The oppressed have always been silenced throughout human history for their voices against the status quo, whereby the elites make tradeoffs. Consequently, those within or on the fringes of elites who dare raise their voices are also dealt with the same way, for they attempt to speak on behalf of the censored voices.
The current censorship in Pakistan is unprecedented especially given the circumstances. The old power structures and policies have been rejected and a collective desire has vociferously been put forth to change the system. They may be Pashtun youth, families of the missing persons from Balochistan, the poverty-stricken communities of rural Sindh, farmers of Punjab or the business community of Karachi. They all have come to a strong realisation that they have been left out, mistreated and their due rights being incessantly violated under the present dispensation.
The current dispensation doesn’t mean the incumbent political government which is a mere offshoot of the power framework. It comprises the whole power structure from macro to micro level, rather from federal government to village councils. It’s a symbiotic relation among various elites and their corresponding influence in varying degrees — military, clerics, politicians, civil servants, businesses of all sorts are knit together.
This superstructure of current power players has also trickled down and operating independently, yet with the same norms thus perpetuating the system of patronage.
The majority are naturally out of this power structure and at the receiving end. It would be more appropriate to state that they are utilised by this power-cum-commercial mills to achieve their ends. The category of their utilisation (read exploitation) where they prove to be a mean for certain ends varies from community to community depending upon their location and circumstances.
There are more chances that you get abducted in Balochistan and come across some militant or step over a landmine in tribal areas. You may be relatively safe from the first two instances while being a farmer in Punjab, yet the crops you grow after much toil doesn’t yield the requisite amount. Similarly, being a labour or small scale businessman in Karachi exposes you to a different type of commercial exploitation. There are numerous other examples of specific nature being meted out to communities across the country.
The response of elites to these underprivileged, however, is quite typical. It isn’t sagacious, innovative or you may say properly worked upon before being dished out. The old means of oppression are further strengthened and implemented with more strictness to quell the dissenting voices. They have taken over the media, judiciary, accountability institutions and other power corridors to contain the discontented populace. Thousands would gather for a peaceful protest, yet the media coverage is subjected to certain narrative. In case, if the powers that be feel that it jeopardises their positions, they will be blacked out. Never have media been that much monopolised. Perhaps the old times PTV would give more space to such voices than the numerous channels running 24/7. People are kept busy in the vicious news cycle of some unworthy statement by some unworthy people.
The parliament too has lost its utility as a platform for meaningful national debates and legislation. A new mantra of eradicating corruption and other superficial theatrics are instead popped up to distract people.
Come to the accountability institutions, foreign services, civil service, contractors, consultants and businessmen, the same yardstick is applied. On a flipside, it has at least made clear to the mediocrities of any shade lacking any moral qualms that the shortest road to excel in their fields lay in toeing the path laid out by the elites. It, for sure, comes with a cost to the system, but who cares, if it accrues a promotion, better placement and some extra bucks. Hence, the elites get control of the majority through these co-opted individuals across various sectors.
There are two models of response to such massive discontent. First is a democratic and legal response and the second is an undemocratic and illegal response. The first should have been opted, yet the second is rigorously being followed. The rational response is to listen to them, grant rights, let them express themselves and subsequently surrender some policy space to them in a democratic and legal manner. This is what is being expected of the state.
The democratic model is what is practiced across the world and also vindicated through history of intra state conflicts. It’s simple state of nature. If a specific group of people disturbs the balance and acquires undue powers at the cost of others, it has to be balanced somehow — equilibrium. The left out segments will raise their voices and ask for justice — justice for their dead, abducted relatives and looted resources.
There were violations of rights and injustices committed while the balance was disturbed and the elites were consolidating their power. It’s beyond question whether the injustices were committed in good faith or for vested interests, and if these unjust measures were necessitated by the exigency of times or otherwise. The space has to be given back, some powers and incentives are to be surrendered and some brought to justice in order to retrieve the balance in the system and achieve equilibrium.
The irrational model of silencing the oppressed may have some quick gains and a temporary solace in the power corridors, yet it isn’t sustainable. Who is to teach them, if there is no will to learn!!
The current conglomerate of Pakistani elites needs to realise the situation and take a leaf from history. Their response is damaging the very social contract which is the basis of constitution. It is alienating the oppressed further and they may resort to other means causing further damage. Looking the other way or using your allies at various quarters to take the voiceless to task will come with a cost. Maligning them through massive propaganda would have worked if it were past, if the technology was not so as its today, if the issues being raised by these communities were not that crucial. No one is agent of anyone unless proved, no one is into some make-believe 5th generation war against the state, no one wants to damage the state; rather they all seek genuine accountability and rights.
People are least bothered if you keep telling them that your seeking rights may be misused by elites of some other country. It might be your concern to counter them, not theirs’. They want justice for the exploitations and would continue doing so one way or the other. Continuous silencing of these voices through force can touch a point where it will implode.
The followers of political parties especially the Muslim League don’t need to be convinced through propaganda that it’s all due to corruption of their leaders. The Pashtun youth are least bothered with the states’ narrative as they aren’t active in some vacuum. The death, destruction and the rubbles of their villages are enough of a proof for them to carry on. The state however won’t budge and not give space. Instead, the state opted for coming down hard on them and giving a cover to their own elites. It has become a domestic failure and an international embarrassment.
In order to survive and get out unscathed from the present crisis, we are to go with the first model of resolving it in a democratic and legal manner. Surrendering space and bringing elites to justice will come with a cost, yet the cost of not doing this will damage the very state in the long run. Yet, retributive justice won’t work towards stability even if the oppressed want to settle their accounts through reciprocal judicial means.
The way forward is an independent “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”, whereby facts are ascertained and subsequently an attempt is made to reconcile all the factions, with a resolve to maintain the balance in the future.