Problems With Post-NRO Thinking

Thought provoking analysis of the post-NRO climate by security analyst Ayesha Siddiqa in Dawn. Siddiqua takes apart the common problems with thinking about the NRO verdict and how is best for Pakistan to move forward.

Linear thinking is about viewing the world from the perspective of a straight trajectory without bothering to appreciate the nuances. The problem with this approach is that people often miss the actual picture because they cannot see the vertical and horizontal trajectories.

I recently bumped into an old friend who thought that any questions raised regarding the recent Supreme Court judgment on the NRO were tantamount to providing support to a corrupt gang of people, which, in turn, meant strengthening the hands of the religious right and the extremists/terrorists in the country. Another friend immediately chimed in and thought that my act of not supporting the decision outright was due to some personal fascination with the president. 

Such assertions are based on three linear assumptions: first, the argument that the decision will result in destabilising the current political set-up is based on personal whims; second, a lot of people who today argue along similar lines as my two friends were also those who initially thought of the NRO as a mechanism for Benazir Bhutto to allow for Pakistan’s transition to democracy and the weakening of undemocratic forces. This was always a fallacy. 

Third, questioning the manner in which the court arrived at the decision denotes support for the NRO or giving credence to corruption. In fact, the issue highlighted by several people is that the NRO was the easiest to strike down as there was no defence against a discriminatory law. The problem arises with the manner in which the judiciary appeared to single out an individual while there were hundreds of other cases covered by the NRO. 

Singling out one person, who also happens to hold the topmost office in the country, is tantamount to weakening the political government and creating space for extra-political forces. 

All of the above happened in an environment where some hidden forces were constantly pulling the strings of other stakeholders. For example, it’s interesting how the MQM — which was an equal beneficiary of the NRO — refused to support the government in tabling the NRO in parliament. This poses some questions about the deeper politics of the case. One could even argue that political instability will strengthen those very forces that have and will continue to partner extremist elements. 

One of the victims of linear thinking is dialogue that takes in opposing viewpoints so that a strategy could be developed to take the country a step forward in terms of its political development. Given the deep sense of threat and hostility, stakeholders tend to violently defend their positions to the detriment of political development. 

However, this is not the only example of linear thinking. There are others as well, and involve the notion that people with western/liberal cultural values are not religious and thus cannot support extremist/terrorist forces in the country, that the thinking of such people is different from the thinking of those who constantly cite religious texts or Islamic history. 

Are we to assume that there is no relationship between ideas that espouse rabid nationalism and religious puritanical ideology just because of the difference in the lifestyles of those who propagate them? An affirmative response reflects linear thinking. A particular lifestyle does not necessarily say much about the state of mind. Personal lifestyle is about private choices that may not interfere with a person’s political opinion. 

People generally forget to look at the similarity in views in terms of the impact that these create. For instance, rabid nationalism closes the mind to humanism and then creates an environment which can only engender extremism. It builds the ground for the puritans to take over. I know of people who think that there is no contradiction between their support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and their opposition to the Red Mosque brigade in Islamabad. 

This is like arguing that one will oppose only those things that influence social norms, traditions and behaviour in one’s own society, and not in other societies. Such a mindset divides the Taliban or Taliban-types into good and bad categories. This thinking is extremely linear and problematic. 

This is not to argue that it is not the Taliban’s religious character which poses a problem. The issue is with their thinking that primarily engenders a puritanical interpretation of religion, a kind that kills tolerance and pluralism. People with such mindsets cannot simply be used as military-strategic tools without there being repercussions in the society of a state which supports them. Once in partnership with this crowd, it becomes almost impossible to keep one’s own society in quarantine where puritanical lifestyles and interpretations and the use of religion will not have any influence. 

Negative and reactive nationalism as opposed to positive nationalism create the same kind of environment as that created by religious puritans. The impact is the same. Any ideology which engenders hatred and violence creates similar results. Positive or constructive nationalism aims at encouraging pride in one’s nation based on a knowledge of history and traditions but without a deep hatred of others. 

Negative nationalism, on the other hand, is about vanity that is caused mainly by ignorance of one’s past. It represents an inferiority complex and is devoid of humanism. Under the circumstances, it does not matter whether or not those who project such ideas have a western/liberal lifestyle. 

In Pakistan and the South Asian region at large the clear and present danger emanates from this rather simplistic and linear thought trajectory. The inability to see the world except in shades of black and white makes it difficult to see the impact of our closed and single-track thinking. Perhaps this is what happens when social science begins to die or is already dead.

One thought on “Problems With Post-NRO Thinking

  1. All I understand as an illiterate from a Madrassa
    that we as a nation run in circles,clapping and electing those as our leaders who have graduated
    in ‘Bad Governance,Corruption and Nepotism.’ Then
    why all this hue and cry about NRO? Everybody cannot afford Integrity a very costly commodity to
    be imported.And certainly not by some emancipated

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