The men who surround Nawaz Sharif, with hard looks, bulging bellies and overflowing bank accounts, are casting nervous glances over their shoulders these days. The prime minister of the ‘heavy mandate’ suddenly appears clueless and out of his depth.
No prime minister in Pakistan’s history started in more favourable circumstances than Sharif in 1997: an overwhelming majority in parliament; an opposition consigned to oblivion; the largest province - Punjab - under the firm control of his brother; and both the president and the army chief willing to give him a chance. He has thrown all this away by sheer incompetence. Today, Pakistan looks decidedly less secure than two years ago.
Even making allowances for politicians’ traditional tall claims, the psychological advantage gained by last year’s nuclear explosions has vanished in the aftermath of the Kargil fiasco. Nawaz Sharif, following the successful nuclear tests, had thumped his chest and proclaimed that Pakistan’s defences had been made ‘impregnable.’ Henceforth, he said to loud cheers, no one would dare cast an evil glance at Pakistan. The rhetorical volley was directed at the traditional enemy, India, and there was some truth in it. In May 1998, Sharif looked set to be in power for a long time.
Today, the disparate opposition parties have regrouped with renewed vigour following the Kargil humiliation, and are baying for his blood. But beyond Sharif and the opposition parties lies the larger dilemma of Pakistan. The failure is not Sharif’s alone; the entire secular system is rotten. The moral and intellectual bankrutpcy of Pakistani politics can be gauged from the fact that the people are again being offered a choice between Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. Both have already failed completely. The rest of the opposition parties have no agenda beyond the removal of Nawaz Sharif. In ostrich-fashion, they are saying that things will be sorted out after Sharif is banished. The hows and whys are never discussed.
Of late, some Islamic groups have also emerged in the forefront. Chief among these are the Jama’at-e Islami and the Jami’at ul-Ulama-e Islam, headed by Maulana Fazalur Rahman. The latter has close links with the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan while the Jama’at was intimately linked with the mujahideen who defeated the Soviet Union.
The groups’ links give a clue to their modus operandi. Neither is independent or pursuing its own agenda, and neither has significant support. Both are pawns in the hands of others. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Pakistan was a willing tool of American policy there. Once the Russians were driven out, Washington’s policy changed, but Pakistan’s rulers deluded themselves that the US would not abandon them after what they had done for it.
However, American policy - and indeed, all western policy - is predicated on what the British prime minister Lord Palmerston called ‘permanent interests’, as opposed to permanent friends or enemies. But Pakistan’s ruling Θlites cannot imagine life without American approval and support. It was this mindset that led to Nawaz Sharif’s humiliating dash to Washington, where he surrendered over Kargil. The Indians could not believe their good fortune: they were let off the Kargil hook without moving an inch from their rigid position on Kashmir.
In real life, psychological defeat precedes physical defeat. This is what Sharif and his ruling clique are guilty of. But it would have been uncharacteristic of them to have behaved differently, and no Pakistani politician would have behaved differently. The failure is not just of the individuals, but of the system. The failures of Pakistani rulers are so monumental that to attribute them simply to individuals would be a major failure of understanding.
The ruling elites are alienated from the Pakistani masses, hence their lack of confidence in them despite the ‘heavy mandate.’ The Islamic groups are unable to offer a credible alternative because they are too closely identified with the existing system. The Jama’at-e Islami, which has never recovered from the blunders of becoming a political party, participating in elections, and then joining Zia ul-Haque’s government, and the Jami’at Ulama-e Islam are both seen as part of the present corrupt system. Maulana Fazalur Rahman was a close ally of Benazir Bhutto, who appointed him chairman of the parliament foreign affairs committee. Tales of his corruption, even if only partially true, make him unfit to lead.
Pakistani political affairs have historically suffered from schizophrenia. On the one hand is the people’s yearning for Islam, on the other the ruling elites’ desire to find favour in the west, especially in Washington. The two are incompatible but, because the Θlites control all the resources and levers of power, the Islamic sentiments of the masses do not find any expression. Where there is potential, as in the case of the Jama’at or the Jami’at Ulama-e Islam, it is easily exploited by the Θlites.
To escape from this schizophrenic existence, Pakistan needs an Islamic revolution. But this must first be preceded by an intellectual revolution. The worn-out clichΘs about democracy, freedom and other such nonsense must be replaced with something more substantial than new slogans about Islam and shari’ah. Democracy has never existed in Pakistan in any case. It is ridiculous to call the present system democratic when only 25 percent of the people bother to vote in the election and the winning party’s share is often no more than 20 percent.
Islam has never been implemented through elections. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, did not hold a referendum to secure the opinion of the majority for the implementation of Islam. Islam is a divinely-ordained system and those who understand its message have to struggle, including by taking up arms, to implement it in society.
Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim society; that is enough reason to demand the implementation of the Islamic system. But what needs to be understood is that Islam does not stand for dhulm, exploitation and oppression. Unfortunately far too many people have, in the name of Islam, instituted the worst kinds of oppression, when Islam means the liberation of mankind from such tyranny.
Pakistan needs an Islamic movement, not Islamic political parties, to embark on a programme to confront the exploiters, and to end oppression and injustice. Islam cannot be implemented through the feudal lords and their henchmen who are the perpetrators of injustice and tyranny, no matter how often they mouth the cynical slogans of freedom and democracy. This parasitical class, hand in glove with the enemies of Islam, needs to be exposed. If Islamic laws are to be implemented, they must first be applied to those got fat on the wealth created by the blood and sweat of the masses.
No change will occur in Pakistan through the political musicals chairs played by Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto and their like. The alienation of Pakistan’s masses from the present system is so great that it poses a serious threat to the very existence of Pakistan. Those who care for Pakistan and its Islamic future must formulate radical new Islamic strategies for re-ordering the country, instead of running to the same tired old faces - with or without make-up.
Muslimedia: September 16-30, 1999