Let’s speak the truth, for a change

December 2, 2017

By: Ayesha Ijaz Khan

I once asked a UK-based Pakistani doctor who spends every holiday tending to the poverty-stricken in Pakistan’s far flung areas what he thought ails Pakistan most. His response was that nobody tells the truth to our people. I’ve often been reminded of this sentence when dealing with people in Pakistan and also when following the politics back home, but never more so than in the last week.

Those of us who despaired over what happened in Faizabad were distraught not because agreements with what have euphemistically been referred to as “non-state actors” haven’t happened in Pakistan previously. We lost hope precisely because it seems no lessons have been learned from what happened in Swat, for example, only a few years ago.

Many of us lamented then that the policies of appeasement that were adopted with the likes of Sufi Mohammed would not only haunt the people of that area but would be impossible to contain and would spread to the rest of Pakistan in due course.Then the Swat Operation happened, not because we “blood-thirsty liberals,” as Imran Khan falsely describes it, hungered for mayhem but because the state itself realised after repeatedly trying to do deals with various militant groups that they had grander political ambitions and would implement them in the most ruthless and violent of manners. Khooni Chowk wasn’t exactly run by liberals, lest anyone forget.

In contrast, had the liberals been given any heed in Pakistan, the empowerment of the Taliban would have never taken place and the need for the Swat Operation would not have arisen. Had Mullah Fazlulah not been allowed to broadcast his venom on the radio, as many liberals repeatedly said at the time, perhaps there would have been no need to displace so many people in Swat and lose so many military and civilian lives.

No sane, rational and humane person wants to see bloodshed. But when the state allows itself to weaken in the face of resistance from groups who refuse to recognise the institutions of the state, then there is no choice in the matter. The longer action against them is delayed the more deadly that action will become. After the Swat Operation, and a few years later, the horrific tragedy at the Army Public School in Peshawar, many of us thought a page had been turned. But the Faizabad fiasco has taken us back ten years.

Only a fool would think that agreeing to the demands of the TLYR has averted a disaster. What it has done is ensured many more disruptions to the lives of ordinary citizens. What it has done is empowered groups who think they can and should hold the state hostage. If they can demand the resignation of the law minister today, there is nothing to stop them from demanding the resignation of a CEO of a private company or the principal of a school tomorrow.

A Pakistani protester of the Tehreek-i-Labaik Yah Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYRAP) religious group throws a tear gas shell back towards police during a clash in Islamabad on November 25, 2017.

Some were hoping Zahid Hamid would come out with a few “culprits” so we could have our fall guys, demand a few more resignations and set an early date for elections. Turns out the whole Parliament was responsible. Anybody who has the slightest understanding of how a legislature functions should have known that already but why let facts spoil a good story?

Two days ago, Hamid Mir invited a few members of Parliament in his show, a couple of women with their heads covered and a gentleman with a beard. Surely all made a show about being “aashiq-e-rasool” but none of them spoke the truth or had the courage to say that they were all part of the Parliament that passed the bill in question. Nor were they alone, parliamentarians left, right and centre were busy distancing themselves from the bill, both on television and on social media. Some even went as far as to say they had walked out in protest till videos were circulated of them sitting pretty in their seats when the bill was being debated, raising no objection to the matter in question.

It wasn’t until the following day, when a man of Aitzaz Ahsan’s calibre, one of the few parliamentarians we can trust to speak the truth, corroborated what Zahid Hamid had written in his resignation letter. Mr. Ahsan went further however. He explained that the objection that Zahid Hamid had mentioned the opposition raising was in regards to non-Muslims, i.e., Hindus, Sikhs and Parsis not having to make the affirmation in question.

So what does all this tell us? It reveals that the bill was discussed in Parliament, everyone knew about it and the change wasn’t the earth shattering attack on Khatam-e-Nabuwat that it was later projected to be. Because had it been of course there would have been many more objections and the hoopla would have been in Parliament and not on the Faizabad interchange. But the government could neither find the courage nor the inclination to explain this to ordinary people.

So the real issue isn’t Khatam-e-Nabuwat. It is the incompetence of the government, coupled with a malicious power play. It is Shahbaz trying to backstab Nawaz. Imran trying desperately to discredit both Sharifs so that he is the only option available. The establishment trying to play one off against the other to ensure that no civilian becomes more powerful than them. Even if that means distributing envelopes of money to those who torch vehicles, kidnap police officers and let young kids die in ambulances. For these are “our people” and the rest of the country can go take a hike.

The writer is a lawyer in London who tweets @ayeshaijazkhan