Intense heat wave that has scorched Sindh since past three days is the latest disaster to hit Pakistan, and the devastation is growing with death toll already over 350 and showing no signs of slowing. As usual, politicians are losing no time in using the tragedy to score political points. Opposition leaders lambast the government over load shedding, while Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif scolds Secretary Water and Power Younus Dagha, who himself is undoubtedly looking for someone to pass the blame to. On social media, people are passing around important information on how to stay safe and how to treat illness such as heat stroke. However, there is one key point that should also be discussed which is how this tragedy could have been so easily prevented.
Following the barbaric attack against 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai, Taliban apologists have been working extra hard to split hairs and convince people that we should not unite against the jihadi elements that continue to carry out such attacks against innocents. The Taliban’s most vocal defender is Imran Khan, who likes to condemn specific acts, while at the same time defending the groups who perpetuate these attacks by pretending that there are no jihadis, there are only jaahils who are misunderstood. But two events this week prove him wrong.
1. A tribal jirga traded girls to settle blood feud. This represents the jihaalat mindset and must be addressed.
2. A young man stopped a bus and asked for someone to identify Malala Yousufzai. He then proceeded to shoot Malala to stop her political work. This represents the jihadi mindset and must be stopped before the jihaalat mindset can be addressed.
Imran Khan likes to say that liberals are mistakenly equating the Taliban and the tribal mindset. This is not true. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Liberals who call for a strong defence against the Taliban by shutting down jihadi militant groups are not equating the Taliban’s political violence with outdated tribal customs, Imran Khan is.
Tribal customs do not include bombing Sufi shrines, murdering Shia pilgrims, killing schoolgirls, and attacking military and police posts. Suicide bombing is not a tribal custom. These are the legacy of a twisted interpretation of religion that goes as far back as the medieval era when Ibn Taymiyyah introduced the takfiri ideology as a justification for carrying out jihad against Mongols even though they had converted to Islam. To get around this problem, Ibn Taymiyyah appointed himself as God and pronounced his enemies as fake Muslims, arguing that they can’t be real Muslims, ironically, because they have a jihaalat mindset. This jihadi ideology was reintroduced in Egypt by Sayyid Qutb in the early 20th century when he began preaching violent jihad against Muslim governments that he believed were too subservient to Western powers, and has been propagated by later writers like Jamaat-e-Islami founder Maulana Mawdudi and al Qaeda’s Ayman Zawahiri. These men do not preach any tribal customs – actually they are against tribal customs and the jihaalat mindset. Imran Khan thinks they are the same because both have roots in medieval thinking. But there is a big difference.
Taliban and other jihadi militants hide behind the language of religion, but their real interest is politics and power. They want to be unquestioned rulers, not saints. Like their ideological ancestor Ibn Taymiyyah, they are simply twisting religion to justify violence as means of consolidating their power. Actually, the tribal jirga is a perfect example of how the tribal leaders and the Taliban are fundamentally different. A jirga is based in reason and compromise. The tribal elders who sit on the jirga might have jihaalat mindset, but they are at least willing to sit and discuss the situation and try to work out a solution that fits all parties. With jihadis, on the other hand, there is no room for discussion. You either accept their rule, or you are declared as wajib-ul-qatl.
People with a jihaalat mindset can be reasoned with. They can be educated. And, over time, tribal customs and thinking can be brought into the modern era of reason. This does not mean that they will lose their way of life or religion. It just means that certain customs – like trading girls to resolve blood feuds – will be replaced with more humane ways of resolving conflicts.
People with a jihadi mindset cannot be reasoned with. Ironically, many of them are already very educated. Certainly the jihadi mindset is spread through some madrassas, but these are mostly educating the poor who accept these lessons in exchange for food and shelter. But what is the excuse of people like Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh – an Aitchisonian with links to militant groups including Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Taliban? What is the excuse of Osama bin Laden who had everything handed to him, only to turn into a mass murdering maniac? Or our own young who attend English medium schools, travel the world, live urban, Western lifestyles…and support militant jihadi groups?
Imran Khan thinks that, to change the jihaalat mindset, we should first let the jihadis take power over the tribal areas. This makes no sense. If jaahils are living under the threat of jihadi violence, there will be no room for cultural evolution. The tribal areas will not just be frozen in time, under the jihadi regime, they will be transported backwards even further. This was demonstrated by the Afghan Taliban who, far from being a force reacting to the US invasion in 2001, had controlled Afghanistan in a reign of terror since 1996. When the Soviets left Afghanistan, the Taliban didn’t go back to being simple tribal villagers, they carried out a murderous reign of terror against their own people.
This time, as the Americans are preparing to leave, the Taliban see an opportunity to not only re-take Afghanistan, but to expand their control over Pakistan also. Will we defend ourselves or continue to hide our heads in the sand? Only time will tell who is the real jaahil.
A visitor from another planet would be forgiven if he dropped in today and believed that Iftikhar Chaudhry and Babar Awan are the national pop stars. It seems like they spend more time on TV and on the front page of the newspapers than anyone else in the country. Which is really quite strange if you stop to consider it for a moment. As everyone knows, the story is the ongoing feud between the executive and the judiciary. But again this seems strange. For all the predictions about the court overreaching and throwing out Zardari or the executive overreaching and withdrawing judicial reinstatements – nothing ever happens. So what’s all the yelling about?
Cyril Almeida has an interesting perspective. He sees the behavior of the executive and the court as a type of political jockeying that can be explained largely as a leftover from the past.
The government’s strategy is quite obvious: stall. Buy time, somehow, anyhow, and let the clock wind down on the government’s term as far as possible. The why isn’t hard to figure out. Zardari & co are convinced the robes are getting their cues from Raiwind and/or Rawalpindi. Which means they fear the ultimate goal may be the government’s ouster, or of Zardari and his circle.
If there is a judicial trend that is discernible, it is this: carve out and fiercely protect an institutional space for a judiciary that has historically been trampled by the other institutions and powers-that-be.
The biggest fight to date — not in terms of fireworks, but in substance — has been over the appointment of superior court judges, first over the fate of justices Ramday, Saqib Nisar and Khwaja Sharif and now over the 18th Amendment appointment process. That’s not very surprising. The goal of a hermetically sealed judiciary, wherein the judges dictate who can become a member of their fraternity, is perhaps the single biggest step towards a judiciary which can assert itself as the constitutional framework aspired for it to do.
Remember, the judges are fighting the weight of history, not legal theory. If they err on the side of excess — pushing back on the appointment issue even when there are genuine concerns of jurisprudential overreach — they can justify it as necessary to throw off the executive’s yoke. In a deterministic sense, they are probably right.
Now slot the NRO saga into this framework. Keeping the government on the defensive, keeping it mired in controversy and muck works to the court’s advantage. If the government tries to create fissures and divisions in the superior judiciary, as the judges must surely suspect some in the government would love to do, the court can cry foul — activating the media, public and opposition combine of true believers and opportunists waving the flag of the heroic Court of CJ Iftikhar against the villainy of the rule of Zardari.
So the NRO/NAB stick is looking less and less like a knife meant to be plunged into the heart of the government and more and more like a blunt object to rap the government’s knuckles and thwart any clever ideas about undermining or dominating the judiciary.
Unlike most of the conspiracy theories and rumours being peddled on TV, this actually does make some sense.
Pakistan does not have a power vacuum, we have a power stalemate. Everyone is paralyzed because everyone is suspecting the other of some subterfuge. Zardari cannot trust the judiciary because he has already served so many years in jail without ever being convicted, and now he continues to see judges holding threats over his head. The CJ cannot trust Zardari because he has already been treated badly in the past by Musharraf who threw him out and had him detained on house arrest.
We have a real problem with trust in this country. Jis ki lathi, us ki bhens. It’s a lesson that has been too deeply ingrained in our national psyche. But this is no way to live, in constant suspicion and fear. If we are going to save this country, we must being learning to trust one another.
There are two sad ironies in this case. The first is that these two men could probably be a most powerful force for moving the country forward if only they could learn to trust one another.
The second sad irony is that, even though the men who held the lathis have been gone for some years, they are still wielding this awful power of fear over the country.
Our problem is not Kalashnikov politics, it is lathi politics. It’s time to put an end to the power of Zia, of Musharraf, of the corrupt judges of the past and all the other lathi wielders that have left scars on our nation. It’s time to unclench our fists and join hands. It’s time to heal.
Divided, we are doomed. Together, anything is possible.