Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

Many moons ago, when I was a kid living with my parents and grandparents in a house in Karachi’s Bath Island area, we had a neighbour who everyone called ‘Kachra Chacha’ [Garbage Uncle]. Of course, no one called him that to his face, but I am sure he knew. This middle-aged man had this curious habit of scolding everyone he would come across about the manner in which they disposed of their garbage. It was actually an admirable trait, but strangely enough, in his own house, he was not practising what he preached. 

I remember when my cousins and I would visit his house to play with his nephews, there would be litter strewn all over his garden and piles of trash in the large round balcony which stood just above the garage. I have no idea why this was so, but the memory of this gentleman came to mind immediately after watching Prime Minister Imran Khan’s impassioned speech at the UN General Assembly on September 27. 

I must admit, I was impressed by the way PM Khan addressed the issue of state repression being faced by Muslims living in India Occupied Kashmir (IOK). But I’m afraid a lot else about the same speech triggered that obscure memory about Kachra Chacha. It is rather easy to negate and contradict much of what the PM said during his speech and in the interviews he gave to the media in the US. His critics have already done that, questioning the current state of repression being faced by the Pakistani media and against Khan’s political opponents in the country. They have also called him out for doing precious little to address the harassment and violence that the country’s various minority communities continue to face at the hands of radicalised elements within the country’s majority religious community. 

Pakistan’s rhetoric against extremism abroad can only find traction if it is balanced by taking initiatives towards

Therefore, his detractors believe that the PM’s pleas against hate speech, racial and religious bigotry, and especially, Islamophobia in Western societies ring hollow. They fear that such views will never be able find any worthwhile traction in the West or from outside his excitable constituencies in Pakistan. How can one point at garbage outside his home when he cannot (or refuses to) do much about the garbage piled inside his own house? 

Nevertheless, as I mentioned above, the way the PM sweepingly condemns issues such as Islamophobia in the West and repression on the basis of ideology and faith against Muslims outside Pakistan, it is rather easy to counter such condemnations by simply putting forth the many episodes of violence against members of minority groups in Pakistan and also between Muslim sects that have been reported for decades now. 

It is a fact that, even when a Pakistani PM or president was willing to actually do something about this, he or she could not (and cannot) because the nature of certain laws and clauses within the country’s constitution — mostly penned in the document between 1974 and 1986 — is such that initiating effective reform in this context is next to impossible.

This is why, even while one can argue that certain Western countries infested with problems such as Islamophobia and racial bigotry do not have the right to point fingers at Muslim countries such as Pakistan for failing to curb religious violence and harassment against minorities, one can always stress the fact that, unlike Pakistan, their constitutions do not have laws that can encourage and even shield acts and actors hell bent on inflicting violence in the name of faith.  

PM Khan has been diluting his otherwise impactful narrative on IOK and Modi regime’s ‘fascism’ by coupling it with rhetorical spiels about Islamophobia. Apart from being riddled by the inherent contradictions discussed above, this is largely woven from a hodgepodge understanding of Edward Said’s idea of post-colonialism, which is now struggling to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world.

More disconcerting is the possibility that the narrative being erected by PM Khan may as well be the result of either the complete failure and discarding of a narrative which the state and government was trying to build (to counter radicalisation and the spread of extremism) through the National Action Plan (NAP); or Khan was never really on board when the plan was authored and approved by the military and political parties in January 2015.

Indeed, it is clear that the Modi regime’s arrogance towards Pakistan has generated the need within the state and government of Pakistan to intensify their rhetoric on the issues of IOK and Hindu nationalism. But this can only be effective if it is balanced by initiatives which would show Pakistan as doing more to curb extremism in its own backyard compared to India, where Hindu extremism has been allowed to infiltrate mainstream politics and society. Otherwise, it will only end up being nothing more than a bantering game between two countries infested by extremism, with one labelling the other ‘a terrorist state,’ and the other responding by calling it ‘fascist.’

It is surprising that, despite the fact that the PTI dedicated a lot of space to the NAP in its manifesto for the 2018 election, PM Khan has frequently negated the nature of reforms suggested in that document. Firstly, by continuously claiming that the war which the Pakistan military fought against religious extremist groups was ‘not our war,’ the PM is undermining the chaos and destruction created by the extremists. This sentiment is also dismissive of the manner in which the extremists were tackled by the military.

There is absolutely nothing new or insightful about lecturing the US about how it had helped Pakistan create Islamic militants in the 1980s (before dumping them). The US government itself has repeatedly admitted this ever since former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited Pakistan in 2011.

Most of PM Khan’s ideas are still cemented in the many apologias that emerged from a muddled potpourri of anti-West narratives developed during the last three decades. These were narratives that aided those who were unwilling to recognise their own incompetence, complacencies and mistakes, by putting the blame on others regarding extremism. This can be a popular way of explaining things on Twitter, but it can certainly not — and should not — become part of the state and government policy.

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 6th, 2019