The economic managers are reported have painted a very gloomy picture of Pakistan’s economy. The common man does not need the wizards to tell them that Pakistan’s economy has entered the impasse. They taste the bitter medicine of all the declining indicators which grows bitterer by the hour. The government seems unable to do anything because of so many political weaknesses, the coalition system being one of them. All other parties, except the majority ruling party, have the luxury of criticizing government decisions and blackmailing the government through playing towards the galleries. Everyone is ever-ready to enjoy the fruits of power but no one seems to be ready to take the responsibility for difficult decisions. The people are suffering on both the counts. If the government takes a difficult decision, they will suffer but if it finds it politically expedient to defer such difficult decisions, the people suffer even more because of deficit financing.

And the sufferings on account of militancy are numerous which include loss of life, property, livelihood and for some the loss of relative prosperity. The state has also suffered by losing its sovereignty to the militants. A known proponent of institutional economics, Dr Akmal Hussain, has tried to analyze the economic situation and has identified the way the culture of violence is impacting the economy. In his latest article, the political economy of violence, he has listed three important features of Pakistan’s violence problem: (1) Armed militant groups have emerged as centers of power rivaling the state within its geographic domain. As Max Weber has argued, the defining feature of a sovereign state is that it has a monopoly over violence. So, unless Pakistan takes swift and effective action against these rival centers of power, the state can lose its sovereignty. (2) The timing of state action to counter violence is strategically important. This is because the operations of the armed militant groups to establish power are spreading from the isolated valleys of Fata to large urban centers. Evidence of this fact is provided, in recent years, by the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the terrorist attacks mounted against the institutions which are symbols of state power. The demonstrated capacity of armed militant groups to operate in dense urban areas shows that they can disrupt the economy, paralyze public services and constrain counter-insurgency operations. (3) The aim of extremists is nothing less than the capture of state power. Therefore, essential to their enterprise are the following objectives: Undermining public morale; winning the ideological space to influence the decisions of government and politicians through fear; motivating individuals in society to undertake violence at their behest in order to achieve widespread breakdown of law and order; penetrating the state apparatus to weaken its internal command and control.

In the opinion of the author, each of these objectives is being systematically pursued which has been illustrated by the tragic assassination of Mr Salmaan Taseer, and its aftermath. First, assassinating Taseer served to undermine confidence in the ability of the state to defend its leaders, let alone ordinary citizens. Second, the objective of spreading fear was, to some extent, achieved as leaders in government failed to even make an outright condemnation of his assassination, much less enforce the law against those who continued to instigate violence against the critics of the blasphemy law. There was a similar failure to stand up against the ideological onslaught of the extremists by some of the icons of the lawyers’ movement and erstwhile flag bearers of the ‘rule of law’. Third, the Fatwas that preceded and followed Taseer’s assassination were an attempt to capture the ideological space and create an extra-legal authority to identify and kill individuals on ideological grounds. The current campaign to declare Sherry Rehman a ‘non-Muslim’ and instigate violence against her is further evidence of this tendency. Fourth, the fact that the assassin was a member of the Elite Force and that his colleagues in the unit assigned to protect Salmaan Taseer, did nothing to stop him, shows that the state apparatus has been penetrated by extremists.

The deafening silence following the assassination was broken however, by small groups of intrepid citizens who held vigils and demonstrations in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad to protest against Taseer’s assassination and the underlying wave of intolerance, bigotry and violence.

At this historic turning point, can the state, political parties and civil society wrest the initiative from the extremists and begin building a democratic polity based on the values of love, enlightenment and justice?

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