DO WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO DISSENT?
“Dissent is no longer the duty of the engaged citizen but is becoming an act of terrorism.”
– Chris Hedges (in an article of the same title)
My generation grew up in a different Pakistan. A different Lahore, a different Karachi, a different Peshawar, a different Quetta, a different Islamabad and an entirely different country.
In Lahore, people sat in Pak Tea House and Coffee House and talked about politics, poetry, religion, culture and friendships gave birth, on a daily basis, to youthful romanticism of our times: the mutual seduction of kindred spirits within the confines of our cultural values and the gentleness of Urdu poetry, songs, geets (lyrics) and the Lahori humor. We celebrated basant (the kite-flying festival), maila-charagha (the festival of lights) and Urs Data Gung-Baksh (the festival of a saint). We observed Muharram with great reverence.
Karachi used to be alive twenty-four hours a day all year round. It was a city of “lights”, “fashion”, hustle-bustle of a truly cosmopolitan metropolis. Ethnic diversity and tolerance was the hallmark of this city. Peshawar was a beacon of hospitality, a tribute to human gentleness and an affirmation of a rich community life. Quetta’s apple-laden trees decorated its roads everywhere and the Balochis colorful existence found its spirit in its music, songs and even in its cuisine. Pakistan’s rural society existed in purity, simplicity and the zealousness of hard-working people.
Pakistan was a different country then: we lived in relative peace, tolerance and mutual harmony. A delicious puri nashta cost one rupee, petrol was Rs. 2.50 (40 Cents) a gallon, schooling was cheap, sugar and food were plenty, and a round-trip by PIA from Lahore to Karachi was Rs. 250.
The majority of Pakistanis were poor even then, but there was no mass starvation, deprivation suicides, forced prostitution, massive collective depressive communities, agonizing socio-psychological conditions, economic collapse, and no one knew of crippling demoralizing inner fears. We did not know of institutional violence and extensive state terror – though police brutality and legal system atrocities were common, bureaucracy was horribly cruel, corrupt, inefficient and unbelievably powerful vis-à-vis the citizenry, commerce thrived on black-marketing and the political class wholly and completely indulged in vested interests, inappropriate use of political power and mismanagement of state affairs.
Even though we lived with a million vices as a nation, but strangely enough, life was not as painful as it is in today’s democratic Pakistan. Neither was the entire nation, every one of its citizens, griped with such forceful, depleting and paralyzing fear – a fear that the management of the survival of this country has gone out of control. A fear that we all may be blown away from existence the next moment, if not literally then at least in a metaphorical sense!
Do you realize the seriousness of our contemporary political crisis?
The present state of our deplorable existence is the work of our decade-long political leadership inclusive of Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorship and the incumbent political dispensation in the country.
The fundamental failure of our national policy is this country’s ruling elite’s destructive all time political-economic-military alliance with the US and its allies (now India included).
Even at the time that I have described as the “golden days” of Pakistan’s past, our ruling elite was fully and comprehensively politically engaged with the US and its allies. However the US was in a different political mode then: it was fighting its own self-invented “demons” – the communist ideology and the communist nations (though communism was not a threat – it was a political experiment to solve mass poverty). The objective of American foreign policy was global political-economic and military domination.
In the present-day world, the policy objectives of the US and its allies remain same: worldwide imperialist hegemony and exploitation by the West’s multi-national corporations.
However, in the contemporary equation, the West’s enemies have been redefined: Now we are the “demons.” They have declared a war against Muslim nations, their people, their faith, their culture, their traditions, their values and customs, their history and even against their existence as we know it today. Huntington in “The Clash of Civilizations” warns that if we do not transform our civilization to a Western model, then we must be prepared for an ultimate obliteration through successive wars at the hands of the West: We are given no choices.
700 Pakistani citizens died in American drone attacks in 2009 alone. It is not accidental!
What the US and its Western allies do not understand is that their present war is not against an economic-political ideology (communism). This war is against a people, a faith, a history, an existential reality, an entirety of a civilization, an actual formidable historical presence and an enduring spiritual entity. They, the US and its allies (which include collaborating political elites in Muslim countries), cannot win this war. Indeed, they can unleash havoc, a wave of destruction (as they are doing now), but they cannot and will not win!
Coming back to the context of Pak-US relations, consider the following most plausible scenario in the immediate future:
Through covertly managed organized violence, collaborations, propaganda, bombings and political manipulations, the US succeeds in destabilizing Pakistan to an extent of complete political chaos, limited anarchy and a near civil war situation. Under the pretext of threat to international security, American and Nato forces are moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Pakistan’s nuclear assets are seized, a puppet regime is installed: Pakistan is de-nuclearized, India (the newest US ally) becomes a dominate regional power, Iran is contained, China-Russia growing political clout is checked, the US-West’s historical global dominance is achieved – the world is saved!
Is that what the Pakistani nation wants and deserves?
Imran Khan’s perspective on Pakistan’s foreign policy and domestic priorities is correct: we need to politically-militarily disengage Pakistan from the US-West’s global objectives. We need to immediately end this so-called “war on terror” against our own citizens. We need to negotiate peace with political dissidents in NWFP, Balochistan and in every corner of Pakistan. We must appreciate the fact that political dissent is not terror!
We ought to, by engaging our own citizens and political dissidents, quietly and secretly do a complete “cleansing” of the foreign elements and local collaborators involved in organized violence in our country. This can only be accomplished by a determined, independent, nationalist and highly efficient political leadership that can make national policy without American influence and interference. And this is the ultimate requirement of our times.
At last, Mian Nawaz Sharif, said something right the other day: the public in Pakistan needs to think in revolutionary ways now.
Allow me to go one step further: what we need is revolutionary political leadership in this country. We deserve a change in the political mindset and political conduct of this nation’s leaders. We need fresh leadership in Pakistan.
We all do not need to be politically loyal to our contemporary political dispensation or to our present political allies. We must completely reject a global political system of US-West’s dominance.
We all ought to be political dissidents! After all, dissent is a vital element of the democratic political process. It is a duty of an engaged citizenry!
One day we all might be considered terrorists by our Western “friends.”
Never mind. So be it!
The writer is an academic, political analyst & conflict-resolution expert.