The usual scenes
MUMTAZ Qadri's execution has kicked off yet another round of evaluations of this country. And within the larger debate, the hanging has added vigour to the discussion on political parties and their ties with those who are routinely called extremists; the count to show which political party was best represented at the funeral in Rawalpindi is still on. Along with prominent religious scholars, former ministers, sitting members of the elected assemblies and other well-known faces belonging to various parties were all there to attend the last rites.
True to form, the occasion has been used to compare the efficiency of the PML-N with the proven lack of purpose and action successive PPP governments - including the one during which governor Salmaan Taseer was gunned down by his guard - were marked by.
Not just that, in many discussions the PML-N has increasingly been promoted by some as the new PPP in its promise for a forward, progressive thrust, only one which is more likely to deliver than Benazir Bhutto or Asif Zardari looked to at any given point. The underlying assumption in this assertion is that the PML-N has got its alliances right, not least its alliance with the visibly more religious.
The real surprise is the shock with which some of us have reacted to these pictures from Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi. The supposition was that the time had come for political parties to take a bold, new stance over how to deal with the most complicated issues in society involving religion and religious interpretations.
This change was in theory to draw strength from the military's position against terrorism but it ignores the political parties' long-concluded assessment about just how impossible it is for them to operate without support of the 'religious elements'. It ignores Pakistan's political evolution.
A single event, one expression of resolve to overcome militancy, even a national policy will not change the model for a successful political party in Pakistan that has taken so long to evolve. The party is just too big an assortment of people and ideas. It must continue to have various groups within it that can appeal to particular sections of the people if and when the need arises. Perhaps the need right now is for members of the ruling parties to be seen mixing with the crowd that has turned up to pay its respects to Mumtaz Qadri. It would be dangerous for the parties to think otherwise.
The formula remains unchanged and is likely to remain the same. All parties practising popular politics in Pakistan seek to maintain the same horses-for-courses profile. They must have the variety so that they have a specialist for every situation, not least among them the ulema or religious scholars. The religious wing in a party is essential to its makeup and indeed one proof of the dip in the PPP's graph has been the almost total disappearance of the religious chapter within the party. The wing may stay in the background for the most part but its ties with society go deep and it can come in action as soon as there's a cause to be pursued. If it cannot establish sole ownership of a cause it must ensure by using its influence that its competitors in other parties are not able to monopolise the situation either. It is not for nothing that these political parties expose themselves to criticism - unending taunts - by those who must forever frown upon their ties with religious elements in society. These parties are aware that the formula is not changing anytime soon, as would be anyone who is sufficiently rooted in the realities of the Pakistani people.
The politicians fully understand what diverse groups they must gather for a meaningful shot at having power and any real chance of retaining it. They cannot be as mercurial in their approach as the sharp-minded analyst who is found forecasting a new Pakistan one moment, only to be quickly disillusioned by the crowd that collects at Liaquat Bagh a day later. The parties are up against it connecting the two opposing parts of this country and then trying to govern the uneasy unsettled whole.
The sheer shock with which the news of the hanging was received by large sections of the people here contrasts most starkly with the utter and entirely misplaced bewilderment with which the images of a huge crowd gathering for Qadri's funeral were grudgingly accepted by another set of Pakistanis. The assessments and predictions vary as drastically depending upon which shook you more, the hanging or the funeral.
This was a historic event whichever way you may want look at it. But this doesn't necessarily mean that everyone required a brute reminder to come face to face with the various pieces in the puzzle that we call our homeland. Some of the responses generated therefore seemed so out of place.
The crowd that was up in protest at the relays from the gallows in Adiala was justified in its expression of surprise in the sense that they have never before been subjected to such treatment from the state. Given their long privileged status it was foregone that they would be able to muster quite a lot of support in the time that they had at their disposal. The numbers indicated they did not fear a change in their status now.
On the other hand, in their reactions to the news of the execution, many hurriedly foretold a new chapter for the country. In the process, some of those avowedly disapproving of death for a killing tipped over and were prepared to make one, singular exception to the rule. To their mind, perhaps, the hanging of the killer of the Punjab governor was just too huge an opportunity for setting a precedent in the ongoing war. It couldn't be wasted by clinging to a peacetime principle. They had got it all wrong. If ever, a new precedent will require more than one entry in the log book.