The recently concluded march on Islamabad led by Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman was not the first clerical invasion of our Federal Capital. In January 2013, after living for several years in suburban Mississauga, Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri ensconced himself in a custom-fitted container to lead a “million-man” march on Islamabad, seeking the unseating of the then PPP government. Some may recall his enthusiastic “Mubarak ho!” announcement to his followers to the effect that the Supreme Court had given orders for the arrest of Prime Minister Gillani and would soon do the same for President Zardari. As suddenly as he had appeared, the Allama disappeared – in the direction of Toronto International Airport. He reappeared, along with his collection of extraordinary headgear and his hordes of enthusiastic followers, in August of the next year. This time he was in the company of our present Prime Minister and Minister of Railways and demanded the removal of the PML-N government of Nawaz Sharif.
And now the Maulana’s march, seeking the resignation of the present PTI government! Now, without commenting on the merits or legitimacy of any of these insurrections, one observes that each one of our elected post-authoritarian governments has faced at least one such clerical assault. And each of these forays has excited great speculation as to the “real” objectives and the “actual” instigators.
Like so much else in our history, the truth has remained concealed and, in these and many other instances, there have been some truly incredible examples of inspired guesswork and the most extraordinary conspiracy theories. The sad fact is that we lack real knowledge of the truth regarding so many events and processes in our history. Take, for example, as momentous an occurrence as the air crash that ended the reign of the brutal dictator who had ruled over us for eleven long years. Who killed General Zia-ul-Haq? Could it have been Al-Zulfikar? Or members of a disgruntled minority sect? The Americans (sacrificing their own Ambassador)? The Indians? The Soviets? The Iranians? A faction within the state? We did not know. And we still do not know. The truth about that assassination has never been told, and perhaps never will be.
For that is the way of things in this country. The truth is seldom told. Consider the Bhutto hanging. How did Zulfikar Ali Bhutto actually die? Was he hanged or beaten to death or starved? And (since the case against Bhutto is generally regarded as false), then who was it who actually murdered Nawab Mohammed Ahmed Khan? And why?
Look at all the blind spots. How did it come about that the very founder of the nation had to suffer for over an hour on a stretcher on the open tarmac of Drigh Road Airbase? Why was it that no ambulance was there for him? Who were the assassins of Liaquat Ali Khan? Or of Hayat Sherpao? Benazir Bhutto? Akbar Bugti? How did Hassan Nasir die? Or H.S. Suhrawardy? Or Shahnawaz Bhutto? Or Murtaza Bhutto? Or Saleem Shahzad? One could go on in this refrain forever.
The worst examples are the stories we tell ourselves regarding the wars we have fought. We celebrate the 1965 war as a victory, whereas the valour and fighting ability of our officers and men was squandered defending Lahore and Sialkot when we had in fact set out to conquer Kashmir. Worse still was the 1971 war when, unable to accept the confederal arrangement for which our then largest province had voted, and unwilling to negotiate with them, the dictator of the day unleashed unspeakable violence upon our own former nationals, giving an overjoyed Indira Gandhi the opportunity to posture as a “liberator”.
This is a land of lies and secrets. The lies we tell ourselves and the secrets we keep from our people. To begin with, even the very narratives of the Independence movement were contrived well after the event, with concepts like “the ideology of Pakistan” being promoted by Yahya Khan’s fanatical Information Minister General Sher Ali Pataudi as late as 1969. In the poisonous Zia era, the wholesale rewriting of the history of this region achieved the seal of completion. As a result, our origins and identities have become confused and lost in a non-historical melange of half-truths and outright lies.
The Zia regime also spun every kind of confusing fog around the origins and purpose of the Afghanistan war. The Soviet Union, we were told, was driving southwards to conquer first Afghanistan and then Pakistan – and had in fact been doing so since colonial times. And the Afghan “jihad” had arisen in “spontaneous” resistance against this. Looking back at what proved to be one of the most fateful decision points in Pakistan’s history, it is doubtful we will ever know the truth about what became the world’s longest lasting war since the 14th century.
Mystery also surrounds the sudden eruption from Pakistan into Afghanistan in 1993 of Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Taliban warriors, whose appearance on the historical stage has led to untold consequences for Afghanistan, for Pakistan and the world in general.
More recent still is the Osama bin Laden mystery. Beyond the issue of violation of our sovereignty by the US armed forces, we now know that this most wanted man in the world was living here among us for nine years. This presumed fugitive enjoyed the ministrations of three (no less) wives, numerous children and assorted servants. Yet did no one spot one of the world’s most recognisable faces as he moved his substantial entourage to Peshawar, Karachi, Haripur, and finally Abbottabad?
One also asks questions as diverse as: What actually happened at Ojhri Camp? What gave the Lal Masjid preachers the fortitude to sustain their verbal aggression?
The purpose of this article is not to speculate about these mysteries, only to point at some of the secrets around us and the fog that surrounds them. We are not helped by the smokescreens created by many of our political leaders, media personalities and so-called “analysts”. It is more than being in a state of denial – there is active collusion in spreading the web of lies that is strangling the people of Pakistan.
Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had once proposed a Truth and Reconciliation process. That could certainly be a starting point, but it is doubtful if there would be too many takers. Even his own party’s leaders would have difficulty accepting such a concept.
The point is that it is long past time that our various leaderships and authorities “came clean” before the people. Corruption, mass murder and outright treason have been repeatedly perpetrated upon the citizens of Pakistan. We deserve to know the truth. It is necessary to point fingers and name names, rather than continually sputter on about “conspiracies” and “hidden hands”. The people first need to know the truth of where things have gone wrong, and they need to endorse and participate enthusiastically in the processes of rectification.
It is necessary to tell the truth before the processes of history render both the truth and ourselves redundant.