Pause and ponder

M Ziauddin

Pakistan has remained in an election mode all these past 46 months starting August 2014.And during the last ten months beginning end-July 2017 the election process has turned into a ‘do-or-die’ mode with the launch of GT Road ‘long-march’ by the disqualified supreme leader. This march continues to date breaking at times into election-cum-protest rallies and at times NAB court appearances which without fail are followed by media talk by the father-daughter duo.
And as the ruling parties at the centre and provinces race through the last 30 days of their5-year tenure the election crescendo is seemingly reaching an ever higher pitch.
In this ear-splitting electioneering din most who matter in this country’s political landscape, especially the mainstream political parties — PMLN, PTI, PPP, ANP and a truncated MQM — seem to have failed, presumably because of the vociferous election clamour to hear the loud trumpets of the proverbial elephant in the room — the growing menace of religious radicalisation in the country.
Though this kind of radicalisation does not have anything to do with the Islam that is generally understood by Muslims at large, this menace is, however, fast rendering totally irrelevant the mainstream political parties’ election narratives aimed at winning over the voters. Not that these parties have any intention of converting their noble sounding manifestos into realities when in power, but it is clearly being done to sugar-coat the slanging match that they are indulging into casting their competitors in the darkest of colours — accusing each other of plundering the national coffers, of taking liberties with the Constitution and of poor governance during their current respective incumbencies.
Sure, corruption too is a dangerous menace but it does not damage the national fabric as seriously as the religiously radicalised elements do. This menace is spreading fast among our youth, no matter whether educated or uneducated, employed or unemployed and no matter to which class it belonged. What is even more deeply worrying is that this group of youngsters makes up the largest bulge in our voting-age population.
Even the economic crisis which is looming large and seems like reducing the country to bankruptcy would appear to be an easier problem to handle compared to the radicalisation process that is spreading fast like cancer in its last stages in the body politics of Pakistan refusing to respond so far to any therapy.
India’s hegemonic intentions, Afghan NDS’ alleged conspiracies and President Trump’s scapegoating of Pakistan to cover up America’s failures in our North-Western war ravaged neighbourhood do pose an existential threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty but the religiously radicalised Pakistanis seem to be threatening the very idea of Pakistan.
The recently announced eleven-points of PTI are all highly relevant. And the PMLN, PPP, ANP and perhaps even MMA too are likely to come out soon with equally or even more relevant political agendas in the form of their respective election manifestos. But these manifestos are not likely to make any impression on the youngsters being radicalised by the hundreds on daily basis by the elements clearly opposed to the idea of Pakistan. Their purpose appears to be to keep project ‘Jihad’ alive and kicking by white washing the youthful minds with a distorted version of religion. One cannot rule out the possibility that come election-day these misled radicals would eat deep into the votes of mainstream political parties by supporting either the Milli Muslim League (MML) or the Tahreek-i-Labaik Party (TLP) which were sent on a test fight during the Lahore NA120 and Lodhran 154 by-polls in which these parties had successfully wiped out at least the PPP from the two constituencies.
But in case their handlers were to find that these parties would not be able to stop the mainstream parties from upsetting their plans then one would not put it past these handlers to use these radicalised elements to militantly disrupt the elections itself the way they used the TTP to forcibly deny a level playing field to PPP, ANP and MQM during the 2013 elections.
These mainstream political parties are not likely to be confined to corner meetings in the upcoming elections as the security forces have in the meanwhile effectively defanged the TTP.
One, however, recalls with deep disappointment that neither the PMLN nor the PTI had condemned the TTP for the public warning it had issued to PPP, ANP and MQM against holding election meetings during the 2013 polls. In fact the two did not even condemn the kidnapping of Ali Haider Gilani, one of the sons of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, from a corner meeting on May 9, 2013.Even more disappointing was the total indifference the two parties displayed towards the killing spree that the TTP was indulging in Khyber Pukhtunkhawa (KP) to almost completely wipe out the ANP from the 2013 electoral contest.
This did help the PTI, a party that was introduced to the KP politics only weeks before the 2013 elections to capture the largest number of seats in the provincial assembly and the PMLN to sweep Punjab and win, against the run of the game, the coveted two-third majority in the National Assembly.
This attitude of appeasement towards terrorists that the PMLN and PTI had displayed in their narrow vested interests had, however, emboldened the TTP so much that it went on a bloody rampage in the country with complete impunity soon after the elections. The attack on Jinnah International Airport and the one on Army Public School Peshawar were two of the worst kinds of terror related bloodbaths among the long list of terror incidents that had followed within months after the 2013 elections.
It is, therefore, time for all mainstream political parties, without any exception, to pause and ponder: Would they wish to continue their politics in complete denial of the ground realities or would they like to look the danger straight into the eye and take on the menace up front politically? Alas, one does not see any other way to protect and preserve the idea of Pakistan which seems to be in mortal danger.


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