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Notes from south KP, SWA

March 31, 2013


ELECTIONS don’t work. It’s always the same faces, the same failed policies, the same tired rhetoric. Nothing changes, for the better anyway.

Spend a day in DI Khan and all of that is true enough.

Fazlur Rehman and his merry band of bearded brothers have won, lost, won, lost since forever it seems — and now are poised to win again. Nothing changes, or maybe just the faces of Maulana’s opponents do. It is as depressing as depressing can get.

Spend more than a day in DI Khan and little of that seems true.

Elections do work. Slowly, incrementally, the electorate’s preferences and wants are changing. Non-delivery hurts, issues matter and voters evolve. Not quite change we can believe in yet, but change nonetheless.

The ‘city’ limits in small-town Pakistan are, predictably enough, the first to demand something else.

“Before the voters would come to us, we didn’t have to do much. Now we have to go to them, to explain our performance, to justify our promises,” a JUI-F leader admitted.

“The religion card alone doesn’t work any more. Now voters want to know what we will do for them,” the leader continued.

He went on to describe how the new crop of JUI-F political workers is often clean-shaven, educated and versatile enough to deal with tough questions from voters: why did security collapse under the MMA government; why is Maulana so soft on the killers of Shias in Balochistan; why do the Seraikis not deserve a province of their own?

The real revelation is that rural south KP is changing too — much like rural areas across Pakistan are changing. There are still the kitab voters here, the ones who see a closed-book symbol on the ballot paper and quickly put their imprint next to it — voting, in their minds, for the Quran and Islam.

But where they were once the overwhelming majority, they’re now more of a comfortable majority or, in some cases, just a plurality.

It’s because rural Pakistan isn’t quite as isolated as it once was. More kids go to school. Improved road networks mean the rural denizen is more exposed to his politicised urban counterpart and the media. Awareness impacts culture.

In South Waziristan, recently returned locals mentioned how five years of exile in Tank and DI Khan — progressive cultures by SWA tribal standards — has effected small but discernible changes on the Waziristan way of life.

Women are now sometimes allowed to go to medical camps set up outside their villages. Elders want more schools for the children. Young adults are willing to learn new trades, having seen what money can buy.

So cultures do change — slowly — and elections do work — maybe even more slowly.

The problem in the near and medium terms is the alternative: folk tire of Maulana and his rhetoric and turn to others, like the Kundis, and then discover they’re just as bad, or often even worse — because they don’t have the longevity Maulana does, they grab whatever they can, as quickly as they can.

That’s why on the first day it always seems like elections don’t work. You have to stick around longer to figure out that they do, or maybe just can, eventually, work.

Citizen 2.0 In South Waziristan, after the tenth reference to how the army had organised Kashmir Day commemorations among resettled IDPs this year, I half-jokingly asked one commanding officer, “Don’t you think these people have had enough of jihad?”

He didn’t get the joke, or pretended not to anyway.

For all the ignominious distinctions SWA has collected over the past decade, it is today home to the single most astonishing fact: in the resettled areas of the agency, there is not a single madressah in operation.

Not a single one. Sure I had misheard the fact the first few times, I asked and asked, and asked again.

There is no madressah operational in the resettled areas of SWA — making it perhaps the only patch of land in this country that Allah has blessed where the mosque-madressah-social welfare network has been dismantled.

In its place, the army has taken over and is trying to create a new generation of citizen: educated, modern, productive.

But armies are trained to build good soldiers, not good citizens — and it’s with a grimace you can see the army confusing the two in SWA.

On March 23, in a local primary school, a smartly dressed boy was delivering a clearly memorised speech on the relevance of Pakistan Day. His audience consisted of pre-adolescent schoolmates and a sizeable number of soldiers standing guard.

“Pakistan is being attacked apart by external conspirators,” the boy said, raising his voice to denounce violence in various parts of the country.

“Pakistan zindabad, Pak fauj zindabad,” he concluded, as his schoolmates clapped.

Of such contrivances are not built good citizens.

Political identities and orientations can be changed — in fact, need to be changed – in Fata, but when the wrong institution, no matter how well-meaning, sets out to do it, it either ends up as a transparent veneer, or triggers unexpected, and undesirable, consequences.

Children of Zia “There used to be wine shops at every corner, charas for sale in every bazaar lane and two hira mandis in DI Khan until 1981,” an old resident of the city said.

Alcohol, drugs and prostitution may not be lodestars of progressivism but the gent was trying to explain, juxtapose, just how far the old DI Khan has unravelled over the past 30 years and re-spooled itself on the thorn bush of extremism, intolerance and bigotry.

What’s missed, particularly from afar, though, is that sections of the population — not the aged, but among the younger lot — yearn to come full circle. They are sick of it, the violence, the hate, the bigotry.

The forces Zia unleashed have twisted the minds of many, and instilled fear in the rest.

But the old Pakistan still lies underneath, even in the heart of Zia’s Pakistan, resisting, refusing to be broken, waiting for someone to lead it the way Zia and his ghost have led his version of Pakistan. Is there anyone out there?

The writer is a member of staff. Twitter: @cyalm