The Taliban or the rulers?
WITH a few exceptions, such as as when ascertaining the wishes of a people under foreign rule, referendums are little more than political gimmicks. Their purpose is mostly either to seek popular legitimacy for decisions that have been arrived at already or to score a propaganda point.
The “referendum” announced by the MQM earlier this month, in which people would be asked whether they wanted Jinnah’s Pakistan or that of the Taliban, falls in the latter category. It is actually not a referendum at all because it is to be conducted not by the state but a single party.
The significance of the “referendum”, since postponed, actually lies in the way it typifies the attempt of our political class to distract attention from its own misdeeds and failings and shift the blame for the country’s woes to the Taliban. Gen Zia tried a similar tactic in his 1984 referendum. Having overthrown a civilian government, he sought legitimacy by giving his military dictatorship an Islamic garb. If an “Islamic system of government” was presented then as the answer to the country’s problems, today many of our “liberal” parties claim to be aiming for “Jinnah’s Pakistan” as they interpret it, while denouncing the Taliban as the source of all evil.
It is not just the MQM but a large number of other political parties as well that seek to use the Taliban as a scapegoat to cover up their own faults. They are assisted in this effort by our self-styled “liberal” commentators who do not tire of castigating the Taliban for posing a threat to the country’s political stability while glossing over the more insidious long-term dangers posed to the social order by the antics of our politicians.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has no doubt made itself an easy target by such outrageous actions as the indiscriminate killing of civilians by suicide bomb- ings and other terrorist attacks, opposition to girls’ education and the “execution” of captured soldiers. But none of these reprehensible actions by the Taliban can absolve the ruling classes of their responsibility for bringing the country to the precipice. They have been in power in one shape or the other for nearly six decades and, while they themselves have accumulated wealth in the county and outside and have prospered in other ways, the country has been going downhill and the lot of the common man has hardly improved.
In fact, the rise of the TTP itself is the result of the self-seeking policies of our ruling class. The socio-economic deprivation of the common man provides the breeding ground for the extremist mindset we so love to denounce. The ordinary citizen has little chance of getting a decent education or earning a decent livelihood. It is not surprising that some of them turn to extremist solutions. They are fed up with a corrupt political system and an unjust socio-economic order that leaves them with no prospect of breaking the shackles of poverty.
Every day we watch how the constitution and the law are twisted to give our rulers impunity from accountability for their misdeeds. The NRO was the most shocking example. Even after it was invalidated, almost everyone has escaped conviction either because there was some technical flaw in pursuing the matter or because the prosecution did not prepare a watertight case. The new accountability law that the government is trying to steamroll through parliament is full of loopholes that will make the investigation, prosecution and conviction of the corrupt even more difficult, so that our elected “representatives” are left in peace as they go about the business of helping themselves to money from the public exchequer or from the pockets of the lesser citizens of the country.
Only last week, the honourable members of parliament, who always jealously guard the privileges of their class, kicked up an almighty ruckus at the prospect of a former prime minister, now disqualified from holding elected office, being interrogated in the course of investigations into corruption. A senior minister threatened to have the official who has been entrusted with this task brought before the house in handcuffs for his “masti (impudence)”. So much for the respect of our “representatives” for the rule of law.
One privilege that they are particularly possessive of is their refusal to pay a fair share of taxes. In other countries, it is the well-to-do who pay the bulk of the money needed to provide the essential services that benefit all citizens, especially the less fortunate sections of society. In Pakistan, the reverse is true. The poor bear more than