Our journey to the end of reason
The eventual outcome of the events which began at Faizabad on the Islamabad Expressway leaves behind a deep sense of sadness. A sadness for a state that failed, for a government that gave in to insanity, for a people who now stand at risk of falling victim to the same kind of hooliganism and blackmail again and again and for the generations that will be pulled into the trap of illogic laid out in the appalling agreement signed with Khadim Rizvi.
To condemn an entire country to the agreement is a crime; it will haunt us forever. The connivance of so many in all that happened in Islamabad leaves the sense of a final death knell having been sounded for any sense of order and rule of law in a state where as trivial a matter as the one involved here can bring mobs unchecked onto the roads.
The real question is for how long we can ward off a repetition. The state has demonstrated its vulnerability to pressure from extremist forces. The problems caused by entirely the same kind of pressure have arisen in the past as well. The core of the current problem in fact dates back to 1974.
The crucial issue here is the separation of religion from matters of politics and the state. This issue can now no longer even be discussed in any mainstream forum without creating the threat of disruption or retaliation from the religious right. Indeed, as the right has grown stronger and increased in number, the centre has moved to the right, as is a feature seen almost universally when either the left or the right assume strength. Those who hold centre place appear to gravitate towards the source of power. What we have now are the formerly centre-left parties such as the PPP and ANP failing to effectively challenge all that has happened in parliament.
Parliament has essentially lost its standing as a floor for open and constructive debate and turned into a rag-tag gathering which is attended only infrequently by the elected representatives of the people and where few truly meaningful debates take place. Certainly, the focus of the Lower House does not appear to be on bringing any betterment to the lives of people.
This of course can also be said for the forces that operate outside it. We wonder if Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his cronies consider a situation in which people, most of them Muslim, are literally unable to feed families or attain anything resembling basic amenities. Does Rizvi see this as a problem which falls within the framework of t religion? Surely this is unjustifiable. But beyond theological arguments, it should be the state which upholds this as its most basic duty. The breakdown in relations between the state and its citizens is one reason why ground has been opened up for extremists to move forward and occupy it. The role of other institutions possibly contributes to this.
We have then a state within which people have been essentially abandoned. They must fend for themselves, with no guarantee that their basic safety and security can be protected from the ‘peaceful’ mobs that hurl abuses, lash out with sticks and terrorise ordinary people day after day, leaving them unable to proceed with the basic needs of life. The failure of the state to safeguard the essential rights of citizens in such circumstances is an extremely dangerous omen. For a government already besieged with multiple other woes and threats, it was quite apparent that the possibility of any death or injury occurring during an operation effectively paralysed them. This much became evident with the minister of interior, Ahsan Iqbal’s, press talks before the operation.
The strength of religious extremists lies in their ability to turn out highly organised cadres onto the streets, using – where necessary – the millions of madressah students in the country and depending on their readiness to follow any orders without thought. No political party commands such a following, despite there having traditionally been a very limited religious vote bank in the country. The elements of fascism inherent in this style of leadership have been rendered invisible in a country where religion has been so often misused that people have been left unable to differentiate between good and bad, and between abuse and protection of the right to belief.
Some of what happened in the aftermath of the dharna, which crippled lives and caused the loss of at least two including a child who was unable to reach a hospital due to the blockades, is stunning. It is understood that money was handed out to protesters, as travel money apparently, following the short-lived operation against them and after some were arrested and then released. What is next? Will we also hand out money to those who kill out of hate or spread the message of hate in the country? Will we hand out awards to others who preach intolerance or take the law into their own hands? Essentially, we appear to have lost the plot.
The government in this case was left virtually helpless for a number of reasons – but it did not help itself either; it failed to act quickly enough to reveal details of the report on how the ‘clerical error in the election oath came about and why the representatives of all major parties who sat on the committee but overlooked the wording should not also be held ‘guilty’.
All that happened was about politics, about power, and not about religion. The confusion between the two is almost inevitable when the state begins to make judgments and laws on belief and on practice. We as a state have indulged in this far too frequently. The dangers of what this means were visible all through the 20 days of torment in Islamabad. It does not seem there is any readiness to remedy the madness. It is also apparent that political parties, which are essentially on their own powerless entities, cannot do so on their own.
As Gen Musharraf said in a recent statement, the people vote incorrectly. He has predicted that the PML-N and the PPP will dominate the next elections too. Since these are not parties he ‘approves’ of, the people’s choice is apparently invalid. It will of course immediately become valid if they cast ballots for the ‘right’ people, namely Musharraf and his men.
By attempting to blend together politics, religion and law, we have created for ourselves an extremely difficult situation. With each decade, we have been pulled deeper and deeper into the trap. Those that guard the pit into which we have fallen can ensure no one escapes from it. Other men like Khadim Rizvi will follow in his wake. They will be inspired by his ability to violate every rule of the land and of morality without any punishment. Those who do believe in rules have had space snatched away from them. Even now, it is nothing more than a sliver and given the alignment of powers, it is very possible that sliver too could be snatched away.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.
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