Muslim League, Military and Media: the Pakistani Sangh Parivar

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Context

250_political_leaders_of_pakistan21Even a beleaguered and politically fumbling President Zardari and a floundering Asfandyar Khan, at the head of the secular PPP and the Awami National Party (ANP), respectively, are considered major stumbling blocks in the fruition of the national security agenda unraveled by the Army Chief in February 2010.

Mian Nawaz Sharif’s volte-face last week, on the constitutional reform package has been misread by many as a move at the judiciary’s behest. However, the PML-N leaders involved in this change of heart and its net negative outcome vis a vis powers to the provinces, point towards a stance in sync with the Army establishment. The prayer-beads wielding judiciary may indeed have served as the stick in this process.”…the (class) struggle (in France) created circumstances and relationships that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part.” (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon)

As the diplomatic hardball between the USA and the Pakistani delegation- including Generals Kiyani and Pasha- wound up, there remains more at stake then just the ruthless endgame in Afghanistan. It is a matter of time before the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) replaces the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to form federal government in Pakistan.

Punditry is fraught with the risk of making a wrong prediction and geopolitical events almost never follow the common sense but the bigger risk is the above scenario coming true – either through snap or term polls.

The Pakistan Army’s party-line regarding the future of Afghanistan – and its role therein – has been enunciated very clearly in Washington, D.C and before that in Brussels. The part that the Pakistani security establishment desires to play in Afghanistan is not possible without having a political realignment at home.

Even a beleaguered and politically fumbling President Zardari and a floundering Asfandyar Khan, at the head of the secular PPP and the Awami National Party (ANP), respectively, are considered major stumbling blocks in the fruition of the national security agenda unraveled by the Army Chief in February 2010.

Mian Nawaz Sharif’s volte-face last week, on the constitutional reform package has been misread by many as a move at the judiciary’s behest. However, the PML-N leaders involved in this change of heart and its net negative outcome vis a vis powers to the provinces, point towards a stance in sync with the Army establishment. The prayer-beads wielding judiciary may indeed have served as the stick in this process.

In its present form, the PML-N is the Army’s natural political ally in its quest for the strategic depth in Afghanistan.

Having played its cards well during the lawyers’ movement, the PML-N has evolved from an urban chauvinist enterprise, to a neo-populist party with its core communalist identity intact. The net outcome of the lawyers’ movement was a grotesque mediocrity playing the hero’s part.

An Islamized, yet sufficiently pragmatic, urban Pakistani nationalist voter is the demographic that the PML-N caters to. In this, the party and the Pakistani Neocon media have found a confluence of interests, which is not entirely coincidental.

Like the PML-N, many in the electronic media, used the lawyers’ movement to distance themselves from their fundamentalist past and created a centrist illusion around them. Those who shot to prominence via exclusive interviews with the Al-Qaeda leaders or deriding the secular-nationalist leaders through the state-owned Pakistan Television, re-marketed themselves, with great success, as the face of the modern and “liberated” Pakistani media. A good case study would be to track the careers of top three Urdu talk-show anchors, twenty years back.

However, it was only a matter of time before the centrist facade of the PML-N and its media allies came off, revealing an alliance of the extreme right-wing forces that has remained intact since the heyday of the Pakistani-Saudi-US anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan.

Whereas Shahbaz Sharif’s fascist gaffe is still being written about in the English print-media, the Urdu television anchors killed the story in less than 48 hours. And they never did pick up on Justice Khawaja Sharif’s callous remarks. The very same coterie of the media anchors – taking cue from the GHQ- had ripped the PPP government apart over the Kerry-Lugar Law for weeks on end.

Neither were Mr. Sharif’s remarks off the cuff nor their suppression by the media incidental. He was speaking his mind and that of his voters. Slip of tongue, if any, was Freudian. Similarly, the elder Sharif – though overplaying his hand – is pandering to the Pak-nationalist voter base.

Analysis

What we have at our hands is a Muslim League-military-media nexus trying to get all its ducks in a row before the final phase of the decade-long Afghan war.

In a world where there is zero tolerance for the old-fashioned jihadist Mullahs, the two former epicenters of the militant-Islamist combine Jamiat e Ulama e Islam (JUI) and the Jamat e Islami (JI) are being replaced by the PML-N as the new matriarch of the Pakistani Sangh Parivar (Family of Associations).

The JUI and JI are not just unpalatable for the West but they are too outdated to be sold successfully to the Pakistani urban voters who are Islamized enough to don a beard or hijab but smart enough to send their kids to private schools and put their faith in the neo-liberal market economy.

The Hindu fundamentalist Sangh Parivar in India had replaced the out-dated Jana Sangh with the BJP in 1980 and made full use of the hate-mongering media houses to destroy the vestiges of the Nehruvian secular polity. A Congress party that was rotting from within, Rajiv Gandhi and his incompetent and corrupt secular government expedited the process.

While Sangh Parivar-led by the BJP in electoral politics – started as a formal alliance of the Hindu revivalist groups, the Pakistani version is an informal alignment of various political groups with the media – especially electronic – developed with the blessing of the security establishment.

PML-N’s connections with the Sipah e Sahaba and the Taliban are both by design and default. It now is the hub – like the BJP- of the concentric circles of militant outfits of various shades and is their sheet anchor in the parliamentary politics.

We are dealing with a mass phenomenon – akin to the Hindutva of the BJP and pretty close to the European fascism – which creates a vivid enemy image by amalgamating elements from past ethnic, national, religious and social prejudices and the real or perceived current crises. This amorphous yet highly tangible image of an anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam West and the USA, is then projected through the modern media techniques with slick anchors leading the charge.

The enemy image is tangible enough for most to blame the USA within minutes of a suicide bombing in Pakistan. However, it is too amorphous for anyone to really know what to do with it. The opinionated talk-show hosts keep it abstract so that the common man keeps falling back on the crutches of Pak-nationalism, Islam and anti-West sloganeering of the PML-N, which appear like the panacea to evils.

The BJP – like the PML-N now – had used religion as a detonator in its hate-filled Molotov cocktail of religion, nationalism and communalism and then the media to lob this bomb into the Indian living rooms. BJP’s fundamentalism always took a backseat to its communalist-nationalism. The PML-N and jihadist punks of the “wake up Pakistan” campaign a la ARY television use enough religion to keep the pot simmering but make it subservient to the Pak-nationalism of the GHQ variety.

Interestingly, the RSS antecedents of the BJP didn’t wear Khaddar or dhoti but sported the British Khaki shorts – they were about eighty years ahead of Hamid Mir, Talat Hussain and of course Zaid the red-hat Hamid.

Shahbaz Sharif’s remarks, his law minister Rana Sanaullah’s association with the terrorists of Sipah e Sahaba, PML-N local leader’s alleged involvement in the Gojra massacre of the Christians, are events which would have potentially brought a PPP or ANP government down, had they happened on their watch. The fade-out of these stories from the tele-media was well-orchestrated and efficient.

On the other hand, the views opposing the rise of the neo-fascist PML-N seem like a parallel play between the English editorial writers, op-ed columnists, bloggers and a lone TV anchor. Apparently we are talking past each other and certainly past the fumbling, floundering secular leaders.

Are the PML-N and its patrons in uniform and the holy lands, then invincible, and their game plan fait accompli? The answer might be disappointing yes, unless those opposed to the rise of fascism in Pakistan get their house in order.

Without a coherent and cohesive secular response to the might of the “fair and balanced” right wing media collaborators the Sangh Parivar’s Pakistani franchise is opening shop near you.

(Author teaches and practices Medicine at the University of Florida and contributes to the think-tanks  and www.politact.comAryana Institute. He can be reached atmazdaki@me.com  )