The usual scenes

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Asha'ar Rehman

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.

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