Only Questions: No Answers

I belong to a generation that has lived through many periods of hope: hope that was shattered again and again. One of the reasons why hopes generated in such periods were never realised was our strategic geo-political location and the failure of our leadership (such as there was) and society to come together and understand this reality, and on that basis develop a common vision of what our country stood for, how it was to be governed and how it should relate to powerful external interests that have constantly been knocking at our door. As such, the hopes that the movement for reform and democracy generated in the last year and a half were not shared by me. There was an element of déjà-vu in all this- a fear of another betrayal, the likelihood of another failure. I tried to stay quiet at the enthusiasm of my younger friends and colleagues while discussing politics; I did not write for newspapers unlike in earlier periods of hope; and I did not appear on TV channels to discuss political issues, in spite of several invitations. Every morning I opened the newspapers with fear in my heart. Many of my friends, who belong to the same generation as me, had similar feelings.

However, I continued to read the news and the beautifully and often emotionally and well-argued analysis that has appeared in the press. I also listened with interest to the informative conversations and discussions on various news channels until they became repetitive; the same experts, politicians and lawyers saying the same things with increasingly less conviction and clarity, to the same few anchors. Today, there is an element of surrealism in reading the press and listening to the TV. The news we receive is increasingly contradictory and so is the analysis. Much of it is fragments of our larger problems which have already been discussed to death.

There are so many questions that I, like other Pakistanis I am sure, would like to have answers to. I would like to know who is really in power, what are the policies of our government rather than what appears on the surface, what are the conflicts between the different organs of the state and why, who is fighting who in the border regions and to what end, and what are the objectives of the great powers and our neighbours who are actively involved in our internal affairs and whose interests have so often determined the course of events in our country? Reading and listening to the media, I get totally different answers to these questions, answers that are not simply contradictory but poles apart; answers that are disturbing and give no hope for the future. Given the nature of these answers can the country have a coherent political establishment or an effective movement for reform and democracy?

However, one thing is clear from news and its analysis that without a consensus between the Americans, Pakistan army and the elected political establishment, there can be no peace in Pakistan. But it is also clear that such a consensus cannot last for there is a clash of interests between the army and the Americans, the political establishment and the army, and the Americans and the political establishment. Overtly they cooperate with each other but covertly they pursue their own agendas, to the extent they can, because of pressure from their different constituencies. So, the consensus cannot last, as we have seen, and for the time that it does it can only do so through coercion, buying and selling of loyalties, constitutional deviations masquerading as national interest and covert deals with the Americans; in short, everything that destroys the unity of our federation, the fabric of our society, the effectiveness of our institutions and undermines our sovereignty. We are, as the Americans say, caught between a rock and a hard place. Our position is similar to that of Noradom Schianok during the height of the Vietnam War and in spite of all his brilliance he could not prevent that war from engulfing Cambodia. How are we to get out of this impasse?

The other issue is also disturbing. Some of the local and international press and think-tanks have indicated that they think that the NATO troops in Afghanistan will tire and the Taliban will control the south and east of the country. They feel that when this happens the Taliban will take with them certain areas of the border regions of Pakistan. If this happens then what will happen to our federation and how will the Americans secure the Baloch frontier – something they are bound to attempt? Also, this state of affairs can only come about after a major escalation of the war in Afghanistan and in the border regions of Pakistan. Karachi is required to make this escalation possible for oil, food and other supplies required for the troops in Afghanistan can only be supplied through this city. Does the recent statement of the Karachi Nazim, reported in the press, that the geography of the city and the country will change in the future have something to do with this line of thinking? It has to be remembered that Karachi was conquered by the British for the purpose of supplying men and material to British troops in Afghanistan to prevent Czarist Russia from reaching the Arabian Sea. In the First World War it was the headquarters for British intervention in Central Asia and in the Second World War support to the eastern front was provided from this city. Again, during the Afghan War against the Soviets, it played the same role. Given these realities, how will all this effect (or is effecting) the politics of the city and hence of Pakistan in general and the rest of Sindh in particular? Does the battle for turf in Karachi, the violence associated with it and the bomb blasts of 8 July 2008 have something to do with this issue?

Truthful answers to the questions that have been posed in this piece are important. Without them there can be no effective policy to overcome the crisis we are in. Without them, people cannot be mobilised for change and without them hopes cannot be realised and the reasons why hopes have not materialised in the past cannot be understood. For reform and change, Pakistan needs a commission for truth and reconciliation on the lines of South Africa. We need to wash ourselves clean, however, painful this may be. However, this poses two more questions; one, is it possible to have such a commission in the situation we are in today? And two, if not, what sort of political movement is required to make this possible other than anarchy and conflict leading to the reorganisation of the state?

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