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In Pursuit of Riyasat-e-Madina

by Khaled Ahmed
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Aamir Qureshi—AFP

No democracy can prosper in the absence of flexibility toward, and dialogue with, opposition forces

Muslims, Jews and Christians were once “one nation.” Hebrew and Arabic were sister languages and had words in common but the Christians who once ruled from Byzantium (today Greece is known as Yunan, which entered Arabic from Turkey where Greeks ruled the city-state Ionia. Greek was the lingua franca in Turkey back then.) spoke Greek. Latin-speaking Caesars allowed them Greek as mother and official tongue. In Syria, as part of the Roman Empire, Christians spoke Greek (St. Paul was Greek-speaking; the New Testament is also in Greek) and were steeped in Aristotle. In time, Muslims monopolized Aristotle and the only Aristotle texts to reach Europe were in Arabic. Muslims (Ibn Sina) embraced Aristotle because of his “philosophy of the middle.” The Quran tells Muslims “you are a nation of the middle” and didn’t take the Hebrew word for justice but introduced Adl (middle) to mean justice. Thomas Aquinas was converted to Aristotle through Ibn Rushd whom he praised. The Age of Reason began with this message. Middle is moderation and above all “flexibility,” which the Muslims never understood, not even at the time of Sulah Hudaybia.

The natural state of man is avoidance of dialogue because having to communicate would create possibilities of “sharing” by listening to the other party. Victory or complete “acquisition” of the desired object is complete if you refuse to listen to the other party. Talking to the other party means having to listen to the other’s right of acquisition.

When you engage in dialogue you leave your stronghold and step out on the middle ground. It is here that you come across something that may threaten to reduce your planned acquisition. Dialogue therefore means exiting the stronghold and stepping onto a place where your point of view is threatened with amendment. Communication, while reducing “acquisition,” creates conditions of peaceful coexistence.

Communication is difficult between parties possessing a “tunnel vision.” Inflexibility is created by four conditions: religion, ideology, nationalism and charisma. In other words, the self-righteous will be least fit for dialogue. Before the prevalence of trade in human society the only communication was through war. The loser was forced to see the point of view of the victor and was compelled to accept it. Wise men began saying: defeat teaches a lot but victory teaches nothing but a persistence of old thinking.

Dialogue assumes flexibility, which is at the heart of all negotiation. The defeated are flexible because they have been forced to rethink their position. The victor recognizes the defeat of the loser and is forced to focus on the needs of the vanquished. But there is another way negotiation can take place: through trade.

A trader is a person with endless wealth of communication. He is focused on striking a bargain and is willing to concede to the claims of the buyer. He can be a minimalist who will avoid a deadlock as far as possible. He avoids extremes: if he insists on his position he loses the bargain but if he takes account of the disposition of the buyer he can still clinch the deal. Therefore, he doesn’t possess many “ideological” constraints that might reduce his flexibility.

Democracy is the opposite of utopia-based high principles. It functions on the basis of dialogue with the “defeated” in parliament. If the party manifesto were the complete annihilation of the corrupt, it would be difficult for the winning party to have a steady dialogue with the “defeated” party sitting on the opposition benches. The principle is: you have defeated the foe; now talk to him.

Democracy will accept no other way. It is in trouble when the victor has a two-thirds majority in parliament and doesn’t need to talk to the defeated party. It runs the risk of becoming a dictatorship, which, alas, attracts many. The inflexibility of being “principled” on the basis of charisma or ideology destroys democracy. Scared of this situation of absence of “dialogue with the defeated”, democracy nearly became deadlocked by embracing proportional representation.

What Pakistan practices internally is a dialogue of derogation rather than communication or “negotiation,” which remains the central pillar of democracy. Votes won on the basis of hatred and denunciation can be “normalized” in parliament through positive communication. Normal judicial process under democracy prevents “revenge” from eating away at governance.

The recent standoff between the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government of Imran Khan and the Supreme Court of Pakistan has served to highlight the “problem areas” of governance that only dialogue can remove. That Prime Minister Khan is aggressive and near-abusive about his opposition is accepted by all hands, but he has also come up against the wall of past trespasses of the Pakistani state that he must remove through dialogue.

There is the opposition being punished through National Accountability Bureau (NAB) that few would endorse as a normal watchdog against corruption. The hit-or-miss way NAB is handling the cases it has brought against the opposition leaders must be put to an end. Then there are provinces with deep historical grievances that must be addressed before the trouble Pakistan has on its borders becomes too big to handle. The education sector in Pakistan must be scanned to know why Pakistan has failed to achieve the transfer of technology that India enjoys to become strong on manufacture.

The people living in erstwhile “tribal areas” deserve to be heard seriously about their problems. Pakistan has two fundamental flaws: the first relates to the instability that hounds most Muslim states; and, the second, non-centralization of the state—somewhat like Afghanistan—that prevents Pakistan from becoming a “normal state.”

This takes us back to the first decade of Pakistan’s independence when it was decided to retain its “tribal areas” in hopes of “saving” the “culture” of their inhabitants. (The “tribals” regretfully were then sent into Kashmir as invaders.) Today, after 72 years of the evolution of the state, almost 60 percent of Pakistan is without normal writ of the state. In 2017, despite the much-delayed “merger” of the tribal areas of the north into the “frontier” province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, problems stemming from the warlord-driven past can only be resolved through dialogue with such organizations as the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM).

The tribal areas of the north—called “agencies”—were open to infiltration because their borders were open. The state allowed the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda to plant their camps there. Local Taliban joined them and established their own rule that ultimately clashed with Pakistan’s state sovereignty. The control enjoyed by these elements was facilitated by lack of infrastructural development that practically ousted the writ of the state from there.

The tribal areas were “federally” administered but there were some like the valley of Swat administered by the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. In time, Pakistan lost its writ in these territories, too, to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri who lived freely there contracting marriages—euphemism for copulation—with many local wives. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of the Islamic State, went to Iraq from this tribal badland marrying a couple of times on the way. Warlord Fazlullah ruled over Swat till his mayhem was brought to an end by an invasion of his “state” by the Pakistan Army; but not before he had fled to Afghanistan.

Closer to Peshawar, warlord Mangal Bagh became the ruler of Khyber Agency after killing those who resisted him. He got his income by imposing heavy fines—for not praying five times daily at the local mosque, for instance—on the local inhabitants and began recruiting his army. The syndrome that surfaced in Khyber was the same as appeared in North-South Waziristan and Swat: intimidation followed by “empowerment” of those abandoned by the state of Pakistan as soldiers and suicide-bombers of Islam.

The “tribal” province of Balochistan has been restless since 1973 when Pakistan had to “invade” it to put down “rebellion.” The province was backward in all respects: there was no police, no normal courts and no law and order in the province except in Quetta, the capital. In June 2019, three districts of Balochistan were converted into ‘A’ areas (with police) from ‘B’ (without police) areas. In 1990, Balochistan abandoned the jirga system and had to wait till 2019 to have police on its territory. Pakistan discovered gas in the province and wastefully “piped” it to households in the rest of the country till it was quickly exhausted.

In reaction, there was an uprising of the Baloch, which was brutally put down till the judiciary became concerned about its “disappeared” people. Like the tribal areas, Balochistan’s borders too are open to penetration. Today it is the “tribal” western border that is vulnerable, not the “non-tribal” eastern one. Pakistan needs to dialogue with the Baloch “liberation” organizations that demand rights but are being hunted down.

The feudal region of Sindh province, ruled by the “wadero” aristocracy, is also without a normal writ of the state needed to uplift the poor masses living without adequate health and education facilities. Since the “wadero” politicians get elected to Sindh assembly through their captive votes in the interior and live in Karachi, the dirt-poor masses are frequently subject to famine-like conditions. The region of Thar in Sindh has its children dying of starvation at least partly because it is inhabited by almost half of the Hindu population of Pakistan.

What is needed is a beginning which should be made with dialogue rather than punishment for “past trespasses” of which the higher judiciary is getting tired. Both extremes of punishment and license should be avoided and the middle ground explored, away from ideology and charisma.

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