Modern war: divesting states of their nations
When Musharraf was eventually seen off after a decade-long military rule, and the PPP – perceptively the most anti-military government – was ushered in, it signified the moment of anti-military reflux. It became natural to assume freedoms associated with a democratic government and react to the assumed suppression under military dispensations. Thus began a period of anti-military tirade. The continuing tensions that we sense in our civ-mil equation are a carry-over of the same expression which has grown to be internalised by the vocal parts of society and entrench itself as a permanent fault-line.
There were other abettors too. The electronic media and media in general was given freedom like never before during the Musharraf years. Many new TV and radio licences were issued to private owners, and the media industry blossomed into a vibrant entity with numerous voices. This enabled expression with impunity of assumed and presumed biases and reactions. There were also stories on foreign funding of many media and non-governmental organisations. Having seen both very closely, it wasn’t an insignificant influence that these donors exercised preparing a group of writers, commentators and media anchors to exploit an existing proclivity against the military.
Mostly Western educated, progressive and liberally oriented – not negative attributes whatsoever – they exercised their intellect in formulating public opinion with significant effect. It took two forms as it evolved – anti-military given the context of how the military has been a factor in our history of governance and thus a very convenient ruse; and secularist, if not anti-religion which is perhaps too strong an expression, which too found relevance in a society that was being rapidly radicalised. Thus many, this scribe included, have explained the Pakistani strain of liberal thought only restricted to these two counter-movements, anti-military and anti-religion for want of a softer expression. This is also how the discourse has largely manifested in the last one decade.
Quite clearly, to this thesis there was an anti-thesis giving relevance to overt religiosity as an expression and pro-militarism as a sentiment. Society has thus stood divided with opposing positions finding permanence. As the state tries to negotiate its way between these extremes its own balance seems rather tenuous. Here society not only stood divided it also imposed an imbalance on the state. This is the reverse effect sought through the alternate war where societies become an agency of adverse power against the state.
Post-PPP saw the election of Nawaz Sharif government in 2013. With its own historical experience none so complementary towards the military, it was only a matter of time that impulse overrode rationality. The PML-N locked horns with the military far too early in its tenure. The media and its brigade of cheerleaders only added to the fire, cementing a divide which needed repair instead. The crown thus sat uneasy. From a civ-mil divide we graduated to a govt-mil divide. Yet another structural fissure got created. This was yet another manifestation of the segments of society driving the state into an institutional confrontation.
Enter Imran Khan. His initial harangue about electoral manipulation soon mutated into the prime minister’s undeclared assets and allegations of corruption. This is too recent and well known, and we haven’t yet fully managed the fallout. As the JIT looked deeply into the Sharif closet it found even more odiousness. The political class, most of it, stands fractured, each minding its own political motive for the moment but with the danger that such hard positions may just flow over onto the streets in an anarchic disruption. Society, aided by a very partisan media, has been buffeted by a divide that has exposed other flanks – political but also social in terms of the divide between how the rich may have extorted benefit through power and those, in sizeable majority, who have simply been left to the wolves of poverty and deprivation. The country thus sits on the cusp of a most debilitating strife were society to fracture along these lines with its implicit effects. That is how society would then lose to itself.
A state and its entire apparatus is in a limbo; undecided in how may it continue the war against terror or move beyond the flimsy initiation of the National Action Plan, or tend to the rather precarious state of the economy, or ensure stability and integrity of the nation amidst a challenging neighbourhood. Polarisation continues unabated on the back of half-baked, ill-informed notions of seeking instant corrections in a state and societal imbalance of the last seventy years. When opinions become faith, a society is doomed to a complete collapse. This rives asunder the fabric of any common purpose in the nation weakening its bond with itself even as it weakens the state further.
When recently a terror incident happened in Parachinar, it became a rallying point to emphasise the soft underbelly of Muslim unity. The sectarian overtones of it were loud and clear and pushed society further en route to another gaping chasm. CPEC and the matter of Temporarily Displaced Persons to the ongoing operations against terrorists in Fata were similarly hyped as matters of minority deprivation. If anything, society became even more tenuous against such buffets.
How the government of Sindh is challenging the federation through confrontational legislation is yet another signal of how an evolving vulnerability in governance and leadership opens up the space for competitive notions even if those be contrary to the constitution. A province is seen to be deciding its matters free from any legal check and consideration of a cooperative federal system.
These may be isolated incidents without being a part of any planned move to destabilise a society or a state but unwittingly these add to the number of divisions which already exist in a weak state and an even weaker society. No one can institute break-up plans in a nation-state unless opportunities present themselves. Then just the right nudge, an instituted discourse or a sentiment can create the kind of disaffection which will only extenuate the vulnerabilities. We stand at the cusp of such a break-up.
In our pursuit of idealistic ends, we rock society with challenges and divisions enervating its resilience. The lower end of Pakistani society is even worse. It exists but without a purpose. No one has yet been able to reach them in terms of succour or hope. They exist only as a mob, or a horde, and go about their lives in aimless wandering. A purposeless existence. In a country where leadership is absent, where society is fractured on multifarious lines and the state is full of institutional contradictions and confrontations, a nation is the first entity to lose its identity and then its existence. The gathering storm is only more ominous. The modern war is winning. Can we save Pakistan from such an end? Society and the media will have to mend the divide and create a more centrist approach. Idealism is good but it should not be divisive or agenda-driven. Otherwise, all will go down in the whirlpool of chaos and anarchy. Pakistan happens to be at that point of time in history.