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Is Pakistan self correcting?

Updated Mar 10, 2016 08:59am


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The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

Perhaps this is getting a little ahead of the game, but it’s worth saying nonetheless. There is a good chance that we are witnessing a turning point in our recent history. A series of developments in the recent past indicate that the country is being steered in a direction that leads away from a growing role for religious forces in public life, and towards a conception of state and society that we might call ‘liberal’.

The cynics amongst us say no such thing is happening, that the developments are superficial, and more driven by more pragmatic considerations rather than a deeper change of heart at the top. They may be right, but thus far both sides — those allowing themselves a modicum of optimism and those pouring cold water on the idea — are only surmising. They’re connecting the dots differently from each other rather than presenting any clinching evidence to substantiate their position.

Examine: The tightening noose

Here’s why I’m allowing myself some optimism.

There are reasons to believe that the changes we are seeing on the surface have deeper roots.

The civilian leadership has recently surprised us with a few moves. The prime minister (and his team) has stood up to two of his core constituencies, and has remained steadfast in the face of a third constituency that was never his but was always one he was fearful of.

The two core constituencies are the traders and the ulema. The non-core constituency is public-sector labour unions. The government has remained on track against the trader community with its efforts to get them to file their returns, even if it has worked to try and come to an understanding with them first by developing a voluntary tax compliance scheme. If the scheme fails, which it will in all likelihood, the withholding tax on bank transactions by non-filers is likely to remain because it has acquired a momentum of its own now that it has proven itself to be a decent revenue earner as well.

The other core constituency is the ulema, who have been left complaining loudly about the women’s protection bill passed by the Punjab Assembly, as well as the stricter enforcement of laws against hate speech. Long before the ruckus around the women’s protection bill, Maulana ‘Diesel’ was already on the warpath, saying madressahs were being targeted under NAP, mosques were coming under surveillance, and congregation leaders were being picked up for giving sermons described as ‘hate speech’ by the Punjab government.

Read: Religious parties reject women protection bill

Thus far, the government has stood its ground in both cases. This newfound will on the part of the government to defy its core constituents is something new and could presage a change in its electoral strategy altogether.

In the third case, the government has withstood the challenge from PIA workers in an unusually strong way. The previous Nawaz Sharif government was famous for its fear of the public-sector unions and their nuisance power on the street, to the point that those appointed to lead the drive towards privatisation grew visibly frustrated at being told to soften their approach to the point of becoming ineffectual.

Much of the legislation required for privatisation was passed successfully in those days, but when it came to reforming the entities themselves, the real meat of the privatisation process, they used to demur.

So it is with some interest that I’ve watched the government take an unbending stand against all three constituencies. All three are groups that in the past the Sharif brothers have either been fearful of, or sought to embrace. So when they defy or shun them today, and remain steadfast in that posture for months on end, turning a deaf ear to the bleats of protest coming from these camps, part of me does wonder whether something fundamental has changed.

Know: Pakistan on path to rapid economic growth: World Bank chief

There is another reason to believe that the changes we are seeing on the surface have deeper roots.

Consider this: most officers in the army of the rank of general have had at least some sort of direct experience of operations in the fight against militants. The lower officer corps has been one step further. They have had direct combat experience against the militants. They have watched their fellow officers die in battle in large numbers.

Then there’s the tragedy at the Army Public School.

Direct experience has a way of teaching you things that no amount of reasoning, cajoling and tempting can. Couple this with the growing Chinese embrace, which has a material dimension to it. Pakistan’s relationship with China is no longer just a rhetorical partnership restricted to supporting each other’s position in the UN. Now there are facts on the ground, growing economic stakes, a long-term vision unfolding and even more importantly, a growing military partnership that is largely hidden from public view.

What is not hidden from public view, however, is the disdain the Chinese have for religious militancy, and the deep concern with which they view the prospects of instability in Afghanistan spilling over into their backyard in Central Asia. This concern is revealed in their participation in the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, amongst other places.

So we’re seeing unusual things happen across the board. In arenas from economic, to military to cultural, something big is changing. There is a new willingness to take on those who thought themselves beyond the rules laid down by the state. It’s true that the tightening of the noose remains selective. Malik Ishaq and Qadri are gone. Abdul Aziz and Masood Azhar are still around. But doesn’t it in fact make sense to prioritise rather than open all fronts at the same time?

Those who have taken up arms against you come first. Those who have taken up the loudspeaker against you can have a few more days under the sun. It might be too soon to say that things are changing for sure, but today we have more signs pointing in that direction than we have ever seen before. Let’s give history a chance before making up our minds.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @khurramhusain

Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2016


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (44) Closed

Random Passerby Mar 10, 2016 04:19am

Small baby steps, but steps in the right direction nonetheless. It will take decades to change the mindset but the first steps have been taken. The big questions is how will this affect Nawaz's electoral prospects, and if he does not win the next election, would the next government be able to continue on this long and treacherous path?

Mrs. Phannay Khan Mar 10, 2016 04:56am

Inshallah, my dream for a saner, stronger and tolerant Pakistan will soon come true

Zubia Mar 10, 2016 05:57am

Thank you for this positivity. Totally agree with you..and I am a congenital sceptic!

Moona Mar 10, 2016 08:06am

Good article. The great thing about positive thinking is that it creates the circumstances it envisions.

aishaa Mar 10, 2016 09:01am

This paper is the perfect example of what the Author is saying. Going through recent editions, you will read news that someone has been caught and jailed for hate speech, Salman Tasir recovered, some one won the Oscar, Youtube restored, some one sent to jail for harassing a women using a fake facebook account, a green bus service to be started in Karachi, Alamgir Khan etc etc. Surely, if this is not all signs of self corrections, then what is ? As much as a PTI supported I am, I must say hats off to Mr. Nawaz Sharif. And also to Raheel Shareef !!

brr Mar 10, 2016 09:02am

SO why did it take so long to do these actions? Because it helped them politically and paid dividends to cater to the whims of the religious mullahs and the traders. It put PMNL into power time and again. SO why change now - clearly the law of diminishing returns - it does not work as effectively any more and PTI and others have challenged PMNL. Thus a new trick is being played " a look like a liberal" trick seems to work now - witness the praised heaped by this writer for example.

It is not a fundamental change - it is just a new trick being perpetrated for political benefits. Spare us the platitudes.

Daulat Haldea Mar 10, 2016 09:07am

I sincerely hope this trend continues long enough so that the benefits become obvious to all sections of society. The ulema needs to get out of politics as well as militancy. There are enough right minded middle of the road people here who need to participate and contribute to this new direction. Foreign policy should also be directed towards what is in Paklstan's interest rather than unnecessary involvement in other countries problems.Refugees need to be sent back ASAP. Hate speech needs to be punished consistently. Religion should fade away from politico-economic space. Military should finish it's current clean-up fast and return to the barracks. Minorities should be left alone in safety. Yes, I see all this happening. God bless!

Dr.Ashfaq aHMED mANGI Mar 10, 2016 09:25am

Its too early to say!!!!!!

Imran Mar 10, 2016 09:46am

One great Article of hope after days, I would rather continue with hope rather than dying in front of realities. Well done.

SHAH Mar 10, 2016 09:47am

Pakistan on path to rapid economic growth. It means we are Asian Tigers!

Nadeem Mar 10, 2016 09:57am

Everything - prosperity, tolerance, better social attitude - is tied to the education level of the population. And education as a whole still has zero priority.

Tomasz K. Mar 10, 2016 10:01am

Thank you for positive waves and sane opinion, Khurram Hussain.

Optimistic Mar 10, 2016 10:29am

@brr isn`t it the beauty of democracy that opposition questions the ruling party about everything so they do whats beneficial for the people. For me, its too soon to say anything but at least we are moving towards the right direction.

Asma Tanoli Mar 10, 2016 10:42am

Pakistan could move forward much faster if the PM could find better choices for Interior and Finance. The PM and his brother seem to be forward-looking but these two ministers are holding up all the progress.

Dabba Mar 10, 2016 10:44am

We have to understand that the version of Islam that is followed in Pakistan is conservative, which has given rise to intolerance. Any one who studies Islam thoroughly knows how open and Liberal this religion is. But it's a good idea that we are trying to challenge that conservative Islam in hopes that practices that are in no way Islamic can be abolished.

Mahmood Mar 10, 2016 11:51am

I'm not sure about 'correcting'. It feels more like a drift, without any direction or leadership, with all provinces under the controls of rival political parties. Little unity, and even less unanimity in policies, and laws.

ysk Mar 10, 2016 12:22pm

@brr PTI confused soul spotted. Can't accept anything positive coz its not from the cult leader

Waqas Ahmed Mar 10, 2016 12:39pm

Well written but there is something you forget to discuss is the defending there masses against the corruption instead strengthen the whole process. They are making accountability difficult. If they only take a good stance on accountability there is no doubt that PML(N) can hold the PM office for many years. As everyone's seen that even so called "Changed Slogan" party has nothing to do with progress with whom people had hopes.

Arslan Mar 10, 2016 12:46pm

This article speaks my mind. Deeper root is you know who, the only ones who can change direction.

Arabian Sea Mar 10, 2016 12:55pm

This may be correct but as far as Karachi, the so called major success story of the current political and military powers, they may achieve a Pyrrhic victory only. Yes, the removal of criminalisation was necessary but shades of partiality and pragmatism did infiltrate and many PPP elements were left out and PPP was successfully able to push back. This left only Karachi to bear the brunt where the effort to browbeat the largest party into submission is patently wrong. Local bodies are not being allowed to assume powers till the party agreed to a change of leadership. The city meanwhile bleeds.

Zoaib Mar 10, 2016 12:59pm

On terrorism front, the author maybe right. There are signs of a realization across the board that this must be dealt with.

But on governance, it's much of the same really. Litmus test is the police: Except for KP, no other province is even close to bringing the kind of structural and core reform we need in the police system. It's still convenient for the political class in Punjab and Sindh to use the police for exerting their control over everything. Core reform in Health and Education are still neglected. Economy is still managed on indirect taxes - with little effort to broaden the tax base decisively. I can go on and on in various areas which need reform but lacks serious will on part of the ruling class.

Kohnaverd Mar 10, 2016 01:20pm

The ignorance around us is bound to get affected by the sum total of knowledge that the human race is accumulating by the minutes. The real issue is how much more time of suffering is remaining. Anyways, under the present local and global scenario, one can feel that the destructive funding of hate centres is somehow going down and with it the levels of insanity and brutality too....

wellwisher Mar 10, 2016 01:23pm

senseless killings at APS was the turning point

Azmeen Mar 10, 2016 01:42pm

Dawn should bring in such pragmatic articles more and more.

Marvi Soomro Mar 10, 2016 01:51pm

A great article pointing at all good things happening around us, we might be on a slow track towards the right direction we are on it!

Hasan Kardar Mar 10, 2016 02:24pm

Living in a fools' paradise! No doubt.

Akhtar Hussain Javed Mar 10, 2016 02:51pm

Yeah. Inshallah. Our future is bright and I can see that within the people there is a mindset change that we got to change the things not let them happen as it is.

A Pakistani Mar 10, 2016 03:24pm

Progress starts with a healthy self-image. As a ordinary Pakistani I feel more confident and hopeful of my future because the vibes provided by the state have started to turn positive all around. Change would be slow and incremental but POSITIVE.

Thank you for reflecting my sentiments as an average Pakistani

berni Mar 10, 2016 03:57pm

Thanks God for giving us some hope and faith. Thank you for writing a thankful, hope-giving article and telling the truth.

Parvez Mar 10, 2016 04:31pm

Optimistic and balanced view.

nabil Mar 10, 2016 04:53pm

I hope loudspeakers are dismantled soon Too. Next general election should be walk over for PML/N providing Law ,judiciary, corruption and institutions and making sure Gas is there for everyone to make Roti.

ukumar Mar 10, 2016 05:10pm

I hope the writer is right. These are all good first steps.

hasan ansari Mar 10, 2016 05:10pm

Great insight.

auginpk Mar 10, 2016 07:10pm

Democracy is great in correcting the course of action of nations.

After all the pitfalls of the democray only politicians can change their stand which leads to correction of course.

The bureaucracy, technocracy and any other organisation of government has somewhat rigid working culture which do not allow them to correct/ change course.

I think Pakistan will flourish in its democracy despite its all the pitfalls.

Good luck.

Aqeel Aamir Mar 11, 2016 07:19pm

The moves made so far, are to be applauded and sounds like the government is pretty confident and clear in setting a correct course of the nation. Government has no choice left to take firm action on priority basis cause it seems to have establishment's backing as well. Radicalism and fanaticism have no room now. Reason and logic will win in the end.

M K Sufi Mar 11, 2016 08:48pm

It is about time that we have started thinking in Positive term. That in itself is a big change.

Waqas Sami Mar 12, 2016 06:25am

We are a tortoise not a hare. Otherwise we will be disappointed again. We need to be patient. Progress will take a long time. It might take 50 to 100 years but eventually we move forward.

Bupi Mar 12, 2016 09:26am

@Dr.Ashfaq aHMED mANGI Dr sahib it's only the Hope makes Man Good Humans. Addab

Bupi Mar 12, 2016 09:27am

@Mrs. Phannay Khan God bless you

Fazal Karim Mar 12, 2016 10:55am

How shall we judge Karachites behavior in voting for a party openly involved in bhatta, taget killing, murders and destruction of school education. Same is the case with Sindhis who go on voting for a party involved in mismanagement and corruption. Are these good signs?

Umer Mar 12, 2016 03:17pm

Societies progress due to their hard work,honesty,truth,justice,economy and all the countries which excelled followed these principles.It is quite funny when I see people claiming that being secular is the solution to all the problems.I wished the real world would have worked so simple.

Bupi Mar 12, 2016 03:41pm

Very good attempt calling Spade a spade. We can't change our History but can make our & our next generations Future Bright & Safe. Duty lies in our hands be we in India or in Pakistan. God bless you.

Pravin Mar 12, 2016 06:51pm

This may be true.

Muzaffaroklahoma Mar 13, 2016 01:22am

With guarded optimism ,at the govt level it seems to be changing.It will take 1-2 generations for a significant minority or the majority of the public to change and that after rigorous and intense educational effort.