Today Peshawar, Tomorrow…Karachi?

Pakistan Taliban

Two items in the news today paint a bleak picture for the future of our beloved nation. First there is Ayaz Amir’s must-read piece in The News, ‘So, finally a farewell to arms‘ in which the tells us some uncomfortable truths about the reality that we are facing once the dust that gets stirred up from the Americans’ exit finally settles back down and we get a clear view of what the post-2014 landscape looks like.

What idea of talks is there in the minds of the peace lobby? Surely they are not thinking that Pakistan is the victor in this conflict. It is not. This means several things: that Pakistan will be in no position to dictate terms; that Hakeemullah Mehsud is not about to come down from the hills and surrender; and the Taliban are not about to lay down their arms. So what then will we be discussing?

An end to terrorism and suicide attacks…and the Taliban will say, fine, we end terrorism, you end military operations and become more serious with the Americans about ending drone attacks. Give-and-take, between two sovereign and equal partners…both sides get a respite, which will be a good thing. But the implications of this should be clearly understood: the notion of our sovereignty in those areas will have vanished, all the more so with the Taliban ascendant once more in the kingdom of Kabul.

If there is a growing consensus that there must be peace at any price, this is the road down which we go. No formal surrender, to be sure, just the essence of surrender.

“The notion of our sovereignty in those areas will have vanished”. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is slipping out of our grasp, and though we will continue to include it in our maps, it is quickly heading to the direction of ‘Pakistan In Name Only’. What the Indians could never do, the Taliban are managing quite nicely, chipping away at our nation until we are left with, as Amir Sahib describes it, ‘Punjab, the bomb and defence housing authorities’. As for the rest of the country, they are likely to return to the Taliban’s ‘reign of terror’ it seems.

The other news item that bears significance in this case is the report today of the assassination of MQM MPA Sajid Qureshi outside a mosque in Karachi. This is relevant because, while talks may take place to surrender determine the future of KPK, the Taliban is still taking the opportunity to advance into urban areas. This is also nothing new. The Taliban have been using a strategy of fighting until they can force a peace deal, only to use the opportunity to regroup and advance. It’s a rather simple military strategy, but one that we seem to fall for every single time without fail.

The Taliban have given their demands. Ehsanullah Ehsan told the previous government as recently as last December that the Taliban would continue fighting until the government is overthrown and the constitution scrapped for a Taliban-approved Shariah system. There is no reason to believe that this objective has changed with the government. The only thing that has changed is that we are drawing closer to the moment when our unwillingness to stand up to extremists results in our having to bow to them.

Where Are The Ideas?

We need to put together a foreign aid package for President Obama as a thank you for the billions his government has sent us. Our aid package can contain the political strategies of Zardari that help him, even while unpopular with the intelligentsia, win by polls. Even the PML guys can throw in their own help with some memos on the latest coalition building. And in exchange, we can ask Obama not to send anymore billions, but just a few people with actual policy ideas.

If there’s one thing that our politicians and intellectuals understand too well, it’s politics. My god, everyone in the country not only has an opinion, they are also experts on the subject. If politics was a natural resource that could be exported, we would be the wealthiest nation in the world.

Cyril Almeida makes this point perfectly in Dawn yesterday.

Unfortunately, we’re also one of the poorest nations when it actually comes to some policies for our politicians to enact once we elect them. This is also reflected in Cyril’s column – not by what he says, but what he doesn’t say. For all his exposition on the political strategies in Islamabad, there’s not one single sentence about the policies that might actually do some good for the people who don’t lust to have ‘Mian’, ‘Amir’, ‘MNA’ or ‘Minister’ before their name.

Ayaz Amir says as much in his piece for The News. I do think that he is much to sour in his writing – how can not come away with a stomach ache after reading it? But he does make one or two important points which I would like to draw to your attention.

First, he makes the observation that the media is not actually helping anything. Recently I was watching Shahid Masood’s show and a young woman commented that these TV anchors simply invite people on who they can prod into loud arguments and at the end of the show there is no solution proposed, no recommendations for action – just more yelling.  Here’s how Ayaz Amir characterizes it:

The crisis we face is more serious than we think. It is not just about fuel prices, sugar, inflation in general, or the breakdown of law and order. If it was only this there would still be hope. What we are facing is a bankruptcy of ideas, a governing class – covering the political and military spectrum – that can’t ask the right questions and therefore is in no position to get the right answers.

President Obama has had his comeuppance in the midterm congressional elections. He looks chastened and a bit beaten. The American electorate had a choice and it has exercised it. But what if there was such a moment in Pakistan? What choice would we have? What would be the alternatives on offer? None, because there would be none to begin with. Just more of the same, the past recycled to represent the future. This is a greater crisis than anything on the economic horizon.

Every wakeup call in the morning, when you scan the newspapers, is an invitation to cynicism.

And it is not just TV shows, either. The media gets criticised (though, let me tell you, it doesn’t seem to be getting through their thick skulls) but in a sense why should we expect from our journalists what our own intellectuals can’t even handle?

The spirit of Gen Zia lives on. In a nation that could never claim a shortage of false piety, he raised an entire temple complex to the spirit of hypocrisy. His legacy endures. The Pakistan of today is not cast in the image of Jinnah or Iqbal. The veneer of democracy notwithstanding, it is a tribute to the spirit of Zia. The supremacy of form over substance of which he was the master engineer continues to blight what, without a trace of irony, we call an Islamic Republic.

What should be our charter of economic renewal? Have any books been written on the subject? Are we even seriously debating this issue? Foreigners, and an increasing number of them, come and give us lectures on governance and economic policy and we accept what they say because we have little of our own to add to the narrative or the debate.

I have said before that I am sick to death of all these people clamoring from their TV studios and computer keyboard for some ‘revolution’ without even thinking about what they means or to what end they are revolting. But I will say that this country is desperate for a revolution of ideas.

I think we throw the label ‘intellectual’ around too easily. We have set the bar too low. All you need is some degree and in a county where everything has its price, it is well known that even an impressive sounding degree can be purchased.

But too many of our so-called intellectuals are not thinkers, they are simply parrots who learn to repeat certain catch phrases about hegemony or sovereignty or corruption. They give everyone a headache with their constant squawking until the people are ready to do whatever they say if they will simply shut up!

But this is no way to move a country forward. Jinnah had ideas. Iqbal had ideas. These were men who did not yell at each other about problems, they thought seriously about how to solve them. Where are our ideas now? They cannot have perished with these men. We need thoughtful people to step up to the task and begin a discussion not about politics and personalities, but about ideas.