Nov 19, 2009

Behind our stagnant politics

By Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

The nauseating, recurring, often false, and certainly vacuous statements of Pakistani politicians on issues of deep and catastrophic proportions, their empty rhetoric, their mutual mistrust, their unending U-turns, and their lack of transparency have, once again, cooked a political soup that stinks. Every new day comes with newspapers filled with the same soup. Behind this unending and recurring process is a dilemma that Pakistani politicians are incapable of even acknowledging, let alone addressing: they are myopic inhabitants of a pond without any inflow of fresh water. This stagnant political theatre was set up at the time of Pakistan’s emergence on the world scene, and it has never changed.

Pakistan now has the so-called two main political parties, both of which are actually one-man parties, because in each case the man at the top has such a strangling hold on all aspects of his party that these entities are neither “political” nor “parties” in any real sense. They are merely personifications of one man’s myopic vision, personal goals, and limited mental and intellectual horizon.

In addition, there are the “religious parties,” of which only the Jamaat-e-Islami deserves mention, for all other “religious parties” are neither religious nor parties. The problem with the Jamaat is its lack of any solid Islamic base in terms of its policies and “principles of politicking.” It left its rightful course way back in the early 1950s when Maulana Maudoodi abandoned his own clearly articulated (and publicly announced) course of action. He did this out of personal volition and in the process lost some dear friends. But, most of all, he brought the Jamaat to a cul de sac from which it has never emerged.

Had he followed his well-reasoned course of action, Pakistan would be an entirely different polity today. And the sad and traumatic aspect of this betrayal of the highest principles articulated by Maudoodi himself is that the Jamaat is unwilling to accept the fact that its founder committed a blunder, thus it continues to remain in the political wilderness without any hope of ever emerging from its wasteland.

This leaves the regional parties, or the parties which only have appeal within certain geographical regions of the country; the ANP and the MQM being the two obvious contenders. While the ANP has a history of grassroots political processes, there is no denying the fact that it, too, suffers from the same person-centred approach to its politics, just as the MQM does.

Thus, apart from the Jamaat-e-Islami, all political parties are, in fact, parties of their leaders. And this includes Imran Khan’s outfit, which has attempted to set up a real political process by including in its ranks independent, thinking minds, but which remains, by and large “Imran Khan’s Party.”

There is, however, much more to this person-centred politics. It is not the political parties alone which are responsible for this phenomenon: the Pakistani nation, as such, is person-centred. As children we were asked the rhetorical question: who made Pakistan? And given the answer: the Quaid-e-Azam.

Obviously, there is something deep in the psyche of Pakistani people which makes it impossible, at this stage at least, for any political party to emerge on the basis of a political process that will ensure continuous inflow of fresh water in the form of leadership, ideas, strategies, plans, and vision for the country. Pakistanis share this hero-worship with other nations of the region, but the Indian political scene has moved forward tremendously since the days of the cult of Gandhi and Nehru. The cult of the hero or heroine is still there to some extent, but Indira Gandhi was the last leader to reap any political dividends from that cult. In Bangladesh, the process is still more or less like Pakistan, with the daughter and wife of the two past heroes dominating politics.

The cult of hero-worship in Pakistan is, mercifully, about to die. After Benazir Bhutto, there is no Bhutto cult left; Zardari’s is a one-time show thrust upon the nation through extraordinary circumstances. But large areas of Punjab, rural and urban Sindh, major portion of the NWFP, and Balochistan remain entrenched in the hero-worship mode. They say education is a cure for this, but the kind of education Pakistanis are receiving holds little promise of salvation.

In the absence of any real political process at the grassroots level, there is no possibility of Pakistan’s political stability. What is needed is a thorough reorganisation of the political landscape, and this cannot happen without a certain degree of maturity in the mental makeup of Pakistani people in terms of their attitude towards “heroes.” This maturity cannot come without conscious efforts made to change people’s attitudes.

These efforts cannot be made without a group of people realising the need for political training and a different level of consciousness. And, therefore, the circular argument leads to the need of a new intellectual force to emerge in the country with the sole goal of taking a majority of Pakistanis out of their hero-worship mode. This undoing of the cult of the hero will, in turn, sow the seeds for the emergence of a genuine polity, rooted in principles and dealing with issues of enduring importance.

This is a generational task: at least one whole generation has to go through this political training, but this training needs certain principles. From where can one draw these principles? From the sources which have always guided Islamic polity, one would imagine. And this brings us back to the process which Maulana Maudoodi abandoned in the 1950s. Is there anyone who can revive that process?

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