Right, Left, Equation

Columnist A RASHID sees a nexus between the extremes in the return to democracy.

Emergence of religious right, as a cognizable political force, in the October 10 elections, merits serious contemplation by the intellectuals, legislators and political compatriots of the country. The event sounds a caution bell to the moderate elements. The rationale of this upheaval has been analyzed, at length, by the intellectuals of the country, through media. Some of the logic of this development has, though, correctly been brought out but mostly hasty conclusions have been drawn that render the discourse rather superficial. We cannot lose sight of a very glaring fact that the religious right has dominated the political scene only of the two smaller provinces of NWFP and Balochistan, while their rout in the other two provinces of Punjab and Sindh, that constitute overwhelming part of the country, has been consistent to their past performance. This dichotomy of approaches of two sets of the federating units, in particular, calls for genuine endeavour for resolution and reconciliation.
The most flawed argument of the whole discourse, put forward by some, is that the army generally represents and supports the rightist currents; that is why religious right has gained in the last elections. Our political history testifies that with the exception of General Zia ul Haq, the other military dictators have always been at odds with the religious right. After Generals Ayub and Yahya Khan’s exit from the political panorama, People’s Party, a leftist outfit swept general elections in the present provinces of Pakistan. It is a matter of common knowledge that General Zia’s era was the era of religious right to the extreme. The General is known for being a representative of
Jamaat - i - Islami. The General left no stone unturned to convert the country into religious extremism, but after his exit from the political scene of the country, in all the four general elections, prior to military takeover in October ’99, the religious parties stood nowhere. And to be fair to the reality, General Pervez Musharraf’s stint has glaring been until religious right. Lo and behold he has supervised the return of the religious elements with a bang in the national parliament.
That means neither military rulers’ fraternity nor their hostility to the religious lobby, played any role in the right - left equation. This is particularly valid in the present case when overwhelming majority of the people of Pakistan, inhabiting Punjab and Sindh, displayed proverbial indifference to the religious parties. The problem, therefore, demands deeper probe into this vital question of national importance. The question assumes vital importance because of the surfacing of a dichotomy between the two sets of provinces. This has definitely been a dangerous drift that can evolve into a more permanent antagonism between the two sets of federating units of the republic. The critic can analyze the causes of this dichotomy but the resolution of the dichotomy squarely rests on the shoulders of the political leaders of the country.
Every Pakistani knows and accepts the fact as an article of faith that the state of Pakistan was established, headed by the Father of the Nation, Quaid - i - Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as an Islamic Republic. The Father of the Nation, during his brief stint, unequivocally spelled the political perimeters of the Republic. In brief, he wanted Pakistan to be a modern, progressive Muslim state to function according to the demands of scientific and technological advancement in the world, where people of all religions and creeds possessed equal rights of Pakistani citizenship. With a view to enable the republic to have unhindered interaction with all the other states of the world and also to discourage adoption of policies that might isolate the republic from the comity of nations, he, very unambiguously, condemned bigotry and religious intolerance.
Another point requiring illustration is that, in a democratic set up, sovereignty of the state, after God, lies with the people of Pakistan. We also notice that all political figures and parties have, so far, demonstrated consensus on the phenomena of the ideology of Pakistan. Having said that there remained no justification of instituting political parties representing religious right. Therein lies the rationale of people’s indifference to the political parties of religious right for 55 years. Then the question meriting answer is, how, in the general elections of October 2002, the religious parties have gained cognizable ground in the provinces of NWFP, and Balochistan? The underlying causes of this rather unusual upheaval are many.
Historically the provinces of NWFP and Balochistan, being woven in tribal web, have been more closed than the other provinces of Punjab and Sindh. All religious and cultural inroads into the sub-continent passed through NWFP and Balochistan but the significant acts of all the dramas were played in the Indus and Ganges valleys. The tribal societies of NWFP and Balochistan fiercely resisted these inroads and succeeded in maintaining their introvert character, whereas the provinces of Punjab and sind being the stage of more significant acts of foreign inroads kept embracing these influences from time to time and became more open and dynamic in their political culture.
On top of that closeness these conservative societies happened to be closer to the conflagration in Afghanistan during the post 9/11 upheaval there and as such could feel the heat of the carnage there from closer quarters. Although the anti American sentiment was equally intense amongst the people of Punjab and Sindh but the people of aforementioned provinces, due to their idiosyncrasies mentioned earlier, reacted differently and gave vent to their anti West hysteria at the hustings, favoring the religious parties who had been more vocal against the Western alliance. The people of Punjab, on the one hand, being more liberal and on the other hand, being bound in their feudal bonds, maintained their past allegiance and voted accordingly.
Having ascertained the sums of right, left equation in the country, the political leaders have to marshal themselves to work relentlessly to harmonize the surfaced dichotomy between the two sets of the federating units of the republic. This has to be taken up on emergent basis before it gathers a snowball effect and an ugly tug of war ensues.