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No respite

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

by Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

The establishment and the armed forces here do not seem to learn from their mistakes. Obsessive self-interest has made them lose touch with reality

Establishments never tire of exploring ways and means to perpetuate their rule. Interestingly, the word ‘establishment’ is generally used in Pakistan to refer to those who exercise de facto power; it includes the military high command and the intelligence agencies, together with the top leadership of certain political parties, high-level members of the bureaucracy and business persons that work in alliance with them. The military high command and the intelligence agencies form the core of the establishment and are its most permanent and influential components. The real power rests with its ‘most permanent and influential components’, i.e. the armed forces. All is not hunky-dory within the establishment as struggles occur, but the most organised and powerful part is invariably the winner. The media dutifully paves the way by creating hysteria or gloom.

Their think tanks search suitable candidates for implementing their policy aims. The only hitch is that their skewed ideas do not quite correspond to reality and always backfire; yet, unfortunately, they remain unaccountable and all powerful. Unaccountability and de facto power allows them to continue experimenting while the masses pay the price of their follies.

The fact that people, in spite of resentment, do not resist injustices gives the decision-makers a free hand in creating an irresolvable mess. Mumia Abu Jamal’s quote unequivocally illustrates the situation here: “When a cause comes along and you know in your bones that it is just, yet refuse to defend it — at that moment you begin to die. And I have never seen so many corpses walking around talking about justice.” Hoping for the ‘Arab Spring’ here is a fantasy.

People and institutions create problems by setting themselves delusional goals. While individuals pay with personal losses, the adverse consequences of institutional delusions are permanent, colossal and harsh for the people. The establishment and the armed forces here do not seem to learn from their mistakes. Obsessive self-interest has made them lose touch with reality.

Delusional thinking, however, is not new here; the civilian rulers in the initial days were obsessed with India and acquiring evacuee property and paid no heed to people’s welfare. They were then replaced by the army obsessed with the idea that ‘Mumlikat-e-Khudadad’ was an end in itself and there was no need to bother about people’s rights and welfare. Naturally the people suffered and continue to suffer.

At some stage the armed forces got the idea that Afghanistan is their backyard and they should determine its destiny. The 1979 Russian involvement was a godsend and they rushed in headlong because they presumed their policy aims could be achieved and moreover the opportunity to pocket billions was too good to squander. The pernicious scourge of Talibanisation is the harvest of that folly and it will only get worse.

Lately, for reasons best known to them, they have come to believe that they can take on the US, which unintentionally or intentionally provided them an excuse with the recent Mohmand Agency incident, and create a power niche for themselves in the region. The consequences of this gung-ho attitude are predictable. They do not realise that their client-state status is permanent and even if they break free of the US they cannot escape the clientage of China, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Sovereignty is an unaffordable luxury for client states as they have to oblige the benefactor in every way. Clientage and sovereignty do not mix well.

The increasing anti-US sentiment in the armed forces has forced them to look for an alternative setup. Imran Khan, because of his persistent anti-US rhetoric and pro-Taliban leanings, is their best bet. They want urbane ultra-conservatives and ultra-nationalists like Imtran and Shah Mehmood Qureshi to act as a front for their policies. In the past, the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) and Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) made it to power with their blessings and this sudden surge for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is certainly not without the blessings of the proverbial ‘angels’. Indications are that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has been co-opted as have other equally pliant and opportunistic groups and politicians to ensure that a thoroughly acquiescent government, not that the present dispensation displays any spine, is put in place to guarantee that the confrontation agenda is strictly adhered to on their terms. This venture too is going to culminate in something similar to the self-inflicted disasters of the past.

This does not augur well for the people because when the state raises the stakes in confrontation, it — out of necessity to force people to accept its position on ‘national interest’ and ‘threat to sovereignty’ — imposes more draconian laws and actions. Confrontationists can only be sustained by repressive laws. An entirely new and ruthless phase of repression is in the offing.

Little wonder that Jacques Anatole Thibault (1844-1924) said, “A people living under the perpetual menace of war and invasion is very easy to govern. It demands no social reforms. It does not haggle over expenditures on armaments and military equipment. It pays without discussion. It ruins itself; and that is an excellent thing for the syndicates of financiers and manufacturers for whom patriotic terrors are an abundant source of gain.” Replace ‘financiers and manufacturers’ with the armed forces and pliant politicians.

The people have had no respite from repression and misgovernance and no redemption is in sight. Little wonder then that Pakistan keeps falling in the Human Development Index (HDI). It dropped a robust 20 places this year to be ranked 145th while it keeps rising meteorically on corruption and human rights abuses indexes. This trend is set to continue and intensify.

There will be a lot more repression of the people in general and Balochistan in particular because those being backed have not had a word to say about the plight of the Baloch people who have always suffered and lately been victims of the brutal state policy of abduct, kill and dump tactics that continues unabated with ever-increasing ferocity. Death squads are now active in Sindh as well and their first victim was Faisal Mengal, a dedicated Baloch activist who was gunned down in Karachi on the International Human Rights Day. Repression is set to become the linchpin of governance here.

I have been absent for three months first due to back problems and then Hajj pilgrimage. On return a good friend, after congratulating me, asked if my approach and commitments would change. I replied with Momin Khan Momin’s couplet,

“Umar toh saari katti ishq-e-buutaan mein Momin,

Ab aaakhri waqt mein kya khaaq musalmaan hongay.”

(Verily Momin has spent all his life adoring idols,

Expect him not, at end of life, to change his ideals.)

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at