A terrorist attack on Peshawar’s Agricultural Training institute is underway as we speak; thus far 11 have been injured. Rangers, army and police are on site and a battle is raging. We have been talking perforce these past days about capitulation by our government, the perfidy of our army, and the further legitimisation and mainstreaming of violent extremist politics. Perhaps this is the time also to talk about the failure of the left and the capitulation of progressives and progressive movements, which have also yielded space; practically all space to militancies and retrogressive ideologies. No doubt there has been a systematic dismantling of the left here; McCarthyism wielded by the US everywhere brutally dismembered anything that hinted at ideological alignment with the Soviet Union from the 50s onward. Extremist groups have been engendered and nurtured; religious zealots have been financed by the Pakistani state and international players; the education system has been butchered; the poison of the Two Nation Theory has been strengthened and national identity forcibly aligned to increasingly narrow religious parameters; the country’s constitution and its increasingly Islamised legal framework; these are root causes, but there is also something else at work. In the early days of the Orange Line, talking to largely poor and lower middle income mohallas directly impacted by the train, we encountered deep mistrust understandably of the government, of the elite, the army, the bureaucracy and any and all civil authorities. This came as no surprise. Pakistan has not only failed to deliver on its promises in a broader sense, but has also failed to deliver the basics. The unconcern, disdain and exploitation of the mass population by those that rule is clear and is a fact of life for all those who struggle to survive at the lower end of the spectrum. There was, however, also in equal measure, deep suspicion of the NGOs, including ones with a progressive human rights oriented objective and other groups of a similar hue. This, I admit, surprised me. I have been on the fringes of many such groups since I was 10 years old, taken off to meetings and street protests by my mother, directly from school. A part of the ‘left’ was my babysitter – I unwillingly made it tea. The 80s was a decade of great brutality by the state, but it was also a time when ideological and practicable resistance to Zia-ul-Haq’s regime emerged. The Women’s Action Forum was the first in Lahore to dare a direct confrontation with the state in 1983. Theirs was the first protest, laathi charged and attacked by the military regime, right here on the Mall almost at the exact spot now occupied by Labbaik’s sinister tents. The Human Right Commission of Pakistan was also formed then. Nothing, no premise, was a foregone conclusion; there was discussion, debate, research, the formulation of ideological frameworks and positions, as well as responsiveness to emergent situations as they happened. Laws were challenged as they were enacted and certainly in WAF, (initially a group of women from the economic elite, and largely still so) there was also a consistent effort to cross class divides and to woo and include disempowered voices. Over the coming decades hundreds of NGOs and activist groups were formed of all hues, attempting at least ostensibly to bridge the gap, and in some way address the failure of the state to deliver both economically and ideologically. Among these, left leaning groups collectivised and built bridges and channels of communication among themselves, the Joint Action Committee was formed which included Labour Unions. In those days there were few material benefits to being an activist or an NGO director; there was no international lecture conference circuit, no power, fame, visibility, money, no awards, and no rewards. Emergent political parties at the time and in the 90s were largely if not entirely right wing, spawned by military generals seeking populist legitimacy, the political left was already on the decline, though perhaps its real death knell came with assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Today, as militant extremists swallow the country whole, most visible is the absence of resistance in real terms, the absence both of pressure groups and NGOs; the absence of any place to stand, which is not solitary. These may be more dangerous times than even the 80s, but it does beg the question- what happened? Today Lahore headquarters dozens of NGOs; some at least are purportedly in the business of being ‘Other’ in an increasingly religious and violent polity. There are festivals, study groups and a hundred other ventures where people meet regularly to discuss literature, art, politics, human rights et al. In fact if you are born on the right side of the tracks you could be forgiven for thinking that Lahore is a space of creative and intellectual freedom and participation. What then are the factors that lead desperate people to the far right for succor instead of to the ‘left’; what is it that drives ordinary people away from the alternative the progressives offer, and where is the vocal opposition to the events of today? It is a understood that the state with its finances, its control over everything including education is ultimately the most responsible for shaping the way the majority here think – the state is responsible for determining and enforcing frameworks of identity and identification that have yielded a populace that will blindly support in essence bullet wielding thuggery as long as it stands facing Mecca. The state is responsible for incrementally undermining critical thinking, for suppressing debate, for violently manipulating discourse, and ensuring that in the midst of rising poverty national religiosity provides material as well as spiritual rewards if any are to be had. This has yielded a populace across all economic classes that feels least victimised by the pulpit even when it clearly crosses all parameters of acceptable behavior on purely human terms, and even when it destroys all possibility for any kind of a future for everyone, including the faithful. The state’s efforts have yielded blind followers of faith within a space that was already inclined towards religious determinism and fatalism at the onset. But what of the left, that rationalist alternative with its promise of equalisation? What of the progressives with their rhetorical understanding of the Rights of Man, their inclusivity, their acknowledgement (at least in theory) of stakeholders beyond the plutocracy of whom many are members by birthright? Where did the 80s resistance go? There is something telling in the fact that none of the secular, liberal NGOs and groups that have been working at the grassroots level for 30 years can call on those they have helped, now. There is no group here from the erstwhile left that can raise a protest of numerically more than a few dozen people on an ordinary day, a few hundred at most in times of crisis (not including those political parties, which are still left of centre, if only by contrast). It is telling that people will go to the Jamaat-e-Islami and others of a similar ilk for help in everyday problems despite the fact that the Jamaat is brutal when the time comes. What has changed or alternatively, what failed to emerge and why? For the Orange Line we called on all those we were familiar with, the dozens of NGOs we knew who had a similar axe to grind; the individuals who have over decades advertised themselves as progressives; those who have been vocal in multiple fora and are known for their human rights purpose and secular leanings; those whose careers are entirely constructed through their defense and ostensible defense of cultural freedoms and fundamental rights. The Train was making tens of thousands of poor people homeless, heritage and art was being lost, laws were being broken, women and children were being made more vulnerable, dozens of schools and colleges were being demolished, hospitals and clinics, amenities, trees, the environment, labour was being brutalized, and all this on a grand scale in the centre one of Pakistan’s most populated cities. There is not anyone perhaps who could be seen as being outside of the vast domain occupied by the Orange Train. There should have been thousands of voices, massive donations of time and finances, support and presence in court, in the street protests, dozens of independent initiatives towards the same end; but there was, other than the direct affectees and the strange moment of hope when the political opposition parties from across the spectrum briefly joined hands in support of the estimated 500,000 being impacted, essentially no one. In the end there were only a handful who were doing the work, a handful of individuals who donated money (largely from WAF’s original members), fewer who facilitated, gave space for seminars, a few who jumped in when our backs were really up against it, a few NGOs that signed off on letters and petitions, a few persons willing to be the front line in press conferences. There were a handful, and yet the NGOs, the festivals, the progressive movers and shakers in the education, cultural and human rights world were right there; we spoke to hundreds of individuals, dozens of organisations collectively with thousands of members, workers, affiliates and beneficiaries – we spoke to those with enormous networks and connections to organizations abroad and within Pakistan, we spoke to writers, artists, educators, historians, lawyers; to all manner of progressive professionals with enormous influence inside and outside Pakistan. Presentations were made, the media came on board, eventually everyone knew the scale of the impact, everyone knew the potential consequences of the precedence being set, and yet there was no one. Though many claimed the movement after partial victories happened against all odds, there was no one. Today in the face of violent extremists taking over parliament, there is still, no one. Where did the progressive anti-establishment go? Members of Pakistan’s hereditary elite, those with English speaking backgrounds, exposure to Western education, those with economic security at their backs, connections and access were also responsible for, or active in, the resistance movements in the 80s, many were connected by blood or privilege to the Muslim elite that birthed Pakistan and formed its ruling class. There were other overlapping voices, but there is a clear divide now and perhaps there always was. The non English speaking, less privileged progressives have dwindled into their own enclaves; they have neither platforms nor a say in the running of the country. From what I have seen, there is infighting there, a lifetime of lost opportunity, bitterness, resentment and a failure to acknowledge that times have changed. The progressives, the left from this class, barring the few who have managed to retain positions within the inner circle of particular NGOs and patronage systems are now outsiders. Globalisation and 9-11 have made the business of activism, human rights, culture and education in Pakistan lucrative though the audience is elsewhere; elsewhere in terms of the economic class to which these efforts in reality speak, and elsewhere geographically in terms of the conduits of exchange that have been engendered. NGOs have become corporatised and at the same time rendered ineffective by new donor agency requirements. All manner of professionals across a range of fields have essentially sold out, not just from the 80s generation of left thinking people, but from our generation too. Today political, economic and cultural power within the left of centre, progressive, liberal, secular groups and individuals is circulated among a few. This is in essence, a gated community that allows entrance conditioned on patronage, allegiance, sycophancy, background, and a degree of submission to authority that can ensure that key players are neither threatened nor challenged; the largesse is in real terms is distributed carefully when at all. The new world and its disorder have provided opportunity for fame, money and power beyond imagination for those with the right background. It has provided formulas for the success; it has waylaid ideology and replaced the possibility of collective purpose with opportunism and self interest. As with the far right, and perhaps far less than the far right, there is no requirement for meaning, action, purpose and stated purpose to align; there may be dissonance but there is also enough fit for purpose gloss for the cracks to be papered over and for the current progressive enterprise to continue and to live well. The same individuals now find themselves on dozens of boards of government committees and non government organizations with clear conflicts of interest (though this is against the law). The same individuals are part of regulatory bodies responsible for the provision of oversight by law, the same individuals and groups are beneficiaries of government funding and international funding, and run private enterprises. Being progressive has become a corporate capitalist enterprise, in many ways no different from right wing governments, and the military. It is a smaller chunk of the pie, but a significant enough chunk to resist restructuring organisations to enable real participation and to devolve the hierarchy. In this, ethical grey areas are expanded and hypocrisy with real consequences on the lives of ordinary people is the order of the day. No narrative has been formed which can enable the majority of the population here to feel, even in theory, part of the conversation; for the progressives there is no real need to include the economic ‘other’ while this other can be represented sufficiently, internationally and locally without the discomfiting presence of those whose culture and discontent is sold, explicated, and translated as spectacle. The fact that there is suppression of all kinds, the fact that Pakistan is becoming increasingly aligned to the possibility of a Taliban style government, the fact that there is no real education for the majority, the fact that cultural production of a particular kind is limited, ultimately benefits the progressive elite and secures its claim to a particular part of the country’s imaginary and more importantly to international domains where imagining a comprehensible Pakistan has become a critical element of policy . It is no accident that civil society in Pakistan is understood as being a sliver of the well heeled who are vocal intermittently for their own ends; the term itself excludes and emphatically excludes the majority. The hollowing out of institutions, their depoliticisation and the depoliticisation of a range professions; the death of meaning and in real terms of ideology; the systems of patronage that have replaced democratic possibility, the undermining of systems and structures on which democracy and democracy’s success rests is rightfully seen as the work of decades of military rule. But within this, some responsibility, a great deal of responsibility for the demise of hope rests with the progressive elite. The rot at this point is engendered and sustained from all directions and by all sides, but as Benazir’s second visibly corrupt government in the 90s caused disproportionate harm to the idea of democracy, the onus for the death of progressive ideas rests on the abdication of responsibility and betrayal by the ‘left’, secular, liberal front. To be a neoliberal progressive is a contradiction in terms, and yet … In many ways the colonial Muslim elite with its assigned role as cultural translator, suitable for particular jobs has returned in the same role refurbished to meet the needs of the day. The NGOs, activists, aesthetes, educators, civilian regulators have reclaimed their inheritance. Where did the progressive anti-establishment go? It became the establishment, and perhaps in essence it was never deeply anything other. Progressive elites are their own state within a state. Those looking for breathable air will find none there; those looking for help with everyday violations against their rights will find no help here; those looking for real debate will find none here; those looking to find a cultural paradigm that reflects the confluence of histories and identities that make up Pakistan will not find it here. It is here that class interests are protected, and increasingly visible battlements defended. On any given day it is blindingly obvious when the progressives are at work, there will be heightened security provided by the government around public spaces that have been co-opted for a day of progressive thought and cultural exchange. There is poverty profiling at the gate; signage defines who is welcome and who is not, ably assisted by the security state paradigm to which all pay homage. Fear may be real but it has its own coterie of beneficiaries. The flourishing of this attenuated and toothless version of progressive liberal endeavour suits governments increasingly aligned towards the militant right as it helps create proofs for international audiences that all here is well; this is the soft face of Pakistan. It exists. No matter that it exists for only a few, no matter that the ground reality is edging towards a place of no return. The political right, the far right, and the militant right have grown exponentially in the supportive atmosphere engendered by civilian and military governments alike. Ordinary Pakistanis are rapidly being absorbed into an ideological and political framework that is premised on intolerance and violence. The far right with one foot firmly planted in militancy, with its impunity and access to funding has risen and continues to rise while progressive voices continue to fiddle in their ivory towers. Whereas the progressives do not require and in fact resist the expansion of their ranks, the far right is wooing, coercing, bullying and threatening more and more people into its fold. It is the far right that is there on the ground when the chips are down, offering financial support, jobs and muscle; when the failure of government is brought to bear on ordinary lives it is these systems of patronage which offer succor in exchange for pounds of flesh; those on the other side extend patronage only to their own, while publicly maintaining a moral high ground which increasingly has no takers. The poor directly affected by the Orange Line and the poor and lower income middle classes at large understand the fundamentals necessary for sustaining precarious survival in Pakistan: those with power will remain in power (regardless of political readjustments), and that there is nothing to be had from the chattering classes and their professed ‘ideology’. Indeed this is a revolution in the making. Those directly in politics understand this and are quick to align themselves with those on the rise; they are quick to make room at the top, quick to publicly pledge their allegiance to the monsters they have helped create. Perhaps the progressives believe that the mafias of the ‘left’ and the right will continue to circle indefinitely, that despite occasional skirmishes the territories currently defined will remain so, perhaps even now there is wishful thinking that cake can be had and eaten simultaneously. Whatever the reasons, the silence of the liberal, secular, progressive, ‘left’ is loud and there is a different kind of red in town. This time, red means blood. The Peshawar incident is over, leaving 9 dead and 37 injured. The attackers had bombs, suicide jackets, 20 grenades, and small arms and ammunition; save one, the attackers were all under the age of 25, members therefore of the 65% youth demographic whom all in power and with power have failed.