Observing the recent spate of political assassinations in Pakistan – from Habib Jalib Baloch and Maula Bakhsh Dashti, to Mian Iftikhar Hussain’s son to Raza Haider one cannot help having the horrifying thought that soon there will be no politicians left in Pakistan’s blighted political landscape The Baloch Hal had a really moving obituary for Habib Jalib Baloch which contained the following line: “Tall trees cannot survive long in Balochistan. People with a tall stature get their heads chopped off.” Replace Balochistan with Pakistan and that line will not be out of place at all. By all accounts Raza Haider was a solid politician of a middle class background and additionally a symbol of MQM’s pluralism.
These people are not replaceable. They are politicians who were not lifted into political power through some tribal system or some gaddi. They are just politicians who gained their political status through hard work and talent and good political instinct – other countries have loads of them but we have very few. In Pakistan, as Ayesha Siddiqa describes in this blog post (which some may find offensive due to her rather strange choice of metaphor), it is the norm to gain ones political legitimacy due to some kind of mating dance that one performs for the established centres of power – the ‘establishment’ as we like to call it. For an excellent example of this mating dance, one can refer to Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s recent performance at the recent Indo-Pak dialogue. What audience was Qureshi’s performance directed at? What vision was he calling upon? Shah Mehmood Qureshi is simply one example of the PPP’s move (out of necessity) in the last 3 years since BB’s death to replace political legitimacy with a careful courting of the military establishment. I think that it’s becoming clear to most of us that the PPP will not survive BB’s death as a genuinely legitimate political force. It will become just another, in the long list of hollow political entities propped up as civilian fronts for the military to rule through. The political system will continue to be hollowed out through a combination of well-timed assassinations and the active participation of the anti-political elite and (secondarily) through the political class’s own failures at governance. The space that should have belonged to genuinely legitimate politicians will continue to be usurped by violent entities such as Sipah-e-Sahaba who, despite all well-deserved criticism that is heaped upon them, cannot be said to be lacking grassroots legitimacy. (You just have to watch one of their speakers to understand the difference between them and your average PPP or PML or ANP politician). Similarly, from an earlier era, one can certainly question the success of the Majlis-e-Ahrar’s political model, but one of the things that one appreciates about it is their strong belief that the key to a political party’s relevance is its ability to be ever-present in the minds of the people. Of course one can criticize them for their choice of controversies and issues, but has that thought ever crossed the minds of our political elite? The idea that they need to be relevant, even in situations such as disaster management where they don’t have the capacity to be truly effective.
I can’t help thinking about a quote from ZAB on this subject – it goes like this:
If things do not change, there will be nothing left to change. Either power must pass to the people or everything will perish
Love him or hate him, you have to admit that he was right when he said that.