The internal and regional events in the past few months have drawn mixed reactions amongst Pakistanis. The contrasting narratives floating the electronic and social media reflect the many wounds, scars and cancers that afflict Pakistan. The effect of the social media though informative is divisive. It keeps the people informed but narratives churned out by juvenile keyboard operators and vested interests frame conflicting perceptions. Once the domain of educated classes, the use of vernacular scripts and photoshop supported by the high tele density has invaded every house. Though most of us ignore the vernacular scripts, the message they carry is loud and clear. Hopelessness and lack of desire are writ large. A situation is being created by default where chaos could become a dangerous byproduct. This chaos is being multiplied by bad governance, absence of law enforcement, extremism, apologists and vitriolic cadres of liberals. Though these diverse groups seem ideologically opposed, they find common cause in bringing down the establishment that purportedly operates under the shadow of the defence forces. Alarmingly, these objectives find a common focus with the perspectives of regional and international actors that challenge the broadest spectrum of Pakistan’s security.

But despite this information highway, the common man, too occupied with the challenges of his daily existence has taken a back seat. His participation in the body politic is negligible. However, this does not mean he is not thinking. He is surprisingly well aware and conscious that the country is not heading in the right direction. He realises that corruption has permeated every sinew and become a way of life in Pakistan. To these excluded and disfranchised majority, Pakistan that exists is a fait accompali that only a bloodbath can change. They love their country and their land. It reminds me of a poem by Hank Williams:

“You’ll meet many just like me upon life’s busy street.

With shoulders stooped and heads bowed low and eyes that stare in defeat.

Or, souls that live within the past where sorrow plays all parts.

Where a living death is all that’s left for men with broken hearts”

Driven by poverty and despair, these broken hearts find spiritual solace in religiously inspired violence; others sympathise while most are too resigned. I dread the day when this drift could lead people to primordial violence as the only recourse. The ambers of extremism already glow in their environs; something successive governments have shown no desire to extinguish. Rather, selective groups are franchised to act as bouncers in a bar room that has nothing to offer.

The government exercises deliberate negligence. Governance at grass roots is nonexistent. Industrial, labour and agriculture policies that touch the lives of 70% Pakistanis do not exist. The highly politicised police and local establishments do what the government wants. Agriculture is not a priority. Elasticity in market demand of agriculture produce is manipulated to benefit the middlemen and politicised industrialists. Subsidised Indian agriculture produce is allowed to edge out local farmers. The daily wagers that comprise the largest majority of Pakistanis compete for limited employments on daily basis. The skilled manpower has lost jobs because of energy or cheap imports. Import liberalisation is being pursued at the cost of own livelihoods. The rapid rise of poverty is leading to migration towards major cities that already lack civic facilities. Ghettos and slums are growing rapidly with a direct impact on crime. Local self-governments are a slur on the constitution of Pakistan and orders of the Supreme Court. Nepotism and jobbery for few opportunities kills merit and egalitarianism. Gangs and mafia with state patronage are on the rampage. Street crimes, extortion and abductions are on the rise. Is this the lull before the storm when societies begin to implode from within?

A section of liberals feel that the situation is a direct result of prolonged periods of dictatorships that inhibited growth of democratic institutions. To them the evolution and survival of democracy far outweighs the specter of non-kinetic multi-dimensional threats. They view them as an effect and argue that with civilian ascendency, such threats will fade away. In their view, sacrificing capacity to save democracy is a lesser evil and Pakistan’s sturdiest establishment must be cut to size.

They reckon that military oversight has made Pakistan’s policies India centric. Many amongst them feel it opportune that Pakistan accepts its minion position to India. This liberal section supports the present government’s cozying to India, advocates free trade and movements across borders. They view commonality of culture far more important than the security paradigm. Though human right watch dogs by description, these groups ignore atrocities in Kashmir and are critical of Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan. Yet they never uttered a word on the broad daylight massacre in Model Town Lahore. Their narratives are slanted and biased. They ignore governance issues that plague Pakistan. Their eyes are shut to Panama Papers and exponential debt trap. They argue that military’s fight against extremism is its own creation for institutional interests. One critic went as far as accusing the armed forces of promoting child labour. Many in this fringe elitist group have links with external research organisations, where they often spew venom. Ironically, these neo-liberals and trans-nationalists were once avowed Marxists.

This visible slant of the neo-liberals finds commonality with many interest groups.

In quest of civil supremacy sans governance, the government has readily adopted this section of liberals and rewarded some with key positions including media regulation. The information minister openly admitted that the government was with men of reason and not the trigger happy, an obvious reference to the armed forces. The reasons for this marriage of convenience are many. These neo-liberals openly criticise Pakistan’s security policies and twist facts. This helps the government ward off pressures related to relations with India, National Action Plan, terrorism and interventions.

These individuals excite India and its media. Criticism of the military, Kashmir and Afghanistan suits Indian propaganda. In Chanakyian sense, it becomes easier to destroy Pakistan from within. Some media houses and journalists have also joined this band wagon.

The fact that these individuals acquiesce to Indian dominance suits the Long War policies of USA. It isolates Pakistan’s military that is seen as a major hindrance to Indian designs.

But the worst cut has come from the government’s lukewarm support to National Action Plan. Zarb-e-Azb in its totality has failed to meet the ends of policy not because the military lacked skills but because it never got the political support. The government slow peddling on rehabilitation of displaced people is raising ethnic temperatures. Majority of the high command of TTP was sheltered in Afghanistan before operations began. They are now assets of a hostile Afghanistan and will be used as counter weight to Pakistan supported Afghan Taliban. The fronts are finally reversing.

It goes to the credit of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to succeed in the spatial aspects of military operations. The military has overreached beyond its operational friction to eliminate sanctuaries of TTP in FATA. The question is what are the other options if the government is unwilling to execute large scale reforms and improve governance immediately?