Long gone are Pakistan’s days of Enlightened Moderation with a uniformed enemy combatant president at the helm, known for his love of whisky and dogs. Alas, no more images are to be had of a khaki-clad Musharraf beaming from ear-to-ear while clutching a beloved Pekingese under each arm. We can only guess at the reason behind the flushed cheeks. Musharraf’s, that is. Not the dogs’.
It is a good thing for the current Interior minister that he was not in government during those heady days of yesteryear, which came to be defined by open deal-making with militants negotiated by a military continuously on the back-foot. For Chaudhry Nisar would have been confronted by quite the conundrum: what to do with a ‘secular beer swilling liberal’ Army chief? Would he have gone ahead and talked tough to anyone daring to take to social media to diss Pakistan’s national heroes, calling for back-up from the big boys at the FIA’s Cyber Crime Wing? Quite possibly. There are those, after all, who never could resist a man in uniform.
There are those, too, who could never resist a blasphemer. It is more than a bloody mark on the civilian record that, on their watch, we have seen government agencies call upon the good folk of Pakistan to snoop and snitch on each other all in the name of halting the spread of so-called objectionable content on social media. Blasphemy, much like beauty, usually rests in the eye of the beholder. The problem of course being that not everyone has 20:20 vision. Today, however, it rests in the power of the keypad; a casual like, share, retweet or even the damnable hashtag. Or worse, rumours manufactured. That those responsible for the country’s telecommunications are still hatemongering post-Mashal Khan underscores how those who rule over us dangle our very fate over the great scales of injustice for their own caprice. Indeed, this feeble attempt to recast social media as the latest gadget in Big Brother’s weaponry to wage war against those pesky baddies is quite the homage to the good old days of Cold War espionage. That this is set against the backdrop of mega infrastructure projects constructed on the watch of a ruling regime wishing to offer a retrospective taste of life on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain — simply adds to the frisson. It also speaks volumes of the civvies’ priorities. Power to the people is not among them.
Thus instead of tackling the hurly burly macho men of ISIS head on in concerted efforts to de-legitimise their rhetoric — the Nawaz Sharif government appears hellbent on beating the militants at their own game. Meaning that the face of Pakistan’s first-ever civilian handover of power seems to be saying that while the real men of democracy may not wear skirts — they are, are nevertheless, doing their utmost to veer more towards the religious right than the militants themselves in this latest mad dash to curb existing civil liberties. The battle lines have now been drawn. Not between an incumbent regime and opposition — but between a ruling party desperately clinging on and declared enemies of the state.
It is a good thing for the current Interior minister that he was not in government during those heady Musharraf years. For what would he have done with a ‘secular beer swilling liberal’ Army Chief? Gone ahead and talked tough to anyone daring to take to social media to diss Pakistan’s national heroes? Quite possibly. There are those, after all, who never could resist a man in uniform
Of course, it is easier to talk the language of the most brutal militants that this century has reportedly seen than it is to tackle that other player in Pakistani politics: the security establishment. What the government should actually be doing is taking the latter to task over the recent twittergate saga. Instead the state stands helplessly by as the military cautions Pakistan’s electronic media against broadcasting anti-Army material. And to top it all off is the civilian set-up’s resounding silence over how the military top brass had, in its failed move to have aired an interview of a certain reformed asset, violated part of the 20-point National Action Plan. Number 11 on that list provides for a ban on the glorification of terrorists and terrorist organisations through print and electronic media.
So, here we have it. Like all the best James Bond films from that particular era — whose general mission extended not beyond the reinforcement of anti-Soviet propaganda — the poster boy for Pakistani democracy has gone for the ‘easy’ option in unwittingly disclosing against whom he will be contesting next year’s election.
Sadly, it seems that while Nawaz may be able to resist a man in uniform — he cannot but help defer to one.
The writer is the Deputy Managing Editor, Daily Times. She can be reached at email@example.com and tweets @humeiwei