View Full Version : Turning a corner By Taha Najeeb - 20 March 2016

20th March 2016, 02:15 PM
By the time the Holy Roman Empire finally collapsed, it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

Our version of the holy empire recently gathered at the Jamaat-e-Islami headquarters in Lahore, in a moment of ‘crises. The holies within this holy empire find themselves trembling with insecurity. It is whispered they need protection from the Women Protection Bill.

So the meeting of the holy empire in Lahore produced a threat that mostly emanates from a gathering of insecure luminaries: take back the bill by March 27 or prepare to face the spit-flying rage of the holies of the holy empire. Are the Sharifs quaking in their boots?

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If they’re reading the ‘Moment’ right, they shouldn’t be. In fact, the Brothers Sharif should be thanking their lucky stars they have been handed a Moment leaders can only dream of; a Moment that can make glorious history and break inglorious tradition. Now, here, upon us, is a tipping point. With one heave, one push, one shove and thrust, the momentum of reactionary forces can be reversed.

This moment has been four decades in the making.

Social, cultural and political regression embraced us gradually. Spawned by General Zia, boosted by the Afghan jihad, strengthened by draconian legislation, reinforced by official narrative, bolstered by state-sanctioned intolerance, energised by bigotry, invigorated by a warped curriculum, and sustained by myopic and mostly self-serving civil and military leadership through the years, this regression morphed into an enforced way of life, and then became a state of mind.

Two generations, four decades and more than forty thousand deaths later, Pakistan is pushing back. Or trying to. Or pretending to. Or wants to. At this stage, either is better than the stagnation and decay that has defined life around us all. If the pushback has to succeed, it must transform into a fightback. Yes, a fight to snatch back this country from the clutches of those who have mangled the enlightened spirit of the nation into a vicious and vile narrative that feeds off the ‘otherisation’ of people.

At some point, enough does become enough. Was it the slaughter and mayhem in our cities? Was it the unchecked reign of terror across the landscape? Was it the wanton destruction of mosques, schools and offices? Was it the indiscriminate slaying of men, women and children? Was it a belated realisation that we were falling off the global cliff and being written off as a dysfunctional state? Perhaps it was all of the above that finally triggered the pushback, and now there is a glimmer of hope that the State that orchestrated this regression is ready and willing to roll it back.

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The moment to act is here, and the forces of regression are feeling the heat. To their dismay, they are realising they are now on the wrong side of the State. The space for them and all they stand for, is shrinking.

But is it really shrinking? Visible acts like the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri and the adoption of the Women Protection Bill may suggest so, but symbols can be misleading. Yes, the National Action Plan is tackling the causes of terrorism, yes the armed forces are uprooting terror bases on our soil, and yes a shaky political consensus is shaping up against intolerance, bigotry and fanaticism — but has the tipping point been achieved?

The hint of an answer may lie in how the Brothers Sharif respond to the threats from the holy empire. And this response should be rooted in a very simple realisation: at this moment the only persons who really matter; who really can make a difference; and who shoulder the responsibility for achieving the tipping point in this four-decade-old struggle — are the Brothers Sharif.

Here’s why: a loose consensus on the fundamentals of change is important among political stakeholders, but it’s not the decisive factor. In terms of social, cultural, legal and political impact, no political party at this moment has much of a role to play other than the party that dominates Pakistan. No doubt, the PPP in Sindh and the PTI in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, hold sway in their respective provinces, but at the strategic level where this battle against the forces of regression will be fought, these parties do not matter much. When it comes to the big picture game, it’s the army and the Sharifs.

The army triggered this change, and then led it. Now, a change of command is due in November and the new man will have to prove his credentials on this front. The tone, tenor and scale of the pushback, however, will depend a lot on how resolute the Brothers Sharif remain in the face of political threats. They have to stand firm on the Women Protection Bill, then they have to enforce hate speech laws, followed by a proper regulation of madrassas and a meaningful reform of the rotten curriculum. And that’s just a start.

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If these two gentlemen can show that they are serious and persistent to push back against regression; if they can prove through their actions that the blunt edged weapon of policy can bludgeon archaic traditions, primitive practices, antiquated beliefs and outmoded values, then others like the PPP and the PTI will have a political incentive to follow suit.

Such a bold course may not win the Brothers Sharif votes from across the divide, but it will win them something deeper: a place in history. The brothers have been gifted a moment, and to grasp it they have to rise above and beyond their political, parochial and sometimes even cultural compulsions. They have the power, they have the mandate, and they have the numbers in parliament to push through reforms that will set Pakistan on to a new direction for the next few generations.

The Brothers Sharif can right the wrongs of the Right if only they recognise the Moment — right this moment — and act upon it with a vengeance.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2016.