WHETHER Ayaz Sadiq’s Abhinandan statement in the National Assembly was a major fiasco for the PML-N, even the country, or a mere bump in the road that will fade away in the rear-view mirror within days, there was a telling lesson inherent in the episode.
Ayaz Sadiq was wrong in going public with what was said during an in-camera session for parliamentarians. In-camera sessions are kept that way for a reason; that trust should not be violated. Even weeks of being called ‘traitors’ should not have been provocation enough.
When Mr Sadiq’s statement was made on the floor of house not much was made of it. The speaker did not even expunge it from the record. However, later when the Indian media picked it up and started spinning it, as sections of it are prone to doing, outrage was triggered in Pakistan.
Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s response to Ayaz Sadiq in the National Assembly on the same day was also picked up by the Indian media. Chaudhry was at pains to explain that in his same Assembly statement he later said “Pulwama ke baad”, in Pulwama’s aftermath, and not ‘Pulwama’ itself as he first seemed to suggest in an apparent slip.
A cursory look at Pakistan’s history will tell us that the traitors of today, become the patriots of tomorrow.
At the weekend, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to town over the Chaudhry statement, saying it amounted to an admission of responsibility by Pakistan for the Pulwama bombing of the paramilitary convoy that left dozens of soldiers dead in February 2019.
Chaudhry’s clarification that he was referring to PAF’s response to Indian aggression amounted to nought for Modi. As the Indian economy is now running out of steam, heading towards a recession, the BJP leadership will perhaps need to stir the pot to retain its stranglehold over the country.
Kicking up trouble on the borders may be on its agenda. It has already tried to assert itself in its territorial dispute with China but was repulsed. Could Pakistan be next? Our forces are capable of defending Pakistan but a military conflict can’t be in anyone’s interest. Now or ever.
Ergo, it is important for the government and its backers and the opposition to understand that this current name-calling, and labelling of elected representatives and parties as ‘traitors’ is pointless. It is equally silly to claim who is more robust or has more guts among us compared to others.
If such games continue, they degenerate quickly as everyone feels the compulsion to indulge in one-upmanship regardless of the cost of doing so. What results is spiralling stupidity. In the Sadiq-Chaudhry case it was clear that otherwise measured people end up saying things they shouldn’t or don’t even mean to.
The state is not imperilled by independent journalists or dissidents. What poses a far more dangerous threat is the stupidity being witnessed. Ever since the government started to feel the opposition’s pressure it has resorted to using the ‘traitor’ label, accusing them of playing ‘India’s game’.
This appeared aimed at achieving multiple objectives such as discrediting opponents and also pulling in more firmly into its corner the ‘hyper-patriotic’ establishment. An additional goal must have been to move the focus away from rampant inflation and multiple governance failures.
But look where the spiral took us. This must stop. And now. Thorny political issues ranging from upholding of the Constitution and rule of law, the need for free and fair elections, the principle of civilian supremacy, among others have remained unaddressed for long. These should be addressed.
And if certain stakeholders seem reluctant even now to address these, then the political forces are well within their rights to mobilise public opinion and pressure to ensure what, they believe, is in the country’s, and its people’s, interest happens.
If this means that those who currently occupy the perches of power feel uneasy or threatened, they are obviously free to respond within the confines of the law. But please let’s stop calling anyone who expresses a different opinion a ‘traitor’ or equally a ‘weakling’.
A cursory look at Pakistan’s history will tell us that the traitors of today, become the patriots of tomorrow and vice versa, depending on the convenience of the real ruling coterie. Whatever may have happened in the past, our security compulsions today dictate that we don’t go down that path. Or we will offer our adversaries on a silver platter a cause to harm us. At the same time, this name-calling must leave the valiant people of India-held Kashmir terribly confused about who actually cares for them in Pakistan and who is an Indian agent at a time when they are facing unprecedented oppression in the valley.
Such a state of affairs is self-destructive and is tantamount to madness. It can’t possibly be in Pakistan’s interest. And yet we indulge in such ad hominem attacks, name-calling remorselessly. It achieves nothing as the perceptions of political parties’ supporters and the people at large remains unaltered.
As the opposition campaign gets into higher gear, and if it is successful in building some momentum, one can hope that the discourse, the point-scoring and the counter-arguments are based on real issues rather than this traitor nonsense.
No less important is the need to reassess what we officially respond to when we say we are facing fifth-generation warfare. A cacophony of noise created by Arnab Goswani and his ilk is best ignored. If at all a response, it is warranted that we leave the task to our media Arnabs.
Our own people are very discerning. They know well what has substance and what should be treated contemptuously, for it’s no more than noise. Sometimes our official reaction looks grossly over-egged. It may well be directed at keeping the domestic morale up.
But, in my opinion, more than such unnecessary interventions, people will find greater reassurance in the fact that all our leaders, whether in government or in opposition, have the best interest of the people and the country at heart. None of them is a traitor.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, November 1st, 2020