BREAKING NEWS: PAK’S NOT BREAKING UP

The relentless violence has not brought Pakistan to a standstill. The resilience is visible. The fight for freedom continues
Seema Mustafa Muzzafarabad/Delhi
 
A favourite comment heard among opinion makers in India about Pakistan is, “That country is disintegrating, it cannot survive.” Some say it with a sense of glee, others insist that they are not happy about it but “what can we do, that is the reality”.
 
Is it the reality? 
 
Pakistan, no doubt, is in deep trouble. The space to take its own decisions on vital matters of strategy has been taken over by the US. Terror has terrified Pakistanis with the continuing attacks impacting heavily on the nation’s psyche. The extremist groups operating out of Afghanistan and Pakistan have declared war, even as radicalism takes deep hold of sections of society within Pakistan as was manifested in the garlanding of the men who killed Punjab Governor Salman Taseer.
 
However, this is not the whole reality. Institutions have not collapsed in Pakistan. The judiciary remains functional, and on occasion, independent. The media is vibrant and responsive — some Pakistanis insist, sensational — but at least it is independent and questioning. There is an Opposition and a government, and uncomfortable questions are raised in the National Assembly, although it does not achieve much in real terms. There are political parties and elections. There is a civil society, weaker now than before, but still able to raise its voice on a host of important issues. 
 
And then, of course, there is the army that controls the government, but still has a top brass that believes in professionalism and is not willing to accept radicalism in the ranks. Interestingly, Indian army officers have a view about the Pakistan army that is very different from the government and the strategic establishment here. In their view, it is a professional army, and remains so despite the challenges of recent years.
 
The US operation to take out Osama bin Laden has definitely created shockwaves through the country. Not many tears were shed for the man, except in predictable climes; the debate, however, centres around the sovereignty of Pakistan, whether it is real now or just an illusion. The large majority of people seem to prefer the “our army was part of the entire operation” understanding to a “we did not know a thing” analysis. This is largely because the first makes them feel a little more secure, as the second confronts them with the reality that even the Pakistan army is now not in control. 
 
The general consensus among the civil society closer to the establishment seems to be that while the army was in the know of bin Laden’s whereabouts, it did not hand him over, but did become party to the US operation. All in all, the Pakistani sense of humour helps them tide over the crises; any number of jokes have been circulating through the country. One popular SMS said, “Shhh, don’t make a noise, or you will wake up our army.”
 
The US might be in control but remains dependent on the Pakistan army for operations on the ground, in Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s northern areas. The Pakistan army, as retired officials will tell you, cannot refuse help, and has, therefore, opted for deviousness as a method of resistance. This helps retain a level of independence, possible also because of the military’s knowledge of the terrain. And as the Afghans, including an initially reluctant President Hamid Karzai, have realised, Pakistan will continue to have a major say and presence in Afghanistan before and after the Americans depart. The Pakistan army was able to convince the US to start a dialogue with the Taliban, and has remained protective of its ‘assets’ throughout the war against terror.
 
Pakistani politicians, like their counterparts  all over South Asia, like to be heard. Hence, their presence is very visible. Elections in ‘Azad Kashmir’ had all the parties contesting with little said about the state of affairs within, and more about Kashmir as the larger issue that needs to be resolved. The population quietly watched the political parties from Islamabad slug it out, with the new entry, MQM, finally withdrawing from the fray altogether. 
 
The Kashmiri in Muzaffarabad is a subdued figure, with the culture, food and even politics of Punjab having taken over the area in more ways than one. S/he wants to be part of the Indian side of Kashmir, to rediscover her/his lost identity.
 
Violence makes news, but under the headlines are people who have aspirations for themselves and their country. There are voices that talk of radical Islam, of jehad and violence. But there are courageous voices too that counter these and write bold articles attacking the fundamentalists. The media prints these, the television channels air their views, and seminars and conventions are held as part of civil society’s fight-back to retain its space, and its grip on the future of Pakistan. 
 
Earlier, seen as pro-US, many important figures of the civil society have re-defined their role over the years to become critical of American intervention in the region; at the same time they insist on a just, modern, secular Pakistan. Terror attacks on the minorities make news, but the statements that come out from within Pakistan, condemning these over and over again, are ignored. Hence, the projections feed into the ‘Pakistan is disintegrating’ thesis, as the fight-back from the people and some institutions does not get reported internationally.
 
The educated youth comprising what one vaguely refers to as the civil society want to be free of the wars and violence. Speaking to them, one realises that they do not carry the baggage of history, of Partition, or Kashmir. They want solutions because they want peace so that they can move ahead. They are vocal in wanting the US out of the region, and do not share their parents’ obsession/fascination with India. For them, it is another country and most of them, working in television or in the corporate sector, want “to move on”.
 
On the other side are the conservative youth who have inherited the baggage, who believe in violence, and for whom there is no future unless radical Islam takes over Pakistan completely. Many of them have joined terror groups, believe in extremist ideology, and shun what they call westernisation.
 
But their presence does not spell the end of Pakistan. There is a counter-force which is presently supported by sections of the political class, and strangely enough, the army. The top brass in the army know that radicalisation will end professionalism, and as a Pakistani general said rather tellingly, “For every Hamid Gul, there is a Talat Masood.” 
 
Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is currently seen as a professional soldier, and there is little to suggest that the next in line are radical mullahs. And as a senior journalist said, “This means, we have a big window of opportunity.”
 
The relentless violence has not brought Pakistan to a standstill. Far from it. The resilience is visible. The fight for freedoms continues. 
 
There is an underlying fear, certainly, given the fact that terrorists can strike at will. But the voices for equality, gender justice, against feudalism, human rights violations and extremism have not been stilled. Petitions are framed, signed and submitted to the authorites every day, and while the fear is a little debilitating, it has certainly not crippled the voices of resistance. 
 
Unfortunately, the government and the main Opposition have let the people down; but then, as a young lecturer at Islamabad pointed out, “Even if they are not doing anything to strengthen us, at least they are not coming in our way. Their guilt works in our favour.”   
 
Seema Mustafa is a senior journalist based in Delhi
 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JULY 2011

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