The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The political situation of Pakistan offers a unique challenge for all those who want to engage in political activism aspiring for a progressive, secular, sovereign, and democratic Pakistani State. This challenge is often under-appreciated by the ‘progressives’, as they may choose to call themselves, due to an incorrect understanding of the political contradictions of Pakistani. As a result, the misguided progressives find themselves in a compromising situation where they are engulfed in a bundle of contradictions.
The apparent political situation in Pakistan, as described by the misguided progressives, is the clash between the present Military regime and the far right-wing forces, which are known in the popular jargon as the Mullah. The historical relationship between Military and Mullah, which defined the key policy pronouncements of Pakistan over the course of past three decades, has fractured. How and why the military-mullah alliance failed after years of affectionate friendship is definitely important, but beyond the purposes of the present article. We are, at the moment, dealing with its impacts in defining the positions of some so-called progressive sections of the Pakistani politics and intelligentsia.
As the conflict between Mullah and Military surfaced, some progressive sections, but not all, aligned itself with one of the groups based on their own understanding of the emerging contradiction. While one group supports the socio-political stance of Military, the other faction defends the religious right-wing. They have also devised their own analyses to grant a sense of legitimacy to their political positions, which reveal their one-sided understanding of the Pakistani political situation.
The pro-military group incites the dark memories of the days of General Zia-ul-Haq, when the Military aligned itself with the religious right to crush and censor all the voices for democracy and social justice. At that time, the Mullahs celebrated the anti-democratic policies of General Zia-ul-Haq and supported his reactionary suppression of the Left-wing and democratic forces in Pakistan. The religious right-wing played the central role in endorsing and promoting the image of General Zia, who actively participated in the repression of the left-wing forces.
Building up on the experiences of the Zia era and the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, one section of progressives today says that we should support the Military as it is opposing the religious right: ‘they jubilated on our annihilation, we shall rejoice theirs’.
The other group, the pro-Mullah faction, attempts to highlight that the religious parties in Pakistan are playing a pro-democratic role at present. Not only the religious parties are challenging the Military dictatorship, but they are also fighting against the U.S. Imperialism, which is the chief sponsor of present Military regime. Hence, the pro-Mullah progressives do not only support the religious-right with respect to the Military dictatorship, but also paints it in anti-Imperialist colors. With this perspective, a faction of the progressives aligns itself with the Military regime based on the principle that ‘we must align every force that combats dictatorship and Imperialism’.
Even at a cursory glance, one can see that both the positions end up in contradictions. While the pro-Military progressives support secularism, they have to compromise on the basic tenants of democracy. Similarly, while the pro-Mullah progressives condemn Imperialism and dictatorship, they have to give up their adherence to secularism and provision of religious freedom. There is a clear lack of coherence and clarity in the minds of these pro-Military and pro-Mullah sections of the progressive forces of Pakistan, and they end up presenting themselves as a confused lot.
The reasoning put forward by the pro-Military and pro-Mullah sections to gain legitimacy for their confused positions is incorrect for two main reasons: it is ahistorical and oblivious of the ground realities of Pakistan.
The analyses, both of them, are divorced from the history of the roles of Military and Mullah in Pakistan. The recent history of Pakistan informs that the Military has been drinking in the same cups with the Mullah for a long time. Not only did they use religion in aiding the U.S.-sponsored Aghan jihad, but also played an important role in creating and promoting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Similarly, the religious clergy provided the cover of ‘religious legitimacy’ to General Zia-ul-Haq and, actively cooperated with U.S. Imperialism in calling Pakistani people to fight the holy war in Afghanistan.
That Mullahs are not against the dictatorship in general, they are only against the dictatorship of the General Musharraf, for he does not side with their political agendas. If some other dictator emerges tomorrow, who like General Zia, institutes rules that confine the activity of women, our Mullah, who are currently chanting for democracy, will certainly welcome him with open arms.
In the same way, the policy of current dictatorship is also not geared by any ideological disaffection with religious fundamentalism. He, just like many other Military dictators, has to seek the pleasure of Washington to ensure his position of governance. Washington, in turn, accepts and promotes religious fundamentalism where it goes with its interests, and contests it where it contradicts. Hence, both the present Military dictatorship and Imperialism can not be counted on for the revival of a secular and truly enlightened Pakistan.
The second main defect in the understanding of the confused positions of some sections of the progressive forces, as pointed out before, is their incorrect appreciation of the ground realities of Pakistan. The Pakistani polity is not just divided between Military and Mullah, but there is also a third element – the ordinary people.
Both Military and Mullah have constantly failed to accommodate the aspirations of the ordinary citizenry, which can be best represented by the popular slogan of roti, kapra, aur makan. Both the groups have nothing to offer to the ordinary population. The aspirations of the ordinary public, therefore, remain hidden behind the conflict between the Military and Mullah. The people are there and are also willing to struggle for their rights, as the events during the Lawyers’ Movement often showed, but their aspirations are not represented by any mainstream political party.
So, the political situation is Pakistan at present is defined by the conflict between the three main forces – the people, the Military, and the Mullah. Within this struggle between the three powers lays the main challenge for those who claim to honor the exalted principles of social justice and democracy: the military and mullah are both organized and powerful after a history of mutual flirtations, but the people are not and they do not appear to strongly sympathize with any organized Party. The main test for the progressives is to highlight the wishes of people in a consistent and forceful way, and this they can’t do without maintaining their independent identity.