The political atmosphere in Pakistan is never disappointing. There is always at least one big conflict captivating the nation and often provokes cynical public engagement from within and outside, while, at the same time, several other controversies are incubating. Several years ago, speaking at a conference about Pakistan in the Netherlands, I had made an observation that is still prophetically true: Pakistan is a consistently inconsistent country. The ease with which the villains and heroes interchange positions on the national turntable is simply astonishing.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is embroiled neck-deep in his own fluff, has just created yet another controversy. In a recent interview with the respected Dawn newspaper, he almost claimed that the Mumbai terrorist attack was the handiwork of the Pakistani state. Many people and politicians suggested he was a traitor though several similar statements have been furnished by previous officials – from President Pervez Musharraf to former Interior Minister, Rehman Malik. Sharif sought to implicate the Lashkar-e-Taiba, an internationally designated terrorist organisation. This has caused a furore – dividing public opinion between those who claim Pakistan was involved and those who blame India and the West for conducting a false flag operation.
While it is hard to know who exactly masterminded and actualised the 2008 atrocity, I know for a fact that Nawaz Sharif has maintained a warm relationship with Hafiz Saeed, the former supreme head of the militant outfit. He has sent errands of reconciliation to Mr. Saeed following his resignation as the Prime Minister after a court order implicated him in serious corruption. I have met Saeed a few times – the last time was few months ago at a public place. I have personally spoken to him on the issue wherein he dismissed any involvement. Despite my repeated requests for a detailed interview, I have yet to receive his nod of approval.
Religion enters the political fray
There were two important public rallies held on the weekend on May 12; one each at Lahore and Karachi. For the past several days, Lahore was bracing for a show of strength at the historic Minar-e-Pakistan (Pakistan Tower) from the recently reactivated political forum Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA). The forum is a broad church of Islamic groups with such diametric difference in the interpretation and practice of the religion that some of the groups do not even consider some others as Muslim. These groups are now marketing their unified brand of religion as the one that can bond and heal the socio-political fractures that are so glaring. Their past electoral alliance in 2003 onwards brought them to power in the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, but their governance betrayed no difference from that of their ‘non-Islamic’ predecessors. Besides, these Islamic parties have been involved in forging coalitions with other political groups, some of which are holding to this date. It is interesting that the politics that these groups despise as being irreligious has galvanised them to join hands than the religion they claim to espouse.
The other rally in Karachi was organised by the newly formed Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) that is demanding an end to the high handedness of the military, particularly in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. The leader of the movement, Manzoor Pashteen, was detained and two airline services refused him permission to board even though he had valid tickets. Despite several impediments on his way, Pashteen managed to drive several hundred miles and reached the venue to be welcomed by a charged crowd. The fiery young Pashtun is severely challenging the state structures in demanding justice and acknowledgement for the digressions of the state. However, he seems to be banking much upon the support from Afghanistan or the US that makes his movement more suspect than an organic rights’ movement. Interestingly, despite a blanket media boycott, the PTM rally was more impressive than the MMA gathering at Lahore.
(Murtaza Shibli tweets @murtaza_shibli)
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