Why should the dharnas end?

Zafar Hilali

SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)

Nawaz Sharif is not about to resign and forego four years at the tiller and the prospect of further enrichment. Similarly, the Allama and the Kaptaan won’t end their dharnas because, for them, media access is invaluable and every time they clamber atop their containers to speak to six to 10 million Pakistanis who are listening on the 20 or so channels covering the event. There’s not enough money in the whole country to buy that sort of publicity for a political party and that too, for hours on end. Besides, by beating up on Nawaz Sharif daily, or is it hourly, the Imran-Qadri duo have inflicted grave nay, fatal, damage on the prime minister’s public persona. So why give up on all that? And for what, some nebulous agreement about not rigging future elections which will be observed mostly in the breach? No, sir. The duo intends to keep hammering away and why not? If elections were held today, Nawaz Sharif’s substantial (rigged?) majority would probably evaporate.

The media, too, relishes the opportunity the dharnas provide to lash out at both sides. Some act as the spokesmen of the regime others of their opponents. Of course, all profess to be objective when presenting the facts even though they are brazenly not so. The brickbats the two sides hurl at each other are embellished by anchors and the whole scene is replayed in the studios leading to heated debate, if not actual fisticuffs, much to the delight of those tasked with boosting programme ratings. The public, too, though inwardly worried at the shenanigans on display, lap it up avidly; and the next day, talk is rife about who said what to whom. So, to believe the dharnas will end soon, or that an agreement is in the offing, is absurd. What, then, could enable the two sides to reach an agreement?

How about asking fate to intervene? We are forever supplicating to fate for something or the other. At times it’s for rain and on other occasions for it to stop raining. We ask for victory in battle and sport and, if that’s denied, for fortitude in defeat. Sometimes it works, but on this occasion it hasn’t. So what will persuade the ‘dharnaists’ to disperse, or Nawaz Sharif to quit?

And the answer is an outcome imposed by the Supreme Court, failing which the weapon of last resort, the fauj. Surely, in the absence of good sense on the part of one or the other must bestir itself to perform the task because the feeling of ennui and tiredness, actually of being just plain knackered, has had the nation in its grip for a while. And we can’t take that much longer or to afford government to be in lockdown and simultaneously the economy in meltdown.

BUT that’s not all. Seminal changes have occurred in our neighbourhood. Kabul has decided to pay us back in our own coin by sheltering, arming and financing (with India’s help) the TTP, who are now relocated in the Afghan provinces bordering Pakistan and hunkering down for a long stay. If truth be told, Kabul and Delhi are activating a new front on our western border. And Washington, which is losing leverage and interest in Kabul, isn’t specially bothered by such a development. ‘A plague on all your houses’ is the popular sentiment in Washington. Obama is quite content to hand over the role of superintending developments in South Asia to his ‘strategic partner’ and the regional hegemon, Modi. Meanwhile, the latter is busy wooing China with the aim of further isolating Pakistan.

It’s worth restating that Modi, a Hindu revivalist and an unabashed Muslim hater, ever since he travelled around Gujarat as an RSS ‘sambhaag pracharak’, has in the brief period he has been in power displayed a remarkable animus not only towards Pakistan but also Muslims in general. He has terminated any lingering prospects of a rapprochement with Pakistan by abruptly cancelling the foreign secretary level talks on the flimsiest of pretexts — like our high commissioner’s meetings with Kashmiri leaders that had often occurred in the past with the consent of his predecessors. He had preceded that by ratcheting up of tension (by unprovoked Indian shelling) on the LoC. Consider also, India’s release, without a moment’s thought, or prior warning, of the huge volume of water from the Indus Basin tributaries which flow from India into Pakistan and the devastation they caused in Pakistan; and the Indian army’s deplorable callousness in ignoring Muslim Kashmiris, begging to be rescued after being stranded in their homes in Occupied Kashmir, while Hindu Kashmiris and foreigners were being evacuated, in some cases hardly a house removed from where Muslims were precariously perched, desperately seeking help. Modi’s actions speak louder than words ever can of his real feelings and intentions. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that Occupied Kashmir is festooned with banners asking the Indian (occupation) army to stay away and declaring any assistance they may belatedly wish to offer as unwelcome.

Faced with a mega domestic crisis and foreign challenges and the dangers they pose what does the Supreme Court and the fauj do? Well, indulge in some further mint-sucking introspection with the ISPR denying that the fauj is contemplating intervention. The fauj is indeed not contemplating intervention, though by now mere contemplation should have been replaced by actual plans to do so if no progress to resolve matters is discernible and the government remains paralysed. Alas, by the looks of it, the current uncertainty that prevails will dominate our lives and work until one of the two decides to act. The current policy of each saying to the other ‘please you first’ has to end.

It’s worth restating that in a democracy, protests are about alerting leaders to the fact that the people are unhappy with the status quo and that if changes in policy are not made protests will aim to throw them out of office. And, if that does not work, to bring down the institutions of government and drastically change the way the country is governed, in other words, a revolution. We are not yet at the latter stage, but it’s not far off. But we are at the moment at a crucial moment in our political history, a tipping point. Each of us will shortly be called upon to judge the costs and risks of rebellion and ask ourselves one question, “Will life be tolerable, relative to the conditions we can expect, if there is no ‘rebellion?’” I, for one, don’t think so. ‘Rebellion’ today has a decent chance of success in making life better for all.


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