Playing with fire

Daily: The Statesman
Date: 23.04.10

In the hunt for an opportunity to gain political mileage to what extent political parties in
Pakistan can go can be fathomed from the protest staged a few days ago in Abbottabad
devouring several innocent lives.

The PML-Q stirred up emotions of the people of Abbottabad into staging a shrill protest
against the change of name of their province. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain resorted to play
with fire by arousing the demand of a separate province on ethnic lines. To stage a protest
against changing name was one thing but to fan the flame of ethnic consciousness was
altogether a different thing.

Division of the country (or any province) on ethnic lines may prove devastating. Before
1947, the demand of the Indian Muslims was to have a separate country, Pakistan,
comprising the Muslim majority areas. Now, in 2010, the demand of the Pakistanis is to
have Pakistan comprising ethnic majority areas. In other words, after more than sixty years
of independence, it seems that Islam as a source of unity and identification is submitting to
ethnicity as a source of concord and recognition. What a turn!

In the recent elections, the voters shunned the PML-Q from the political mainstream for
siding with General Musharraf, a military dictator. Now, the PML-Q is trying to get back to
the mainstream through snapping at chances of ethnic disharmony and by thriving on
criticism of the today’s mainstream political parties. What a strategy! The issue was simply a
name changing one but turned into demands for separate provinces on ethnic lines, be it
Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan or Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.  

The blaze of ethnicity has already damaged physical integrity of the country in 1971. At that
time, it was petty politics that divided the country. This time again dirty politics was out to
score a few political points. At least, the seeds of discontent have been sowed.

It seems that the process of political evolution is stunted in Pakistan, if politics to win hearts
of the voters is predicated on ethnic tools. In an otherwise situation, after sixty years of
independence, ethnic identities should have been diluted after having been replaced with
the identity of the country. But that is not the case. It seems that Pakistan is still not the first
choice of the people: regional identities are dearer and come first, then comes the turn of
the country. Pakistan is bogged down in that dilemma. Nationalism has failed to dilute ethnic

But that was not the end of the story. Entered the brave police in the scene, took law into
their hands, and fired live bullets at the protestors. One should ask what is the difference
between the Pakistani police firing at the protestors and killing them in Abbottabad and the
police (or the paramilitary troops) of the held Jammu and Kashmir doing the same with the
Kashmiris in Srinagar? If the State tries to muffle the voice of the people, incidents taking
place in Abbottabad and Srinagar are alike and produce the same result: anti-state
feelings. The question is where democracy is and who should read constitution
guaranteeing fundamental rights of the people of Pakistan? Nevertheless, even if there is a
dissenting minority, they should be given all rights and opportunities to air their voice.
Further, Parliament should have addressed their concerns – or, at least, Parliament should
have satisfied them. Any attempt to mute voice of the people is tantamount to jeopardizing
national integrity. But who cares!

The judicial commission enquiring into the matter should also hold the leaders of the PML-
Q accountable for fuelling the fire of protest that consumed several innocent lives in

Generally speaking, people should also come of age and refrain from following agendas of
the political parties that exploit sentiments of the people in order to pressurize other political
parties and gain some space in the national politics.

It was one of the electoral agenda of the ANP to change the name of the province. The ANP
replaced the MMA and got entry into the national mainstream. The ANP was mandated to
change the name. The people of Hazara must speak to the ANP to accommodate another
name having Hazara representation. The 18th Constitutional Amendment is not the final

Back in Islamabad, the judiciary-executive tussle is in the offing. The impending conflict is
revolving around three main questions: what is the basic structure of the constitution (which
is non-amendable by Parliament), whether Parliament of Pakistan is supreme (when there
is a written constitution) and whether the manner of appointment of judges is having a link
to independence of judiciary?

As it seems to be, the sway of the matter is that the judicial uprising in 2007 offered a
chance for democratic revival discarding the military dictatorship. After having been
triumphed, the arms of the judiciary called lawyers are not ready to make the judiciary
subservient to politicians. The lawyers (the majority of them) think that the idea behind the
formation of judicial commission for appointment of the judges, as envisaged in the CoD,
was to make the judiciary pro-parliament (and anti-military). After restoration of the judges,
there is no need of implementation of that pledge of the CoD. The judiciary has decided on
its own to be averse to any would-be coup. Secondly, Parliament of today is a product of
the struggle launched by the judiciary for its independence and not the vice versa. Thirdly,
through the new mode of appointment, Parliament may try to influence the judiciary in the
future. In short, Parliament should not tinker with the judiciary.

It seems that the (majority of) lawyers have got sensitive of independence of the judiciary.
In a way, the attitude is positive but in a way, it is problematic. With the passage of time,
when the lawyers (the majority) will get sure of the safety of independence of the judiciary,
situation may improve.

Back to columns in 2010