The Pakistani Society Is Obsessed With Power

The state’s handling of the TLP protests is the latest exhibit of how lust for clout remains the driving force in Pakistan’s power corridors

The Pakistani Society Is Obsessed With Power
Pakistan is a power oriented society—we as people don’t give in to argument, we instead give in to power. Isolated ideas seldom change our political attitude. But if ideas are backed by power or powerful people, such ideas easily become fashionable in our society. One classical example of this trait is that in our daily lives nobody in our society wants to be friends with the law, but everybody wants to be on the right side of local SHO.

We sometimes accept outdated or totally defunct ideas as our favorite fashions if these ideas are coming from people who have just had a military victory, dominated an election result or defeated a hated enemy country in a cricket match. On the other hand we love to reject boisterous political and social ideas if they are coming from someone not in power.

That is precisely the reason why people who are in the business of preaching new ideas in our society project themselves as the winning side, as fashionable and as someone who is in a power contest with the powerful, in case they are themselves not in power.

This is precisely the phenomenon which makes the Taliban victory in Afghanistan a dangerous development for our society. Defunct and rejected ideologies, if presented to us wrapped in the clothing of power, not only become acceptable but could become the fashion of the day. Even ideological, religious and ethnic differences evaporate into thin air and produce followers of idea, personality and political ideologies if they come to us wrapped in the clothing of power. The victorious Shia leader Imam Khomeini who dismantled Shah’s Regime in 1979 in Iran attracted followers from Sunni religious parties. Jamaat-e-Islami— a Sunni party with all the elements of anti-Shia theological arguments in its narrative—became an adherent. Its leaders produced literature in support of the Iranian Revolution and started arguing in public assertions that they want an Iranian style revolution in Pakistan.
This trait of Pakistani society runs deep into our political and social currents—we are not only attracted to those who are in power, we equally celebrate those who resist power

This trait of Pakistani society runs deep into our political and social currents—we are not only attracted to those who are in power, we equally celebrate those who resist power. That is why Benazir Bhutto was a crowd puller in our society and that is why Maryam Nawaz Sharif is a crowd puller now. So we need some kind of attachment to power in order to celebrate a hero.

Taliban fulfilled both the requirements—first they resisted power in the form of an insurgency against American forces in Afghanistan and second they emerged victorious in the short and swift campaign to dismantle the Afghan regime that the Americans had left behind. Pakistanis were closely watching during all this time. The first reaction came from a Barelvi sectarian group which goes by the name of Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). They started marching towards Islamabad in order to meet the first requirement—that they are resisting power. There are interesting dynamics to this reaction: Taliban are Deobandi and TLP is Bralevi—the two groups which have been at loggerheads in sectarian tussles since the 19th century advent of these groups in British India. TLP, as a group is hardly trained for an insurgency, nor does it seem to be the intention of the group leader to launch an insurgency in the country. The germs of violence, however, are contagious. They killed four police men on their way to Islamabad with automatic weapons—a wake up call for those security planners who seem fond of projecting their linkage with the group.
Taliban’s ascendency in the neighboring country could cause more jolt to our legal framework in the coming days and weeks

The story of power doesn’t end there. TLP and its associated religious scholars don’t want to pollute their image of power by entering into a deal with a hapless, and powerless, prime minister or civil government. They would end their long march after a final word with the man who is in possession of most of the raw and crude power in our society that flows from the barrel of the gun. A photo-op was created when Mufti Muneeb went to meet General Bajwa and released on social media—General Bajwa standing in the center surrounded by Mufti Muneeb and another bearded man and a financial tycoon, Aqeel Dhedhi. Later it was arranged that the announcement of an agreement and end of long march should be made by Mufti Muneeb who only a few hours ago was sitting with General Bajwa. Power all the way up and down. Law is taking a back seat, arguments of reason hardly matter, only power and the powerful matter. Imperceptibly the logic of power is overpowering us.

Power holding sway over social and political developments in our society is not a new thing. Neither is it new that the popular street power, religion and symbol of military power are acting together to make the civil government and prime minister look like fools. Taliban’s ascendency in the neighboring country could cause more jolt to our legal framework in the coming days and weeks. Power could become the ultimate currency in political and social life in our country, if it doesn’t already occupy such a status. Any semblance of reason could become the mistress of powers that be.

The bad news is that as we continue to suffer as a society on account of the political and social trends emanating from Afghanistan, we as a state are supporting the Taliban and are in turn being accused by the world community of providing the critical support that is sustaining the Taliban regime in Kabul. It is only a matter of time before the world community will try to establish working relations with the Taliban in Kabul.

However, the Pakistani state and its managers don’t seem to have so far developed sophisticated methods of coping with the challenges that are knocking at our doors after the Taliban came to power. The Pakistani state might get or develop more coercive tools to crash dissent in our society. But there is hardly any doubt that we as society will suffer badly. How desperately and badly we need democratic traditions and institutions to make reason and argument the ultimate currency was never clearer than it is at present.

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad.