Tick tock

Published June 21, 2024
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

ALMOST five months since one of the most manipulated general elections in our checkered history, there is an ominous quiet before yet another impending storm. What form it takes is unknown, but it is clear that the current hybrid regime is devoid of legitimacy and has neither the will nor the capacity to resolve Pakistan’s many structural crises.

The PTI is convinced that it is the answer to Pakistan’s problems, and can viably claim to being the party with the most popular support across what is an extremely divided polity. But for all of the repression that the PTI has experienced over the past two years, there is little evidence that it would be able to lead a process of structural change to overhaul Pakistan’s militarised political economy and state ideology and resolve deeply rooted class, gender and ethnic-national contradictions.

Those political forces that I believe do offer at least the ideological depth and political commitment to challenge the establishment-centric order are not sufficiently strong to do so. In this category are some ethnic-nationalist forces — particularly youth-led movements — as well as the political left.

So we are faced with a medium-term prognosis of deepening structural crises while mainstream parties slug it out in a zero-sum game for governmental power. There is also the resurgence of religious militancy of varying kinds across different geographies of the country.

The situation is dire, and likely to get worse.

In significant swathes of the Pak-Afghan borderlands, the religious right has re-established what is virtually a parallel governing system while the state abdicates its writ. We have been here before and the story does not end well. The so-called Pakistani Taliban and other more mainstreamed Deobandi organisations have deep wells of support in the highest echelons of power and this is reflected as much in the resurgence of militancy as the regular bouts of state repression visited upon peaceful movements like the PTM and the Baloch long march.

In the core areas of the country, relatively newer and distinct religio-political organisations are also gaining steady ground. The TLP stands out amongst all of them, and has recently been at the forefront of organised lynching campaigns against Punjabi Christians as well as Ahmadis. Such groups not only do the politics of hate, they also undertake welfare and other societal activities that deepens their social base in the absence of state-led welfare and recreational schemes.

It is worth bearing in mind that most of these organisations boast an extremely youthful rank and file, and they will continue to grow so long as the underlying socioeconomic decay is not arrested. The way in which the current regime treated farmers amidst the wheat import scandal, unrelenting inflation and unemployment, as well as the disdain for workers’ rights and unionisation tell us that the potential pool of support for militant organisations will only grow.

Meanwhile, even higher up the class ladder, relatively educated segments continue to be fed a stylised set of facts in the name of the ‘two-nation theory’ that inhibit critical thinking and innovation, while rewarding those who want to become cogs in the state’s bureaucratic machine.

It is also well-documented that a huge number of young people are trying to get out of the country by hook or by crook, and this is not limited to those who are dirt poor. In other words, the classic brain drain is also continuing to play out, with no sign of reversal.

All told, the situation is dire, and likely to get worse. I do not mean to spread doom and gloom but it is essential that existing realities are ack­nowledged so that we stop going around in circles. Interrup­ting the worsening cycle requires those who have recently experienced repression — here I am referring particularly to the PTI — to look beyond messiahs.

For ethnic-nationalists and the left, who are the only forces immediately committed to taking on the challenge of building a popular politics for social transformation, there must be a willingness to find allies within the mainstream that can be coaxed into deepening their political positions.

None of this will happen through wishful thinking. It requires conscious recognition of the situation we face and viable strategies to redress it. The clock is ticking and the urgency of our myriad predicaments increasing, and here I have not even considered the growing likelihood of climate breakdown events. It is under this backdrop that hateful ideologies and molecular violence are deepening across the social formation.

Appealing to the good sense of the powerful does us no good. The oppressed must come together to take things into their own hands.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2024

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