The battle of narratives


Pakistan is groping in the dark to search a rational narrative for the country for decades. The country has seen many turmoil, including dismemberment of one of its parts. The off and on army intervention have also heavily influenced the country’s narrative for democracy and development.

During this tumultuous period, one can find a tussle among secular, Islamic, nationalist and Jehadi narratives. Of course, there has been a narrative of Strong Centre, which still exists. Long back the idea was floated by establishment and its political allies.

When the country got independence, Father of the Nation had liberal views to run the new state. He wanted Pakistan-India relation like US and Canada. His one speech reflected his views for the country, saying everyone would be free to go to mosque and temple and there would be no discrimination on the basis of caste, creed and colour.

However, after his death, Objectives Resolution was approved in 1949, which says that the country would be modeled, according to Islamic laws. The Resolution sharpened war of views as recommendations of minority members of the Assembly were not incorporated in it.

The clergy put its heart and soul in support of the Resolution. People were told that the country would be run in light of Islamic teaching. Soon the narrative started dominating cultural, political and social spheres of the country, which created an uneasy feeling among non-Muslims communities in the country. The country which came into being in the name of religion became a battlefield of several ideas.

Here is a brief mention of confronting ideas in the country.

Secular view: According to it, the country should embrace liberal values as they are path to progress and peace. Co-education, girls’ education, jobs and marriage with their consent, are major points of this view.

The promoters of Islamic narrative emphasized that country should adopt Islamic values in letter and in spirit because country was formed to protect Muslims from exploitation of Hindus in undivided India. No co-education, no job for women, where males are at workplace and women should be in veils in all walks of life.

Nationalist view said that Pakistan comprised several nationalities; it should protect interest of all ethnic groups’ cultural sensitivities and traditions.

Advocates of Strong Centre idea suggested since India was biggest enemy of the country, a strong Pakistan could meet the challenge and any voice for provincial autonomy was tantamount to weakening the interests of the country. It also gave birth to the idea that the country should be a security state to thwart threat from the enemy.

Irony is that never a proper left- wing narrative was allowed to grow in the country, communist party was banned and parties having socialist tendencies were termed as traitors and anti- state elements. Leftist groups worked in liberal parties. They had threat from state and right wing parties. To be a leftist in 60s was considered a crime or sin for the society. There was another problem with leftists, they were divided in camps and leadership was not ready to resolve their petty issues.

The country, which had to start its journey as a democratic country, lost its direction when it did not pay attention to effective land reforms. It was done deliberately because many religious gurus were big land owners too and had relations with feudal nobility. The religious Pirs were against democracy ideologically and termed the democracy as anti- religion.

For the landed elite, democracy is just a musical chair game in which members of elite club, take power turn by turn. Powerful land owners made an alliance with the bureaucracy and members in parliament in order to save their class interest, that is why a free media was not encouraged, which could have pointed out real issues of the country. This was situation of west part of the country, while in east part, there was strong wave of democracy because big land lords were not there and emerging middle class wanted democracy to get due share in the progress. This fight continued almost two and a half decades and ended with the Fall of Dhaka.

After dismemberment of the country, it was another Pakistan on west side of old Pakistan, however, the fundamental narrative remained same with the opening of a little window for democracy.

In 70s, Z. A. Bhutto came into power with the support of left- liberal forces on political plank, but soon he came into trap of anti- nation narrative, which is by product of Strong Federation idea. Bhutto dislodged nationalist provincial governments of Balochistan and the then NWFP. Later, Bhutto government was toppled and Zia doctrine became dominant force in the country, shutting down all democratic norms.

Meanwhile, former Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan in 1979, America and West brought Pakistan in limelight to counter the bear. Besides, killing thousands of the people, the gun culture grew in Afghan Jehad period. It gave new birth to old Jehadi narrative, which also spread to Pakistan and took religious political parties in its fold.

This narrative put important social issues on back burner as a Jehadi lives for the life of tomorrow and it has a particular outlook to see world and the people. After demise of Soviet Union, the Jehadi narrative remained alive. It was thought that pull out of ex-Soviet Union was victory of Jehadi forces and West. This resulted in further strengthening of Jehadi narrative. After debacle of erstwhile Soviet Union, West and US lost interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the purpose was solved.

However, the incident of 9/11, forced West and US to stand against Jehadi narrative which, was once their brainchild, but now became a threat to their survival.

Time continued passing, Musharraf came into power and banned many Jehadi organizations, their active elements went underground and continued their work.

Musharraf adopted a liberal agenda. In the beginning, he got some public support, but like any other dictator; he too was unable to sell idea as a public agenda. He tried to take support from civilian quarters to legitimize his rule. To some extent, he got support. However, with the passage of time, his days were numbered, he failed to control situation and finally left the scene like a helpless person.

After departure of Musharraf, struggling democratic governments came into power. Owing to some invisible factor, they failed to deliver. The narrative of Pakistan being a security state dominated, which limited role of civilian supremacy.

On the other hand, a tug of war started among institutions of the country to grab more space.

The institutions – establishment, judiciary and parliament – claim that they are safeguarding national interest, but as to what is national interest, no one defined it.

There are several views on national interest like; country should be militarily strong to defend its frontiers. On the other hand, a view is that people should be made stronger by investing in them because in future, economy would be major weapon for any country. Another view is that for progress of the country, a better relationship with neighbouring countries should be maintained for increasing trade and investment. And for this purpose, an innovative diplomatic offensive is needed.

Now situation has drastically changed after corona.

Experts are of the view that the virus has shattered many myths about narratives worldwide. The belief that America and West being superpowers, are guarantors of safety and security of the people, having strong healthcare system, turned wrong. The other view that God is angry with a particular group, so punishing it, proved false as Covid is not sparing any religion, race culture or colour. Corona threw a challenge to medical scientists and religious pundits.’ Catch me if you can’.

It is now test of human intelligence that as to how it confronts with the corona monster and protect people from it.

In future, a strong healthcare system would be a worldwide narrative and Pakistan would have to be part of it. The country would need a radical rethinking by its master policy makers. Every country would have to increase health and education portion in budget appreciably. One cannot deny that education and health supplement each other in long term.

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