Another London Plan

It was last week of October when some seventy odd people of Pakistani origin gathered for ‘The Future of Pakistan’ Conference in a cozy meeting room in Hilton Kensington hotel of a chilly London.

Ideally, the discussion about future of Pakistan should have been in Pakistan. But then, what’s the harm in involving a cross-section of Pakistani diaspora that lives in number of places in Europe and Americas? Also, have we made Pakistan a safe place for people having all kinds of points of view? What do you do when so many people do not feel safe coming to Pakistan under the current reality? That’s precisely the reality everyone there wanted to change and that was called ‘the dead dog’ by Ambassador Husain Haqqani.

To be fair to Pakistan’s establishment, most of their ‘why London?’ paranoia appears to be coming from the overall geostrategic milieu. Afghanistan’s strong position against anti-Kabul jihadists in Pakistan, India’s criticism on Pakistan about hosting anti-India jihadists, USA’s denigration of Pakistan for providing safe residence to Haqqani Network in Pakistan. When seen in this backdrop alongside a heated up LoC and India’s open pronouncements to isolate Pakistan from the entire world diplomatically, the establishment sees any criticism on its policies with skepticism even if it comes from Pakistan’s own citizens.

But it is also a fact that this attitude of disenfranchising all the dissent goes far back beyond these recent happenings. Back in the initial days of Pakistan, all the dissenters were labeled traitors including the leading lights of the Independence Movement like Hussain Shaheed Soharwardi. There was no turning back. The ‘traitors’ kept breeding. Yesterday’s allies became ‘traitors’ when they went too independent. Baloch leader Bugti and Mohajir leader Altaf Hussain are just two examples of such ‘traitors’.

Of the twelve points of their Declaration – the London Plan of its own kind – not even one could be called ‘anti Pakistan’ or ‘spewing venom against Pakistan army’ – the most common criticism on the conference seen in Pakistani media so far. After noting the increasing risk of Pakistan’s diplomatic isolation in the world and her poor ranking in various global reports, the declaration went on to lament state’s failure to deal with these issues by involving broad-minded Pakistanis instead of appeasing and nurturing religious extremists for short-term strategic gains alongside suppressing the population-wise smaller provinces.

The declaration called for Pakistan’s ruling classes to take responsibility for the failed policies instead of propagating conspiracy theories by managing mass media. It expressed the participants’ desire for a truly progressive, democratic, pluralistic and secular Pakistan that abides by internationally recognised human rights, allows full and free debate, treats all its people and nationalities fairly and is no longer seen around the world as an incubator for terrorism. It recognised the need for Pakistan to be peaceful within itself and with its neighbours for gaining international respect and positive global image.

In the last three points of the London Declaration, the participants resolved to stand with and assist each other to protect a pluralist vision of Pakistan and to let the world know that such a vision exists and offers hope for Pakistan’s future. They recognised that questioning state policies was a legitimate right of all Pakistanis and thus they would stand together to oppose the tendency to label dissident voices as traitors or ‘Kaafirs’ in an effort to shut down debate and discussion of alternative policies.

Which part of all of the above points could be anti-Pakistan, anti-army or be a conspiracy by Pakistan’s enemies? On the contrary, the London Declaration by Pakistan’s liberals is a document that the world must see as an evidence that Pakistanis are not a nation of the dead. We are a nation that is wide-awake of the global realities and the world’s powers cannot arm-twist our ruling class for their own interests and push Pakistan to turmoil. It also shows mirror to Pakistan’s own ruling class that has played with the future of our beloved country and its lovely people, while pursuing self-destructive policies.

That Ambassador Hussain Haqqani organised it does not worry me. If he is that powerful a man who has been singlehandedly damaging Pakistan’s interests, it is all the more reason to keep him on our side. If the angry Baloch, Pakhtoons, Sindhis and Mohajirs present in the conference were believed to be voicing ‘anti-Pakistan’ narrative, it’s better that they be heard, and heard by us instead of leaving them in wilderness where the only ones who listen to them are Pakistan’s enemies.

Nor should it be the matter of concern that Ambassador Haqqani might have organised it ‘in order to be relevant once again’. Telling you true, every single person in that conference should have wanted to be relevant. I did and still do. Because relevance of liberal, progressive and secular Pakistanis is something Pakistan so terribly needs right now.

Not that the liberals and secularists have no weakness in their discourse. Their inability to resonate with the masses is just one. Since the last couple of decades especially, Pakistani‘liberalism’ has slipped into a kind of moral panic about highly asymmetrical power relations among various ethnic, religious and gender identities. This has slightly distorted the message of the individuals we lump together as ‘liberals’, and has largely prevented their message from becoming a unifying force capable of governing the country. This is why the ‘liberals’ are usually seen as ‘spoilers’ for the smooth functioning of the state and society by being anarchists politically and intellectually.

There have been many strategic mistakes that leftists and liberal/social democrats have committed over Pakistan’s political history

There have been many strategic mistakes that leftists and liberal/social democrats have committed over Pakistan’s political history. One of these, which is getting bigger by the day, is ‘otherisation’ of some identities they believe have been agents of the status quo. Without realising that an entire identity cannot be the agent of exploitative ruling class. The elements of all identities – irrespective of which DNA they possess – work with the forces of ruling establishment to pursue their narrow agenda of acquiring power.

If you are mentioning the dispossessed and oppressed classes of Pakistan, better mention all of them. If you don’t do that, those left out would notice and feel excluded. Which is exactly what happens when an entire race, ethnicity and religious identity is targeted and blamed for the excesses of the ruling establishment. Since these identities commonly represent the majority in Pakistan, by ‘otherising’ them we ‘otherise’ the majority population. While doing it we might forget to our own peril that majority of those fighting against the state’s oppressive forces, for example in Okara, are Sunni Muslim Punjabis. Some brushing up of liberal narrative is urgently needed perhaps.

Coming back to the London Declaration and the bunch of ‘traitors’ who attended it, this is perhaps high time that these Pakistanis are heard and given the necessary freedoms at home so they don’t have to go to foreign lands for discussing their future. Just because these people are smaller in number, their views should not be rejected altogether. If one event by them, as viewed by some in Pakistan, could put the interests of the entire country in danger, they must be taken seriously rather than ostracising and antagonising them for nothing.

This article was published by Pakistan Today on 27th November 2016