Jinnah Avenue, Islamabad

By Humayun Gauhar

With elections nigh there’s no point in making predictions. With so many assassinations though we should make a ‘Democracy’s Revenge Park’ in memory of it’s martyrs.

What will happen will happen, though one can say that barring some horrible event elections will go ahead unless the anti-Taliban parties of the three provinces being targeted by terrorists boycott them. Unlikely, for they would be out in the cold, but it would throw a big spanner in the works. My worry is: will all big players accept their validity given that terrorism obstructed their campaigns and they get fewer seats than they expect or if Imran Khan’s Tsunami turns out to be a splash? Credibility of elections is at stake, as is the system.

Last week I was part of a panel discussion on ‘Pakistan at the Crossroads’ in the Islamabad Literature Festival of the Oxford University Press organized beautifully by Ms. Ameena Saiyid and her team. They deserve praise and congratulations. I learned something when some Baloch Pathans vented their anger on the panel, myself particularly, for not knowing what we were talking about. They had attacked Prof. Dr. Rasul Bakhsh Rais a day earlier during a panel discussion I was moderating. I realized how much they wanted to differentiate themselves from the Pathans of Pukhtoonkhwa and how much anger and resentment they harbour against the State. When I thanked them for adding to my knowledge and suggested that we should all think about how to assuage their anger and bring them back into the mainstream, they suddenly they mellowed. Afterwards they climbed the stage and the person who hectored me kissed my hand, thanked me and said that he would give me a return ticket to come to his place in Balochistan to eat ‘sajji’, the delicious whole roast lamb they cook on wood fire. Afterwards we continued our discussion outside the building in a most civilized manner. I realized that there is good in everyone if only we searched for it and how easy it is to bring the alienated to one’s side with a little love, understanding and sympathy. The big lesson is that one can coopt people with sugar instead of poison. We keep using poison all the time against a people we don’t know and a place we have never seen.

When has Pakistan not been at a crossroads, not faced a decision that would change the course of its history? Not being used to normalcy we would feel unwell if we were not at a crossroads at any time. Sadly, we always take the wrong turn. But let it continue for this is an evolutionary learning process and we the people will eventually find the correct path.

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And that is precisely the point: whereas a crossroads gives one four roads to choose from, we are actually at a fork. One is the correct path that leads to water that is the source of life and the other the wrong path that leads to destruction of mind and body. As Muslims we have no option but to take the correct path or Sh’ar, the path that leads to the well. We have always taken the Satanic path rather than the Divine path for we have abdicated our thinking to the cleric masquerading as scholar who abducted our faith long ago and now tells us what our religion is and how we ought to practice it when God has already told us so in the Quran. Please dwell on the two words I have used – ‘faith’ and ‘religion’, ‘Iman’ and ‘Deen’ – for we have made them into two different things and foisted the ‘Mazhab’ of a man-made Sharia on us to divide the Muslim community. God’s Sharia or guidance is already in the Quran. Faith is what matters: how one practices it is religion that is enunciated clearly in the Quran, so why do you need the cleric? Don’t get lost in debates about how many angels can stand on the point of a needle. That is neither faith nor religion but dogma. Clerics have turned religion into a collection of dogma, customs and rituals some of which pre-date the faith and become the self-appointed bureaucrats of religion run by churches, de facto and de jure.

So let us see whether on May 11 we take the correct path or the incorrect one once again. The four roads at this crossroads are all incorrect paths on which ruling class misguides us. The correct path has to be found through experience through failure. That is evolution. As Hazrat Ali (RA) said, “Unfortunate is the man who knows no failure for he doesn’t get a chance to know God.” I would add that he doesn’t get a chance to see his own smallness either in the larger scheme of things.

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Actually, the wrong path can often lead to the right path through successive misguidance and abdication of one’s own thought process. That is what I was indicating when I said a few weeks ago that whatever the outcome of the elections it will not be good in the short term but will enhance the realization that we are on the wrong path and need to find the correct one. And we will. My heart tells me so, as does my head.

Think: why are we perennially taking the wrong path? Is it that we are collectively stupid or that the roadmap given to us by beneficiaries of the iniquitous status quo masquerading as leaders is incorrect so as to preserve their own benefits and privileges?

Think: why was the prosecutor in the Benazir murder case assassinated? By putting blame on General Musharraf, Pervez Elahi and others, did her real murderers perhaps drop a veil on themselves by sending us on the wrong path? With Musharraf unexpectedly returning and giving a candid statement to the investigation team, the veil is in danger of being lifted.

Think: why was Khalid Shahinshah, one of Benazir’s security men standing alongside her on the stage while she was speaking making suspicious gestures? Why was he killed a few days later? Why was his killer killed in turn? You don’t have to be a genius to take your thinking in the right direction. Think: don’t go by drawing hearsay and teahouse gossip.

Think: will General Musharraf be alone on trial for Benazir’s murder or will it expose her real killers? They must be beside themselves with worry. Is that why they are desperate that he should accept exile again so that they are off the hook? If he agrees they would send him off with another honour guard.

Think. Why are terrorists rampant in three provinces and not in the Punjab? Who do the Taliban want in power? Referring to Mullah Omar’s Afghan government, then prime minister Nawaz Sharif said on November 17, 1998 that, “We need a Taliban type system in Pakistan” and “The Taliban are running the government better.” What does that tell you?

Think. Why does would-be deliverer Imran Khan keep making excuses for the Taliban, as this newspaper editorialized the other day? If Imran wins big so much the better for these two softies on the Taliban in the Punjab would negate one another and Nawaz Sharif will find it difficult to form a viable coalition government that will make space for obscurants. While we want God’s Islam we don’t want the mullah’s ‘Talibanisation’.

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Think: Nawaz Sharif used his heavy majority in the National Assembly to pass the 15th Amendment that would have brought us very close to becoming Taliban clones. Mercifully, before the Senate could pass the Act into law Sharif committed political suicide. This election is not likely to get him a two-thirds majority again but the danger of being soft on the Taliban remains. Think.

Think. For 33 years Pakistan’s politics has revolved around pro-Bhutto and anti-Bhutto forces. That is evaporating but now our politics revolves around pro- and anti-Taliban forces, a backward movement actually. But then how else does one get obscurant forces of darkness out of our system, just as it seems that we are on the cusp of getting fascism out of our system – the use of the most progressive rhetoric to further the most retrogressive ends, like strengthening feudalism by nationalizing industry and breaking the urban back?

Think. Is only Musharraf on trial but the judges too? That is good: let judges and lawyers expose themselves by their own hand and inadvertently save the judiciary, a vital institution in a democracy and an Islamic state, instead of being ‘martyred’ again to return as heroes.

The next government will be a wobbly caretaker and it will be a miracle if it completes its term. Let it fall on its face so that the system can be exposed for what it is and we can move on and hopefully get on to the correct path.

Think. Why do I think that even if elections don’t take us out of the quagmire we are headed in the right direction albeit on the wrong path? Not because I am an incorrigible optimist who grasps at silver linings in the darkest of clouds but because only by repeatedly taking the wrong path will this man-eating system eventually collapse and our eyes and minds finally open to recognize the correct path. Then we will see.

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