Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Snubbing the stooges

January 14, 2013

Pakistani cricketer turned politician Imran Khan speaks to Shia Muslim protesters in Quetta on January 13, 2013. – AFP Photo

If you are on Twitter or Facebook, you are bound to come across episodes of (albeit unintentional) comic relief amidst tragedy.

Take the recent and unprecedented response of the ‘Hazara Shia’ and the Shia in general against the unrelenting carnage they have been facing by groups of maniacs who consider them as ‘heretics’ and are said to have the backing of certain sensitive organs of the state.

Pushed against the wall and maybe beyond it, the Hazara Shia in Quetta and their supporters across Pakistan, braved biting cold weather and the always present danger of the now ubiquitous violent audacities of the maniacs, to stand their ground in a do-or-die scenario, forcing the government to dismiss the Balochistan government and impose Governors Rule in the war-torn province.

But amidst all this genuine bravado exhibited by the Shia community and many of their non-Shia supporters, one just couldn’t ignore that young, hyperbolic ‘revolutionary’ lot across social media who suddenly emerge like a spring does from a worn out sofa.

‘Occupy this!’ ‘Occupy that!’ This Square, that Square. It’s as if a child would behave after watching a Batman or Superman flick, using a towel as cape and mouthing incoherent shrieking monologues that at least in his little head sound quite like what he'd heard Batman uttering in the movie.

The wise( if not completely jaded) would rightly suggest that for the last thirty years or so, whatever number of civilian governments this country has had, they have continued to be hostage to a domineering military-establishment: an intricate labyrinth with twisting, turning pathways paved with political intrigues and terrible ideological experiments; a way to all the secret backdoors from where Generals and their lackeys have entered the corridors of power to put Pakistan where it is today.

And in spite of the fact that the military under General Parvez Kayani has, perhaps for the first time, publicly confessed to the fact that Pakistan faces a greater danger from the monsters that its establishment itself created, the armed forces have remained paralysed in this respect just like their civilian counterparts.

The admirable reassessment of the situation by the military chief was like looking back at the military-establishment’s follies of befriending maniacs as a ‘strategy,’ but by looking back the military seems to have turned to stone.

Furthermore, the civilian administration looked back at the military and it too turned to stone.

Over 40,000 soldiers, policemen, politicians and civilians have been slaughtered by terrorists to whom each and every Pakistani is either a ‘heretic’ or a downright infidel deserving to be killed.

And this is the kind of audacity that has left the military and the government feeling all at sea and overwhelmed, having little or no idea how exactly to contain this audacious enemy.

Yet there are those out there who believe the answer lies in the overthrow of government!

The answer lies in the ousting of a failing, lethargic government through the vote. A government that has focused more on surviving rather than being dynamic and bold in its actions to address the many ills facing the country.

Civilian set-ups constitute only a fraction of Pakistan’s main decision-making process. They are never sure how far they can go to push certain agendas, actions and policies without angering the military-establishment.

General Kayani’s statement should have been seen as an opening and a window of opportunity for this PPP-led civilian set-up. If now the military’s high command considers many of its former sacred cows to have become bloodthirsty wolves, the government should have gone all out against these wolves.

But it didn’t. And neither did the country’s military. Both are waiting for the other to take the decision. And this wait is costing the lives of innocent Pakistanis, soldiers, politicians and policemen.

What more will it take for the state and the government to turn their condemnations against extremists into action? How many more deaths and bloodbaths?

It is vital that an election is held as soon as possible.  The democratic process that is still a young and raw entity in Pakistan needs to continue. We must realize that democracy alone is the answer to most of the questions being posed by a country affected ever so violently by decades of ethnic and sectarian cracks, animosities and divides inflicted by the establishment and hapless, chaotic governments.

Democracy alone can turn these detested and dreaded divides into a democratically empowered and progressive diversity.

All those brave Hazara Shia men, women and children who have stood up to extremist atrocities, a failing state, and a paralysed government, need to be conscious of yet another negative: Infiltration.

As we can see there are still some men out there who are willing to create the ground required for some backdoor maneuvering. Apart from hyping up manufactured 'revolutionary movements' and sudden messiahs, these people also look for openings in genuine movements from which they can infiltrate and ideally hijack it to suite their diabolical political goals.

Tahirul Qadri is too obvious an example, even though at this point in time his 'long march' against the country's political system (read political parties) has become more of a face saving exercise than anything a bit more threatening.

More interesting in this context is the way how a number of elements tried to ride the wave of protests generated by an entirely authentic and spontaneous exhibition of defiance and anger shown by the Hazara Shia in Quetta.

It is understandable that after noticing the genuine sense of sympathy running across large numbers of Pakistanis for what the Hazara men, women and children have faced from violent sectarian bigots, political partitas tried to jump in to get their share of the milage.

Unable to turn the sombre Quetta sit-in into a vulgar show of populist politics, some parties tried their luck in Shia protests elsewhere in Pakistan.

I spent a couple of hours at the sit-in held outside Bilawal House in Karachi where President Zardari was staying. The first party to reach the sit-in was the MQM.

But at least till I was there, I didn't see its contingent trying to turn the angry gathering into an MQM show. They treated the occasion as nothing more than a photo op because I believe like me they too had sensed that the gathering had already been infiltrated.

But before I explain the above I must mention my coming across a rather animated group of young PTI members there.

It is good to see Imran Khan now understanding the ground realities that have been charring Pakistan, and it is admirable that he was quick to show sympathy with the Hazara Shia.

It's good because Khan now understands the importance of democracy, and how the hurdles that are manufactured in its path are explained as being messianic, of 'national interest' and at times, something wholly ordained by God.

After all, only last year he was sending emissaries of his party to establishmentarian circuses packed with exactly the kind of religious bigots against whom the Hazara Shia sat in freezing cold weather in Quetta.

The PTI contingent was shouting to burn Bilawal House down. Of course, had it been a rally outside the headquarters of the maniacs who kill 'heretics' like an angry child would harmless little ants, this contingent would never have been there.

The PTI guys were the comic relief in the tense atmosphere, even though in their heads they were about to storm the Bastille.

No, the gathering did not turn into a PTI show. I told one of them that The Strings won't be playing here tonight to which he replied, 'You PML stooge!' Ah, I thought, that was a first.

I told him I was actually a stooge of democracy and he was better off waving his fist at those who've slaughtered over 40,000 men, women and children.

'And stop watching so much Al-Jazeera,' I jokingly advised. 'Or you'll continue to repulse grouchy men like me who have been fans of Khan before you were even in liquid form!'

Black comedy apart, what bothered me the most about the gathering was the gradual emergence of a few posters with faces of famous Iranian leaders.

I saw none (on TV) at the Hazara gathering, but did so here. Yes, an attempt was made and almost succeeded to hijack the spontaneous gathering outside Bilawal House.

Off-shoots of the Shia outfit, the Majlis-e-Wahadat Muslaymeem (MWM), arrived and tried to navigate the gathering into becoming a tad more radical.

By radical I mean more rhetorical and out-of-focus. The MWM is quite clearly an evolutionary outcome of the many pro-Iran outfits that emerged in the 1980s along side the pro-Saudi/Saudi-backed Sunni extremist organisations.

Both these tendencies have been at war on the streets of Pakistan for almost three decades now.

Of course, the extremist Sunnis outfits with the kind of patronage they enjoyed from the establishment have always enjoyed an upper hand, but one of the reasons for this has also been the disconnect the Iran-backed outfits have had with the fate of the Shia in Pakistan.

Till the Hazara proved otherwise, the normal thing for Shia outfits to do after being attacked by their haters was to pour out and burn the US and/or Israeli flag. Because their backers in Iran enjoy this sight more than anything a bit more concrete.

But lo and behold! As some MWM members at the Bilawal House gathering began to chant anti-US slogans (mainly out of habit), their slogans were received with half-hearted responses.

The mood of the gathering was just too sombre and reflective to respond to this kind of meaningless hyperventilating.

Shia people and their non-Shia supporters outside Quetta have to be extremely careful. It was their peaceful, focused stand and resolve untainted by any glorious ideological narrative and agenda that got them the sympathy of the rest of Pakistan and finally made an impotent government initiate a decisive move. 

Keep the ideologues and stooges away.

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and