A case for new social contract

This Article was published in
The Frontier Post (August 30, 2010)

By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

Pakistan’s otherwise serene political scene has been ignited by the statement of a leading political party’s chief wherein he asked the ‘patriotic generals’ to step in for the sake of poor people and bring an end to hereditary and feudalistic politics. The fact that MQM he heads from the overseas is an important coalition partner of Pakistan People’s Party, both at the federal and provincial levels, has added a serious dimension to the debate. This has led both mainstream political parties i.e. PPP and PML-N to get together in condemnation of the statement and promote a collective cause for the sake of democracy. Whatever be the intentions of the MQM chief behind this statement, he has, however, highlighted the serious deficit so-called democracy suffers from.

The fact that the present version of democracy currently in vogue in the country cannot make a bit of difference to the lives of millions of people even if allowed to function for a hundred years cannot be denied. It is true that it is too early to comment on the efficacy and potential of the system to deliver if seen in the background of the country’s political history where powerful military kept on holding the reign of power for more than half of our national life. The argument that democracy should be given time and space to improve itself also holds water in the light of our political experience. But the crisis Pakistan and its governance structures suffer from calls for serious and in-depth introspection on part of all the stakeholders. It needs to be acknowledged that luxury of time is not available to the political elite as people have continued to be exploited at the hands of vested interests for the last 63 years with the result that they have come to the end of their tether with their frustration and anger ready to burst. As if man-made disasters were not enough, two successive natural calamities i.e. earthquake of 2005 and massive floods struck them unawares in a period of five years.

Couple it with the protracted periods of corruption and bad governance and it becomes a perfect recipe for potential disaster. People have continuously been reminded of the fact every now and then that state is either unwilling or incapable of coming to their rescue. More worrisome than these instances of public outcry at the apathy of the government is the creeping hold of sub-identities over the national identity. The recent incidents show for yet another time that ethnic, linguistic, provincial, racial and sectarian narratives have come to characterize the polity. Individuals and groups are not ready to rise above their parochial interests by conforming to the mainstream narrative of ‘Pakistaniyat’.

This lack of national integration and unwillingness to subject the sub-national identities to the mainstream national identity is the mother of all crises facing Pakistan. What is more, the country’s intelligentsia, political elite and the so-called establishment who have been running roughshod over the fate of the country do not seem to realise the potential dangers associated with this phenomenon. They are busy in their usual political games of power. The unending spate of target killings in the country’s financial hub, Karachi, has been subjected to a clear ethnic tinge. Karachi has traditionally been characterized by the turf war between members of different ethnicities but the way dozens of people were eliminated in a span of a few days speaks volumes of the penetration of violence in the city. The ongoing infighting and accompanying riots have rightly been billed as the survival struggle on part of the warring ethnic groups to ‘preserve their territory’ and save it from intrusion by others. Couple this with the unfortunate incident of public lynching of two brothers in Sialkot city of Punjab and you would come to know how powerful and deep rooted violence narrative has become. One very cogent explanation of why the phenomenon of terrorism and extremism refuses to go away is the absence of any alternative ideology. It is primarily a battle of ideas. An idea can be killed and replaced by a superior idea.

All other steps to stem the onward march of poisonous ideology are merely superficial in nature and cannot achieve durable results. Those ready to kill and get killed in the process are fired by the missionary zeal. A comprehensive victory against the extremist forces can be won after the idea producing such perverted mindsets is defeated. Unfortunately, the counter-terrorism strategy employed by the government seems to ignore this important area with emphasis placed on the use of physical force and economic development. The only way we can deal with these lethal crises is to revive the ideology of Pakistan as a counterweight to the forces of extremism and terrorism. Jinnah’s and Iqbal’s conception of a moderate, progressive Islamic welfare state was overshadowed by the clamour of the rightwing forces for Pakistan to be a theocratic state.

The official patronage provided to this particular brand of religious zealots by the former military dictator in the 1980s played havoc with our national identity and explains why narrative of extremism characterizes Pakistan. This writer strongly believes that our educational system requires a comprehensive overhauling aimed at reminding our youth of their real roots. This cannot happen unless the entire syllabi is carefully sifted and modifications made thereof. Emergence of national unity and pride on our common heritage can work wonders in the face of heavy odds.

Our political brigade also needs to know that if democracy has to survive as a system, the politicians need to work it to the benefit of the common man so that he develops its ownership and is ready to defend it in case of any danger posed to it. Mere rhetorical allegiance to democracy fails to serves any purpose. This calls for revision of social contract between the state and its citizens. For long have the people been suffering at the hands of callous elite. It is about time steps were taken to correct the historical wrongs. There is no time to waste.