Who will fight back?

Published January 6, 2011

THE morning of the governor's assassination, I found myself arguing there are no ideological divisions left in Pakistani politics anymore. 'Right' or 'Left' have lost all meaning, which is why the PPP can seek alliances with the PML-N, the ANP, the MQM, the JUI-F, the PML-F, Fata MPs and even the PML-Q, the 'Qatil' League, to try and cling on in power.

The name of the game is power, and nothing else matters. But I was wrong.

At least in the public imagination, there does exist an ideological divide — and the PPP is on the wrong side of it. la deen'

Godless, secular, ', the PPP and its leaders are everything the Children of Zia loathe. Taseer's killer, Mumtaz Qadri, born in 1985, is the quintessential child of Zia.

At least at the level of signalling, the PPP does confirm its public reputation. And privately, I find PPP leaders to be among the more sensible and warm, their worldview free of hate, their language couched in a kind of humanism difficult to detect elsewhere.

The ANP and the MQM come closest to the PPP in this regard, but there's always a lingering suspicion of instrumentalism — about the lack of genuine belief in the values they publicly espouse — and their track records always give pause.

But here's the difficulty with the PPP, too: even if you believe there is genuine unease in the party at the trajectory the country is on, the PPP has done no more or no less than other mainstream political players to help nudge the country along in that terrible direction.

ZAB of course desperately pandered to the right as the opposition from those quarters mounted. BB's first term you can write off because it was so brief and she was so completely on the defensive that little blame can genuinely be attributed to her.

But what did she do in the second term? Naseerullah Babar's notorious boast that 'we' created the Taliban — factually incorrect as 'we' came to the party after it had begun — quickly became a millstone around the PPP's neck, and the country's, too.

As for the great 'Islamist' Sharifs? When the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan tried to pop off the brothers during Nawaz Sharif's second term, they smashed the SSP with the ruthlessness of an us-or-them conviction.

Sure, you could argue that just as the PML-N is more likely to go after 'vulgar' plays in Lahore, the PPP is always more likely to issue more liquor permits in Sindh — but that's not really where the war for the future of Pakistan is being fought.

When it comes to using state power, the major political parties have a pretty equal, and pretty awful, record of opposing the infrastructure of jihad.

Perhaps the worst of the lot so far in this respect has been Asif Zardari. Sure he says all the right things, in his glib, oily way, but what has he really done?

Taseer, his hatchet guy in Punjab against the PML-N, said and did all the right things as far as the boss was concerned, but when the chips were down what did Zardari do?

He didn't publicly rebuke his flunky, Babar Awan. He issued no orders to prosecute, arrest or even plain investigate the agents of hate. And the friend of friends wasn't even there to see his loyalist lowered into an early grave. The Guardian

Declan Walsh of has written that Taseer was left “swinging in a lonely wind” after the Aasia Bibi case became a “political football”. “Zardari was powerless to act,” according to Declan.

Possibly. That Zardari is often powerless to act is obvious enough. But at least you can admire a man who fights for something he believes in, who stands up for his friends when it matters.

Instead, we are left with the rumour of a president who is spending a few weeks by the sea at the suggestion of a soothsayer.

Then again, the full horror of what we are confronted with goes far beyond the non-battles of a single leader or political party.

A favourite sparring partner I refer to as a culture warrior has long argued for more public fierceness, for pushing back in ways big and small against those hawking the intolerance and hate the country is awash in.

The hate-mongers in the vernacular media are particularly malign influences. Having seen the ugliness up close and the slyness with which it is foisted off on an unsuspecting public, you can't help but feel a little ill.

And let's not forget the original sinners.

A friend who has witnessed up close the country's slide over the past three decades sent me a note soon after Taseer's slaying:

“This may be an individual act. But look at this: Governor shot dead by own guard; country in turmoil; Government lost majority two days back but moral authority long ago; Gilani doesn't have support in parliament; Zardari is corrupt and discredited; economy is in meltdown; Sharif's unable to provide alternative leadership. Who emerges as the sole survivor? Yes, you guessed it Kayani. Back to square one. (Expletive deleted) patrons of fundos will soon be back.”

Who will or won't be back is hard to say. Easier, though, it is to find where primary responsibility lies for the horrors Pakistan is facing today: with the self-appointed custodians of the national interest.

And increasingly if there is anything we should fault Asif Zardari for, it should be for surrendering without a fight on that front.

The comeback the army has made, the total control it is exercising over national-security policy, the return to a position of singular prestige in the national imagination, all of that may eventually have come to pass anyway.

But because no meaningful resistance was offered, it has happened in double-quick time.




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