Pakistan is not a failed state. It is an uncertain state which can take any coursetheocratic, despotic, semi-democratic or just chaotic. When I visited Karachi and Lahore a few days ago, I found hardly anyone who was optimistic about Pakistan's future. However, the country is not falling apart as is the general impression.
Different forcesreligious, political and criminalare competing among themselves for more space. In the short run, they are heightening fears and in the long run they are threatening the country's integrity. Ultimately, the confrontation may well be between the political forces and the extremists. The nation's fate depends on the outcome.
The late Benazir Bhutto, who has become taller than her executed father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, turned out to be prophetic. Her hand-written testament says: "She feared for Pakistan's future in the face of extremism and dictatorship." Indeed, the extremists are present all over the country, including Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. But they have not affected the day-to-day life.
A bomb blast here or a stray killing there is a daily occurrence. But this is no longer a handiwork of the Afghan Taliban, who seem to be observing a ceasefire after Islamabad's undertaking not to disturb them from Waziristan and the parts of Swat Valley they occupy. The real culprits are the Pakistan Taliban, the creation of successive governments, which at one time dreamt of having Afghanistan as their satellite to get the much-wanted "strategic depth." They still have the support of the ISI and the 35 percent of the army men who are reportedly jehadis. It has been reported that some of them did not fire in the midst of hostilities in Waziristan at the Taliban on the consideration that they were Muslims.
The kidnapping of the Pakistan envoy near Peshawar may not have been done by the Afghan Taliban. It may be a plot by the Pakistan Taliban to show their clout. My feeling is that the Pakistan Taliban, spreading from the NWFP to other parts of the country, is a real danger to the nation. They are the extremists, the product of madrassas where they have been brainwashed. They look longingly at the Hisbul and other extremist organizations, which were once a terror.
What is frightening is that they, with an appeal to religious sentiments, are gaining ground. There is none among the politicians to challenge them openly because of the fear of mullah or maulvi who can denounce them at mosques. "We are reaping what we have sown," is the oft-repeated observation. This refers to the calculated efforts made first by the late General Zia-ul Haq and then President General Pervez Musharraf to "Islamise" Pakistan and to encourage the extremists so as to stall the liberals and still their cry for democracy.
Unlike the extremists who have a strain of understanding running throughout their organisations, the politicians are a divided lot. They are fighting among themselves. True, all of them are fiercely agitating for the removal of Musharraf who stops at nothing to hurt or even eliminate them. But what they lack is the unity of purpose.
The mere word, democracy, cannot bring coherence. They seldom meet and do not ever discuss the strategy to retrieve the country from the military rule. Their egos and claims verge on the point of arrogance. They would rather accept Musharraf than anyone from among themselves to lead. They hold their durbar, a feudal relic which Pakistan proudly retains. At the durbar, they pontificate about democracy and equality before an array of psychopaths and retainers. Feudalism is still too deeply entrenched in the country to allow the idea of equality to germinate.
The common man, groaning under the burden of rising prices and lessening incomes, is a confused and disillusioned spectator. That is the reason why he does not come out on the streets. He does not see anything for himself in what is going on, except a change in masters. Religion may be opium, but it gives him the promise of "a better tomorrow" than today. He too wants Musharraf to step down, not because he is a dictator but because he has not improved his lot.
Again, the military has little to relieve him from his greatest predicament: how does he send his children to school and at the same time sustain his family? It is not that he does not get angry but he tends to be sectarian in expression because that is how he has been brought up in the atmosphere that has prevailed in Pakistan. There is a great divide. I was not surprised to find the people at Sind Club in Karachi singing the praises of Musharraf.
Yet, it was the common man who went wild in Sind in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Railway stations were set on fire, costing the exchequer roughly $20 billion. Shops were looted and even police stations were attacked. There was no law but only disorder for three days. Asif Ali Zaradari, Benazir Bhutto's husband and the interim president of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the largest in the country, justified violence as natural fallout of people's anger over the assassination of their leader.
It was like what Rajiv Gandhi said when 3,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi after Indira Gandhi's murder:
When a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake. The vacuum that Benazir Bhutto's killing has created is hard to fill. The unity of thought can do so. The PPP can provide an alternative. A person like Aitzaz Hasan, who is under house arrest, can lead the party to implement its ethos of a left-of-the-centre society, with pluralism as its base. He is also acceptable to Nawaz Sharif, leader of the second largest party, Muslim League (N).
Aitzaz led the lawyers' agitation to have Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry reinstated. The challenge to Aitzaz is Zaradari who would like to be the prime minister. The post-election scenario is not a happy one. Rigging appears inevitable and may arouse the people's wrath. Political parties are not in a position to check it. Neither Nawaz Sharif, nor Zaradari has the base which can quell the disorder if it engulfs the country. I could see the gathering of a storm during my trip. The anger over Pakistan's deficiencies is at present focused on Musharraf. He may step down if and when General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Chief of the Army Staff, taps his shoulder and tells him to go.
This happened when General Yahya Khan asked General Ayub Khan, then at the helm of affairs, to quit. In that case, Pakistan will be back to square one and even the semblance of democracy may go. But this time, the army rule may not go unchallenged. The public has had enough of it.