What we really need

…are deprogrammable extremists.

We need them to put pressure on India but we don’t need them to define our relationship with India in terms of terrorism.

We need them to provide “leverage” in Afghanistan but we need them to deprogram as soon as they cross back over the Durand line.

We need them to get angry at drone attacks but to accept the recent Tirah airstrikes (which by all accounts were dropped on the family home of 3 serving military officers) as a) legitimate killing of militants or b) acceptable collateral damage (with no clarification proferred by the military as to which of the two cases it is).

What we really need are human beings who function within the limits described by Ayesha Jalal’s idea of the Pakistan movement being a negotiating tactic and nothing more. i.e. we need human beings who accept that there is an elite above it which is merely gambling with their political aspirations. So when it asks them to give their lives for a particular political cause, they should do so unquestioningly and when it asks them to cease caring about that political cause, they should also do so unquestioningly.

Seen that way, Gohar Ayub Khan and his rabblerousing son, who are openly calling for civil disobedience after 7 people have already died today are the perfect elite handlers for the job. It took them about 2 weeks to rekindle even anti-Gandhi / anti-Congress sentiments from 1947 and create a mob of angry people now demanding a new province. Perhaps the demands are genuine and reflect genuine grievances. But we can be sure that the political leaders raising the mob don’t care for much beyond their own lost political power.

There’s one more incident that comes to mind. In 1969 on 7 Muharram, in Jhang City, a Shia procession was leaving an Imambargah. En route, it was to pass two Deobandi mosques and a huge bilboard had been installed outside one of the mosques. The Shia leaders had managed to have the bilboard covered up so it would not rile up sectarian sentiments. However, mysteriously, the shroud was removed from the board as the procession neared it and someone from the procession ended up throwing a sewage soaked shirt at the part of the billboard inscription that had the name “Umar” on it. This seriously offended the Sunnis and as the situation turned violent, in the ensuing riot between Shias and Sunnis, 6 people lost their lives and it was the first major incident of sectarian violence in Jhang. As a result of this incident, the 1970 elections were contested on a sectarian basis in Jhang. Due to intense campaigning by Sunni ulema, three Sunni candidates, a Barelvi alim, a pir/feudal lord and another feudal lord all defeated powerful shia feudal lords of Jhang including Syed Abid Hussain of Shah Jewna (the father of Syeda Abida Hussain). The event had a tremendous impact on the Sunnis of Jhang – the urban Sunnis as well as rural peasants who became determined to resist Shia domination.

Strangely, the event outside the Deobandi mosque (which became known as the Bab-i Umar incident) was said to have been orchestrated Nawab Habibullah Khan Sial, himself a Shia. Both the person who uncovered the shroud and the person who threw the shirt were reported to have been employed by Habibullah Khan. His motivation was to precipitate a riot and to weaken his political rival Syed Abid Hussain. Habibullah Khan Sial was himself a Shia but according to his grandson, he orchestrated the riot in order avenge his electoral defeat at the hands of Syed Abid Hussain in 1946 and he was successfully able to prevent Abid Hussain from winning his seat in 1970.

Now Habibullah Khan could never have foreseen the monster of sectarianism that he unleashed in Jhang from his petty politicking against his rival. And even if he had, he probably would have thought, like Omar Ayub Khan today, that whatever he instigated could just as easily be deprogrammed whenever it was no longer required for his own political gains.

It would have worked, too, if only the people of Jhang had been deprogrammable.

2 responses to “What we really need

  1. Sher Zaman

    The last line provides the essence of the article and clearly sheds light on this issue of using terrorists and militants for personal gains by politicians. This trend is dangerous and the world has already seen its implications on the international level. Once the trend is set and people are agitated, its effects remain for a longer period of time, which destroys peace in a society.

  2. grandtrunkroad

    I think the trend of using extremism for personal political gains is a bit like the issue of the military overstepping its limits. There isn’t anything concrete that can be done to stop either of these things from happening… there is a potential for certain jingoistic sentiments to be exploited in every society just like there is nothing that can physically restrain an army from launching a coup. The issue simply is of precedent – the muslim league in its various iterations has exploited extremism/xenophobia (especially in the Frontier but also in Punjab against the Unionist government) since before partition. And now there’s nothing that can be done to stop this trend.

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