning with its participation in the US-led 80s'
'international jihad' against the Soviet Union, tolerated and promoted
intolerance and violence in society. Pakistan's state institutions,
encouraged by global politics of the 80s and 90s actively violated the
constitution, undermined internal security, and trashed the founding
vision of Pakistan seeking to promote the finest values of Islam and
humanism - justice, freedom and excellence. Instead, a dark stifling
shadow was cast over the Pakistani state and society.

Many exceptional efforts resisted state pressures but in Pakistan the
collective and institutionalized spirit of inquiry, of commitment to
social justice, of academic excellence were maimed. And for too long. It
was a shadow that killed the spirit of art and culture, it numbed the
sensitivities and it promoted fear and conspiracy. Why did mostly the
fearful, the crooked and the conspiratorial fill our public space? Many in
Pakistan consistently harped on these questions.  They spelt out the
dangers of sectarianism, bigotry and organized violence to people and
politics. They demanded change. No less than a cancer was sown in society.

Logically therefore this 2006 turnaround was long overdue. Logical
requirements however don't easily become items on political agendas. It
took this government half a decade whether and how to remove the
deviations from the essence of Quranic teachings and the constitution from
the various aspects of state-controlled private and public life. Finally
multiple triggers- domestic, political, media support and foreign
pressure, as well as Musharraf's personal orientation prompted the 2006
ideological turn around. Significantly the military rulers have been
responsible for introducing constitutional changes and promulgating
ordinances that introduce fundamental changes in the position of women.
Ayub Khan introduced the Family Laws Ordinance granting additional rights
to women while Zia ul-Haq legalized and institutionalized injustice
against women. The difference between the Ayub and Zia moves, and
Musharraf's, is that Musharraf, though a military president, initiated the
Women's Protection Bill that enjoyed the support of the parliamentary
members, constitutional institutions like the Council of Islamic Ideology,
national and regional parties including ANP, PPP and MQM which enjoy
popular support, the executive and the media.

The women's bill therefore went through the parliamentary process and
enjoys considerable popular political support. Through this move Musharraf
started to tangibly root out Zia's legacy of distortion of religion and
patriotism he had initiated for the overlapping causes of personal
survival and the security agenda devised by his regime. Musharraf's regime
also appears to be actively withdrawing from religo-political groups the
authority of defining and determining national security and national
ideology. Until now the state had merely looked on while the values of
tolerance and co-existence became subservient to group and clique notions
of religiosity.

On anti-terrorism, Musharraf's articulation has been faulty. As the head
of state his call can only be to ask for citizens' adherence to law; to
the state's commitment to enforcement of law; to the promotion of values
and vision as enshrined in the words of the Founding Father and in the
constitution. The rest he must leave to the political class which alone
fires up popular imagination. That class alone can win hearts and minds
and effectively defuse hate and anger. Does this have staying power? While
in 2006 the lifting of the long and dark shadow has begun, yet the effort
has at best initiated a vulnerable revolution; one that can be undermined
by negative pressures generated by other unresolved questions.  An
invincible revolution requires government's engagement with the three
challenges woven into the tapestry of Pakistan's contemporary power and
politics. A holistic engagement requires responding ably and most
importantly simultaneously, to the three connected challenges of 'credible
democracy', internal security and ideological reorientation.

While the government has taken significant steps to promote ideological
reorientation, it remains weak on credible democracy and on anti-terrorism
policy that is at the heart of internal security. Credible democracy
security requires holding of fair and free elections and internal security
requires fighting terrorism using transparent methods. It is also
important to remember that no anti-terrorism policy can really succeed
without credible democracy, which allows more space to mainstream
political parties. In the Pakistani tool kit of anti-terrorism, the
crucial missing factor is an alternative political vision that captures
the people's hearts and minds.

Yet for it to take roots the frameworks, discourse, narratives and
contestations should all promote a tolerant way of being. More
importantly, Pakistan's 60-year history and Musharraf's seven years
specifically clearly underscore that credibly functioning state
institutions and political system together constitute the enabling
environment in which judicious politics will prosper. Interestingly, the
media, the state, the government's allies including PML-Q and MQM, the
mainstream opposition party PPP and civil society groups are all promoting
the alternative tolerant discourse. Yet the unresolved question of
democracy, human rights and anti-terrorism policy sharply divides these
groups with the opposition parties, media and civil society confronting
the government over issues of democracy, human rights and anti-terrorism
policy. As things stand, these issues trump the common denominator of a
tolerant political worldview. Hence the common space of ideological
reorientation is insufficient to earn the government sustained and
widespread support.

To make the 2006 moves invincible, the government will have to move
simultaneously and credibly and imaginatively along the democratic path
and the internal security path.

(Nasim Zehra, columnist and national security strategist, is currently a
Fellow at the Harvard University Asia Center. She can be reached at
nasimzehra at gmail.com)

Copyright Indo-Asian News Service



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