Monday, January 2, 2017

Perspective: Pakistan -- Some non-events in 2016 | Talat Farooq


Mullahism remained hale and hearty in 2016, rearing its ugly head every now and then to make a bigoted religious point – be it the Ahmadis, the Hindu marriage protection bill or the women’s protection bill.'

Photo: Sabir Nazar / Cartooning for Peace
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By Talat Farooq | December 30, 2016

NAB remained steadfast in its practice of not nabbing the corrupt because that would have clashed with its raison d’etre – protecting the powerful

In 2016, some cherished Pakistani dreams remained unfulfilled, deferred or worse, went sour – dreams of moving towards genuine democracy; designing a robust mechanism to root out corruption; and finding a counter-narrative to the terrorist ideology. These perennially unrealised goals continued to impact the lives of the common men and women of Pakistan in 2016.

Not that common men and women in our beloved country account for much, except to be bought, coerced, cajoled or manipulated into casting votes on election day. Their learned helplessness makes the whole rigmarole a lot easier to handle by clever operators accomplished in the art of deceit.

Some Pakistani champions of liberal democracy would have us believe that elections will eventually lead to genuine democracy. And if they fail to usher in a genuine democracy, we should remain silent and be patient because an illiberal democracy is better than ‘liberal-dictatorship’ – an oxymoron, I know, but what the heck. In Pakistani politics, ‘demo’ and ‘cracy’ is itself an oxymoron. In fact, Pakistani politics is all about oxymorons and just plain morons.

The morons, in this case, being the ‘demo’. They are promptly consigned to the trash heaps that abound as soon as the election charade is over. And from this stinking abode, the ‘demos’ whine and complain, curse their kismet and pray to Allah for change. But somehow they do not mind breathing in the stinking environment.

Consequently, we the ‘demos’ wait patiently as the ‘cracy’ runs its course for the next five years. We are not absolutely passive though. We debate whether we are witnessing ‘democracy in transition’ or a ‘’sham democracy’’.

What we can’t or won’t understand is that a democracy in transition moves forward and upwards by challenging the status quo while a sham democracy moves in circles, as it does in our case. And so, the MQM remains the MQM despite breaking into factions. And so, re-enters ‘aik’ Zardari who is ‘sab pey bhari’.

Despite everything, the political rhetoric in 2016 remained sickeningly unchanged on television, Twitter, Facebook and you name it. They knew they were lying; we knew they were lying and they knew that we knew they were lying. Welcome to the post-truth world in a technologically advanced era.

The disconnect between the rulers and the ruled did not change in 2016. Pakistan remained among the group of countries with low human development. Around four out of ten Pakistanis continued to live in multidimensional poverty.

Our expenditure on education remained the lowest in South Asia with Pakistan 50 or more years behind its primary and 60 or more years behind in its secondary education targets. Millions of children stayed out of school.

Those who did go to school –not the O Levels kind, mind you – and have now ended up in numerous Pakistani universities continued to lack critical thinking, analytical skills and language proficiency. This makes written and spoken expression truly inadequate – the unwholesome outcome of a woefully deficient and backward-looking educational system which discourages any questioning of authority.

The much-touted devolution under the 18th Amendment failed to nudge the country towards a more democratic society that believes in accountability. Small wonder then that corrupt practices continued unabated in 2016.      

NAB remained steadfast in its practice of not nabbing the corrupt because that would have clashed with its raison d’etre – protecting the powerful by burying evidence under piles of paper or through plea bargains. Any semblance of checks and balances was further diminished by bringing Ogra, Nepra and other regulatory bodies under the ministries.

What also did not materialise was an earnest implementation of the National Action Plan. The madressahs largely remained out of bounds and the likes of Maulana Fazlur Rehman resumed their anti-change chorus in the wake of Raheel Sharif’s departure. Some favoured groups remained untouched – both out of misplaced political objectives and strategic perceptions.

'The former Raheel-i-karavan gave us some hope when, justifying his focus on corruption on the basis of its link with terrorism, he promised to fight the fight. To be fair he did try to outplay the corrupt in an eyeball to eyeball match as we, the rapt spectators, watched with bated breath. Then he blinked and that took care of that.

We held our breath once more when the highest court began hearings of Panama Leaks petitions in November 2016 after a PTI-dharna-scare. The outgoing Munsif-e-Ala did not blink. He did not have to. He never participated in an eyeball to eyeball contest in the first place.

The incoming Munsif-e-Ala has raised our hopes again by promising not to let down the ‘’demos’’. The words sound familiar, don’t they? However, if justice is indeed done – and more importantly seen to be done – it could pave the way for meaningful change. If not then we will be on our way from a post-truth to a post-hope world in 2017.

Mullahism remained hale and hearty in 2016, rearing its ugly head every now and then to make a bigoted religious point – be it the Ahmadis, the Hindu marriage protection bill or the women’s protection bill.'

A counter-narrative to terrorism remained a favourite theme – verbally, that is – in the aftermath of horrific terrorist attacks in KP and Balochistan. But changing a well-entrenched ideological narrative requires courage and conviction – commodities in short supply in the corridors of power.

Changing the narrative will invariably involve a review of ideological perspectives and a revaluation of strategic mindset. Nobody seemed ready to venture out of their comfort zones in 2016. Why rock the boat when you have the wind at your back?

Lack of change in this department has done nothing to make us safe domestically. Moreover, the failure to take bold steps has impinged on our foreign policy yet again in 2016, making it one of the key reasons for continuing mutual distrust in Pakistan’s relations with the US, India and Afghanistan.

December is the month of Jesus and Jinnah – Jesus with his message of love and compassion for all and Jinnah with his vision of a prosperous country engaged in all-inclusive politics. December 2016, along with so many Decembers past, will leave us with the same reminder: Jesus was not heeded; Jinnah was not heard. Happy New Year, Pakistan!


___________________________
Talat Farooq teaches at NDU. She is the author of ‘Pakistan’s Strategic Choices in the 1990s’ (Routledge, UK). Email: talatfarooq11@gmail.com



(A version of this article first appeared in The News, Pakistan)


-- Perspective: Pakistan -- Some non-events in 2016 | Talat Farooq


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