The Era of Musharraf’s Narrative

By Khurram Ali




Musharraf may have lost the battle but the institution has won the game. Old commando is master of deception, as he first deceived Nawaz Sharif, who took him as a soldier with no political ambitions, then he deceived us by giving up too easily in front of lawyers’ movement. In actual he is the most successful statesman among all the dictators who have ruled the country, as he gave birth to most essential instrument of any state.

For some state is like a mother, but for others it is like a father within a patriarchal family. I must agree with both the views as Gramsci identified two key components of the state. First is the patriarchal element, termed as political society (military, judiciary, parliament and bureaucracy), which uses coercion for submission of the citizens. The second is the civil society, who like a mother, nurtures the consent in the citizens. While no one can deny the patriarchal role of Pakistan but later is definitely something which remained absent until Musharraf.

Civil society, in general, is described as a ‘third sector’ essential for any democratic society, and lies between the state and the society. It is a sphere where citizens bargain with the state and at the same time it shapes the ideas, culture, morals and values in the society. Here term ‘state’ is used only as a coercive institution comprising of only military, judiciary, parliament and bureaucracy.

According to Nikhat Sattar civil society is an “an umbrella term for a range of non‐state and non‐market citizen organizations and initiatives, networks and alliances operating in a broad spectrum of social, economic, and cultural fields. These include formal institutions, non‐governmental organizations, trade unions, professional associations, philanthropies, academia, independent pressure groups, think tanks, and traditional informal formations, such as faith‐based organizations, shrines, seminaries, and neighborhood associations.”

Pakistan born with a state structure reminiscent of the colonial period of British Raj preceding it. There was lack of civil society while strong coercive structure was adopted from the colonial masters. This also explains why democratic system failed and most powerful institution took the power in its hands. The gap in the sphere of civil society was filled by leftwing forces, as students, teachers, writers, thinkers and intellectuals at that time were inspired by the Bolshevik revolution of Russia.

Progressive organizations, in spite of facing bans, played key role in all the major movements till 90s. Red flags were visible from language movement of East Pakistan and 1953 students’ movement of West Pakistan to MRD formed to end the military government of General Zia. National Students Federation, a leftist student organization, initiated the movement that ended the martial law regime of Ayub Khan, women’s rights movement during Zia period was also initiated by leftwing activists, while Habib Jalib, a communist, is still considered most vocal intellectual against all the dictatorship regimes, whose poems were recited even during lawyers’ movement.

Authorities soon realized that they do not have friends in this sphere, and all these movements were curbed by means of coercive power. During Zia regime, two-pronged strategy was developed to deal with this radical-left civil society. On one hand they continued to use bans, imprisonments, exiles, torture, and even killings, while on the other hand planned nourishment of violent and non-violent Islamist groups. The strategy on one hand helped to develop Pakistani nationalism on the basis of Islam and on the other hand it helped to develop public consent for the Afghan Jihad against Soviet Union.

After the fall of Soviet Union, left was demoralized and further space opened for Islamism. After Zia’s mysterious death in an airplane crash, democratic forces were allowed to operate but Islamism helped establishment to keep its grip on all the important matters. It is precisely the time when NGOs and philanthropists started to emerge, but initially state did not let them go beyond charity and development work, as most of them were former leftists, and still advocated for secularism, democracy and feminism. State intentions are evident from the NGO Bill proposed in 1996 to bring them under its control and regulation.

After 9/11 Pakistan was forced to make huge policy shift and a new narrative was needed to paint a new picture of the state in international arena. ‘Enlightened Moderate Islam’ was perfect blend as it narrated the world that Pakistan is de-radicalizing Islamism and at the same time foundation (Islam) of Pakistani nationalism was secured. At this juncture pro-establishment civil society was launched and Musharraf inducted many well-known civil society workers in his cabinet. Left was already absent, and by taming media and other strong civil society actors, Musharraf avoided any serious movement until 2006-7, when contradictions within the power corridors resulted in lawyers’ movement.

Musharraf may have resigned in 2008 but his era did not end there. The ideologues of new nationalism, nurtured under his supervision slowly captured the limelight in coming years. Individuals within establishment may have changed but the narrative and strategy didn’t. Slowly the new actors paved their way to become leaders of the civil society and media channels. The generation brought up under the ‘Enlightened Moderate Islam’ was also ready to actively participate in the society.

In the meanwhile state kept losing its grip on Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and ties completely broke off when Hakim Ullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike. Fazlullah became the new chief of TTP and declared war against the state. Establishment has no option but to use iron hand against every apologist of TTP. ISPR even released a written statement against the then Amir Jamat e Islami (JI), Munawar Hasan, for supporting TTP in a TV interview. Statement was sufficient to give message to JI that any support for TTP will not be tolerated and they need to reshape their party.

When Molvi Abdul Aziz dared to open his mouth in defense of TTP after Peshawar tragedy, they did not need to issue any statement. The new civil society, shaped under the influence of new narrative, was ready to launch its first campaign. It was first time when slogans “Dehshatgardi Murdabad” and “Military Courts Zindabad” were part of the same movement. The message was clear to all Islamist organizations that cut your ties with TTP or prepare for our wrath.

Establishment had already won battle against media, parliament and judiciary during anti-Geo movement and Islamabad dharna, and now the public sphere where we once used to hear slogans like ‘Yeh Jo Dehshatgardi Hai… Is K Peechay….’ is replaced by young group of activists chanting ‘Pak Fauj Zindabad’. Media is also forced to highlight the pro-establishment voices against religious extremism and to neglect anti-establishment narrative.

Suddenly new activists became the sole representatives of the civil society, and political parties and groups became demons. Flags and identity of political parties became a danger for the unity of the movements and activists started holding political parties responsible for on-going terrorism instead of the ones who gave birth, nurtured and supported them. The evolution of pro-establishment civil society is clearly telling to us…

Musharraf may have lost the battle but the institution has won the game.

  • dopamine

    An interesting article. Sir my question is are we in a loop? Repeating the same things around. Or things are going to get better??