Is change pos­si­ble?

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Ghazi Salahud­din

WITH this rise in op­ti­mism about Pak­istan's fu­ture as a re­sult of the army-led cam­paign against mil­i­tancy within the am­bit of the Na­tional Ac­tion Plan, the need to fathom the na­tional sense of di­rec­tion is be­com­ing ur­gent. The big ques­tion is whether this coun­try can be ex­or­cised from the dark legacy of the Zia era. And if there is hope for a Pak­istan that is mod­ern and pro­gres­sive in its out­look.

These and other rel­e­vant ques­tions are un­likely to be probed se­ri­ously in the present en­vi­ron­ment. There is a rush of events and peo­ple are emo­tion­ally en­grossed in de­bates that are pro­jected by our news chan­nels. We have lead­ers like Im­ran Khan and Altaf Hus­sain that at­tract so much at­ten­tion by what they do or say.

Pol­i­tics is the name of the game we play as en­er­gised spec­ta­tors. Con­sider the time al­lot­ted by our news chan­nels to the ques­tion of whether the Na­tional Assem­bly mem­bers of the PTI should be seated or de-seated. This was ev­i­dently in marked con­trast to time de­voted to dis­cussing more sub­stan­tive events and is­sues. Lis­ten­ing to Maulana Fa­zlur Rah­man is not enough com­pen­sa­tion for sit­ting, vi­car­i­ously, through the long ses­sions of the assem­bly.

Ideally, that au­gust House would be the guid­ing light to show us the path on which we have to move ahead. Some very sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ments have taken place in re­cent days. Ap­pear­ances and speeches made by the chief of army staff may pro­vide some clues as to what is hap­pen­ing on the ground. Karachi, in many re­spects, is the stage on which so much ac­tion is tak­ing place with grave con­se­quences for the rest of the coun­try.

In less than a week, we will celebrate another In­de­pen­dence Day with the ex­pected, rit­u­al­is­tic fer­vour. The na­tional flags are al­ready very much in ev­i­dence. This would be a fit­ting oc­ca­sion to ex­am­ine the moves that have been made on many fronts in the war that was launched in earnest af­ter the mas­sacre of our school­child­ren in Peshawar on De­cem­ber 16, 2014. We are fond of de­scrib­ing that event as a game-changer but there is lit­tle ap­pre­ci­a­tion of what is chang­ing and how the agenda for this change has been drafted.

This week's most crit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment was the Supreme Court's ver­dict on pe­ti­tions re­gard­ing the 18th and the 21st amend­ments to the con­sti­tu­tion, al­low­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of mil­i­tary courts. Its im­pli­ca­tions in the con­text of jus­tice and fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights in a demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion are im­mense. Nat­u­rally, opin­ion on what it is and what it may en­tail is sharply di­vided. One mea­sure of it was the fact that it was a ma­jor­ity and not a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion.

But ir­re­spec­tive of these con­cerns, the es­tab­lish­ment has what it wanted and the pace of ac­tion in the cam­paign against mil­i­tancy should read­ily pick up. Also help­ful was the ver­dict of the Ju­di­cial Com­mis­sion that probed the con­duct of the May 2013 gen­eral elec­tions. It ef­fec­tively de-cer­ti­fied the 'dharna' pol­i­tics of Im­ran Khan, though he seems un­will­ing to step aside so that all at­ten­tion can be de­voted to mat­ters of na­tional se­cu­rity.

In­deed, a re­flec­tion on the en­tire spec­ta­cle that was launched one year ago would un­der­line the tragedy of our na­tional pol­i­tics. This was a year wasted. There was the cost that the na­tion paid in eco­nomic terms. But more detri­men­tal was the havoc it played with the emo­tions of or­di­nary cit­i­zens, rais­ing un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions. Be­sides, the ag­i­ta­tion was not founded on is­sues that have emerged in the present strug­gle for Pak­istan's sur­vival.

Here is some ev­i­dence that our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are ei­ther in­ca­pable of or un­will­ing to deal with se­ri­ous ques­tions on how Pak­istan has to be gov­erned and what op­tions we have to sur­vive and progress in the mod­ern world. To re­turn to what I said at the out­set, are we con­sciously ready to elim­i­nate the legacy of another chief of army who had led us into the Afghan ji­had? What role, then, should re­li­gion play in our pol­i­tics?

It is very pos­si­ble that our lead­er­ship has spared some thoughts for these is­sues. In these ex­tra­or­di­nary times that, prover­bially, de­mand ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sures, the civil-mil­i­tary al­liance that has evolved in the wake of the Na­tional Ac­tion Plan must eval­u­ate and de­fine our strate­gic op­tions. But we have no sense of how this al­liance op­er­ates and whether there is a joint think tank or re­flec­tion group of some kind to pon­der pol­icy mat­ters.

In the first place, the re­solve that the op­er­a­tion is to be launched against all ter­ror­ist and ex­trem­ist el­e­ments with­out any dis­crim­i­na­tion what­so­ever also sug­gests an ide­o­log­i­cal shift. It was late in com­ing but the killing of Ma­lik Ishaq and a num­ber of his close as­so­ci­ates in a po­lice en­counter in Punjab is a land­mark event. An ex­tremely painful thought it is but if only they had con­fronted these sec­tar­ian ter­ror­ists be­fore those at­tacks on the Hazara com­mu­nity in Quetta. Any­how, there are other in­di­ca­tions that they are se­ri­ous about it.

The un­fold­ing sce­nario in Sindh, with the fo­cus on Karachi, also in­di­cates a com­pre­hen­sive game plan. At the same time that it is go­ing to be highly dis­rup­tive, in­clud­ing in a po­lit­i­cal con­text, there is no doubt that winds of change are blow­ing across the coun­try. Sto­ries of cor­rup­tion that are be­ing re­ported are mind bog­gling, though we knew all about them. In the process of deal­ing with the mil­i­tants and the cor­rupt, the rulers are con­fronted with a sys­tem that is in tat­ters. This calls for a care­ful un­der­stand­ing of what can be changed and to what ex­tent.

Change, how­ever, is im­mi­nent. It has al­ready been set into mo­tion. While its di­rec­tion is still not clearly iden­ti­fied, the dic­tates of history are un­am­bigu­ous.

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