The throne and the sword

Spearhead Analysis – 03.06.2015

By Enum Naseer
Senior Research Analyst,
Spearhead Research

Legend has it that in ancient Italy, Damocles, a courtier in the court of King Dionysius, was given the opportunity to trade places with the King after he made the observation that men of power were extremely fortunate and lived in great comfort and luxury. The King then arranged to have a sword hung above the throne held in position with only a single strand of hair from a horse’s tail. Sitting in a constant fear of the sword dropping made it unbearably frightening and uncomfortable for the courtier-turned-king and he begged to be relieved of his duties.

All over the world, men who inspire and command leadership of the masses, live constantly with fear. These men walk a tightrope; there is little room for error and second-guessing. Power has a cost; it cannot be handed over freely to anyone who desires to be powerful. After one attains the position, it must be protected carefully through conscious thought and action.

Today Pakistan’s civilian power elites are crying themselves hoarse over the feeling of disenfranchisement. Each time that they mutter grievances during dinner table conversations or heated political talk shows, the heart sinks a little. These are the people who have gone above and beyond to gain the public’s trust and be voted into these positions of power. They have experienced being in the hot seat multiple times, almost playing a game of musical chairs with the throne. A thumping vote of confidence in their abilities in the form of a heavy mandate by the masses means little in this regard; these men are intoxicated by self-created notions of helplessness. If the civilian masters themselves feel so threatened and powerless, the common man should probably take a cue and prepare for the worst.

The law and order situation is slipping out of hand: buses carrying unarmed, innocent Pakistanis are unloaded at gun point and the passengers executed owing to sectarian and ethnic affiliations. It happened in Safoora first and then in Mastung. As ‘death by committee’ becomes the modus operandi of the state when struggling to regain control of a situation, hope in a better future runs dry. The rhetoric becomes louder, increasingly nauseating and more generalized in substance. It falls shy of taking names, addressing specific issues—instead it begins to sound like an overly ambitious rant. It pretends to talk about everything but speaks of nothing in particular.

The stench of fear is unmistakably pungent and pervasive. Today, it engulfs the entire country and hangs overhead like a dense cloud. The word on Pakistan’s progress vis-à-vis the National Action Plan is finally out: during a high-profile meeting, it was disclosed that the implementation of the strategy to counter terrorism and extremism has been disappointing. A military offensive will only be worth the investment if sustained by a change in policy. Pakistan may have manifested its will to survive, to add more chapters to its story of resilience by trending hashtags in support of the drive against terrorism and holding vigils post the Peshawar Tragedy yet its leaders struggle to muster the resolve to address security concerns directly.

Recently in Daska, two lawyers were shot by a police officer for rowdy behavior. No eyebrows were raised at the brute use of force that resulted in the loss of lives in response to allegedly hurling abuses at the police. This is not a novel occurrence in conflict-hardened Pakistan. The same thing happened during the Model Town tragedy where Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s supporters were shot for throwing stones at the police. What has unfolded over the past 7 years is a travesty of democracy. It is appalling that there is little shock value left in any kind of violence whether it is administered by the state or anti-state elements. The cold numbness to the loss of human lives has become an idiosyncratic characteristic of the Pakistani mindset. Theological determinism has become the opiate of those who have been vested with the power to bring about change in the country—in a country where religion sells like hot cake this is the most convenient way to wriggle out of a messy situation.

We’re all past the evasiveness now. The government can no longer pretend to have done its job by issuing formula statements condemning all kinds of violence and claiming to tighten the noose around miscreants. Pakistan’s leaders must rise to the occasion and legitimize the mandate of the masses. Progress may be slow but it is the intent that counts and shines through. The democratic leadership must create space for itself by virtue of its performance in areas such as societal and economic development in addition to its contribution to improving the law and order and security situation. Trust and good will between the civil and military leadership will strengthen as both sides display competence and a commitment to leading Pakistan towards a better tomorrow. There can be no room for excuses—the civilian leadership, in particular, while fully cognizant of the sword hanging overhead, demanded to be put in the hot seat. The time for anxiously tip-toeing around gargantuan challenges that put the country’s future in jeopardy is over.