As the end approaches by - Ayaz Amir

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The time may have come for speculation and pointless academic discussions about what is constitutional and what is not to cease. Fast-moving developments with which the media can barely keep pace point to one conclusion: the end of the road for this dispensation. Authority has slipped from the hands of the federal and Punjab governments and their condition is precarious.

Henceforth the history of Punjab comedy will not be complete without reference to the current performance of the federal information minister, Pervaiz Rashid, and the Punjab law minister, Rana Mashood, both of whom are outdoing anything the Lucky Irani Circus has to offer.

Collapse of governmental authority and a power vacuum…how long can this last? The last defence of the Sharif brothers is the Punjab police and what the state of the Punjab police is has to be seen to be believed. A more demoralised force never walked the land of the five rivers.

Partly this is the Punjab government’s doing: pushing the Lahore police towards what turned out to be the Model Town massacre – 14 dead, scores injured by direct gunshot hits – and then washing its hands off the disaster and leaving the police to fend for themselves…thrown to the dogs, so to speak. To a great extent this is the work of the Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) activists who have given the police a taste of its own medicine.

If the Khadim-e-Aala thinks this police are going to stand up to Allama Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan on the 14th he is living in a dream-world. I have seen the containers put on the roads of Model Town and I have seen PAT activists from up close. It will not be much of a problem for these youngsters to remove the containers. Where the Punjab government thinks it has laid a siege around the Allama, in reality it has laid a siege around itself. If it still thinks it can use force to defuse the unrest it had better think again. We are past the point where force could be of any use…unless a desperate Khadim-e-Aala wants disorder to spread.

Trouble is that too many people are still having a hard time understanding what the Minhajul Quran phenomenon is about. The Allama is no pir and his followers are no mureeds in the traditional sense of the word. They are committed political activists, for the most part educated, the bulk of them from – how shall I put it? – the ranks of the less-privileged. The crushed, downtrodden sections of society, that’s what they represent, people for whom the call for a fundamental reordering of society, the creation of an Islamic welfare state, has immeasurable appeal.

The police had blocked all access routes to the Minhaj secretariat for their Youm-e-Shuhada and yet they came, by rickshaw through devious routes, on foot walking long distances, some with dandas in their hands, hungry and thirsty but faces determined, eyes set, men and women, boys and young girls. Such a cadre of dedicated youngsters no other political force has. Of what use is Pakistan’s Prado and Mercedes brand of democracy to these people? When the Allama uses the language of Islam and the Quran to paint the outlines of a just society they respond to his call because his words resonate with them.

The mummy-daddy and burger media keeps spouting nonsense about gender equality and women’s liberation. Well, to see women’s liberation in action come and see the women activists of PAT, mostly hijab-wearing but faces aglow with passion and determination. No political force, no organisation in Pakistan, has the kind of Dukhtaran-e-Millat, daughters of the nation, that the PAT has.

I can say this for myself that to see them raising their clenched fists and shouting slogans for Mustafvi Inqilab (Revolution of the Prophet) is to be cleansed of all cynical and defeatist thought. Then do I think that, no, Pakistan is not a lost cause. It has a future before it – but only if Prado and Mercedes democracy is so reformed that the masses, the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, those denied the fruits of prosperity and who live on the margins, come into their own, kick aside their oppressors and occupy the first ranks of political power.

Another under-appreciated point about PAT and its allies in the Sunni Ittehad Council and the Majlis Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen (the leading Shiite political party) is that together they represent the moderate, liberal Islam of the overwhelming majority of the Pakistani people. This Islam, the Islam of Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussain, Ghulam Farid and the great Ali Hajveri, patron saint of Lahore, is anti-Taliban Islam, anti-Takfiri Islam. For too long this Islam was relegated to the political sidelines because it lacked a political voice. The Sheikh-ul-Islam, after a lifetime of preparation, has given it that voice.

The fight against the Taliban is not just a military struggle. It is also an ideological struggle between moderate and Takfiri Islam. The army can use its tanks and guns but for all-out victory, for success on the ideological front, for Pakistan to return to its moorings, there has to be a meeting of minds between the army and moderate Islam. And if there is such an understanding, conscious or otherwise, Pakistan will never go the way of Iraq or Syria. No Salafi brand of fitna (discord) can arise on its soil.

The Sharifs’ great contribution to Pakistani history is that through their self-serving policies and their monumental ineptitude, and also their lack of understanding regarding basic issues, they have hastened the wheels of political change. Developments that otherwise would have taken longer to unfold have been compressed into a shorter time-frame. For this at least we owe them our thanks.

Mark also the role of determination in human affairs. I personally thought that Imran Khan was chasing shadows when he raised the issue of recounting votes in four constituencies. What could come of it? But he kept at it, even when his quest looked hopeless, until he succeeded in turning this into a major issue. A lesser man would have given up long ago. But full marks to his determination and confidence. With the Allama and Imran Khan joining forces on the 14th the government’s chances of surviving this challenge are down almost to zero. No government can long survive such a loss of authority. Lahore and Punjab can’t be containerised forever. Over the next three days the government’s nerves are going to be further on edge. It is surviving only in TV and newspaper ads and friendly media interviews. And the police are down and out. How long can this situation last?

The government’s state of mind is revealed by the way it has made a ‘martyr’ of a policeman dying in a motorcycle accident and on the basis of his death lodging a murder case against the Allama. The ‘martyred’ policeman’s was buried with full police honours and a crore rupees have been announced for his family. If this is the best the Punjab government can come up with at a time like this, its plight is worse than we think.

And what was the purpose of the National Security Council meeting? It was supposed to be about Operation Zarb-e-Azb but the prime minister went on to deliver a political point-scoring speech. The generals in attendance, including the chief, did not look too amused. What the PM achieved by that meeting was to show the emperor without his clothes. The first real crisis that has come the Sharifs’ way and they don’t know what to do.

Power abhors a vacuum. Something has to fill this vacuum. Is Pakistan on the verge of another of its dramatic turnarounds? That’s what it looks like. Borne on the wind from afar is the sound of muffled drums. We have been here before? Will it be any different this time?