Arshad Sharif – a Symbol of the Long March

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BY: Lt Gen(retd) Tariq Khan

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

Arshad Sharif has departed; he would have preferred a meaningful death over a meaningless life. I saw him closely under fire, in the field, amongst my troops, in battle and in difficult circumstances. A friend, a comrade and a younger brother. Brave to a fault, with tons of moral courage, always had a smile on his face and adventure in his heart. Compassionate in his beliefs and committed in his values, he was upright and honest, whose word was as good as a certified promise. He died for his principles and to the very end, remained steadfast to the values he upheld. Downed by an unscrupulous, insignificant hired hand, who with criminal indifference and callous triviality, snuffed out the flame of hope, silencing the voice of so many, representing truth and reality.

The murder was at the behest of those patriots who would rather kill than be exposed. The silencing of Gulzar Ahmad, Muzammil Raja, Ghulam Shabbir, Maqsood Chaprasi, Dr Rizwan and Imran Raza in the recent past is a testimony to what we have sitting in this artificial government today and the ones who could have benefitted from this heinous act. But then we live in a country which is now a pretense of a democratic order, of political dispensation and administrative propriety; where everyone is a patriot and a good Muslim except us, the people of Pakistan.    

They have managed to reduce patriotism to someone who loves his country only because he was born in it, just as an extremist is one who believes in what he alone knows but knows nothing else. Pakistan has both in abundance – patriots and zealots. Ignorance nurtured in the lack of knowledge and total absence of awareness. The average Pakistani’s views of political activity are based upon ‘us’ and ‘them’, with only ‘us’ entitled to opinions, views and a voice – the ‘others’ to be relegated to silence and ignored as an insignificant nuisance.  It’s always black or white – a polarized society, divided by ideology, ethnicity and politics. Such a people are easily whipped into a foaming mob as their limited intelligence is exploited by unscrupulous leaders, seemingly settling real or perceived slights and scores but who, in fact, only wish to further their importance and structure their own space in their own little respective worlds. (Corruption, the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty. Edward Gibbon, 1737-1794. )

I have been often asked what and who is a good leader and a bad one. I have always maintained that a leader only rises up to the moral and intellectual level of his own followers; never more than that. As such there are no good or bad leaders, just societies that further their own values through a selected leadership who can serve the interest of that society. Thus, when I had said, in an interview, that in Pakistan, all leadership is corrupt, obliged or compromised, it meant that this was the kind of people we are and the type of leadership we want. Everyone was up in arms and a lot of people were offended by what was considered to be an insensitive judgment – I stand by it and am proved right on a daily basis as events unfold. Yet I think, with the passing of Arshad Sharif, the people have had enough and are looking for a change; anything but what we have. No amount of censorship, no punitive action, no silencing the people, no intimidating the media is going to work – it’s payback time.

Achakzai runs down a constable and is caught on camera, yet, acquitted by an honourable judge for lack of evidence while Shahrukh walks free having murdered his own friend – liberated by an equally honourable court. The world puts our judicial propriety 130 out of 139 countries but in Pakistan the popular sanctimonious rhetoric preaches to the people to respect the Courts. For what? When the current minister of Interior is involved in 14 deaths at Model Town, an incident that has never been concluded as many others have not, should the people of this hapless nation expect justice? Arshad Sharif is slain, promises are made, commitments given but as always, I can write this with total confidence, ‘Nothing will happen – no one will get caught’ – no one ever does in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This is the land where Muslims live in multitudes but where there is no Islam, where God is sold and religion politicized, where mosques are filled but no child is safe on the streets, and where one cannot differentiate between a crime and a sin. Hypocrisy reigns in this society where there are only slogans without substance to placate the people.

The TTP is on the rise again, people are up in arms but this was writing on the wall. The skewed manner in which the issue was handled was pointed out months ago, warnings were aired on the media but no one cared, no one was moved. Now no one is even willing to own the process that was set in motion but those shadowy figures responsible have conveniently sneaked off into some dark corner maintaining a criminal anonymity, as they always do. These are the smart-alecks, with illusions of self-grandeur, never to be left behind in spewing their nonsensical pearls of wisdom, and have caused much grief in this country. Small people, men of straw searching for importance, as we, the incredulous public look on in astonishment at one foolish event after another that they have engineered, playing with the future of this nation.  The TTP are a product of an environment where justice is only conspicuous by its absence. Parallel systems of governance came into place in search of that illusive justice; allowing space to be given to other elements, claiming righteousness on the basis of their immediate dispensation to the people. The country is now going through a spate of aberrations and contradictions in governance, administrative action as well as law and order. There is uneven regulation and implementation of law, everything is politicized and the total apparatus is biased and prejudiced. Legal recourse is totally missing and if we continue like this we may find that the TTP may even be welcomed if they can promise to right the wrong that we the people are subjected to from day to day. The masses are waiting for some sort of deliverance from this system which they have to suffer – any form of deliverance.

The Long march on the Friday to come, is not just a gathering of the people or collecting a mob. It is the cumulative sentiments of the people, their expression and their cry for a change. It’s a vindication against a tainted Election Commission, it’s a statement against a dysfunctional judicial system, it’s a declaration against a government manned by criminals, it’s a complaint against a prejudiced administration, it’s an accusation against a skewed law enforcement system and it’s an indictment against the shadowy people working from a distant background – influencing, coercing, bribing and directing everything upwards from the smallest act.  Arshad Sharif will be the symbolic icon/mascot of this Long March and shall be larger than life; testimony to what this country needs – justice, moral values, humanity, honesty and truth. As is the convention and the norm today, I too may be charged for incitement or rebellion or for creating disorder and public disturbance but with my affiliation and association with Arshad Sharif, I cannot be found wanting when his voice must be carried on and just like millions of other people, I too stand here for you Arshad; you shall not be forgotten or your killers forgiven so easily.

 I am sure this Long March will succeed but in the event it is lost through mismanagement or poor coordination, remember the likes of the TTP, or Manzoor Pashteen who are not far behind to deliver what the Long March could not or if it does not even happen for any reason. I must say this to the PTI leadership, that in the event your call for an early election is even agreed to, the Long March must go on; it’s now much more than about having early elections – it’s about closure; the removal of an artificial government that has captured Pakistan by bogus justification, a grand auction of individual moral values and loot sale of our national character. We do not want to be prisoners anymore of a deceitful gang of crooks, criminals comprising of little people with sellable souls. We want to be free. Arshad Sharif has provided us that opportunity to wrest back the power of the people.

If we do not learn how to govern and administer the country through proper upright legitimately elected people, we unanimously forfeit the right to govern and instead abdicate it to other elements – these are the unintended consequences of ‘no-change’ or a failed Long March. Its TTP or PTM by default.  It is now time for all to stand and be counted in this demand of our birthright to nationhood and citizenship: we were all born equal and no one is more equal than the others, while in the words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, ‘Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains’. Yet, at the conclusion of this Long March and with the country finally saved which it is likely to be, because of it, I insist that history must be accounted for. An in-depth white paper describing how we have got to where we are must be constructed. Not to appropriate blame but to discover cause. It’s from such truth and honesty alone that we can redeem ourselves as a nation and find true freedom. We may find it within ourselves to forgive but we will never forget and those who have done this to our country will be remembered for posterity – a lesson for future generations to recognize what treachery, betrayal and treason really look like. When we are free as a people, when the shackles of an illegal government are removed, a corrupt administration sent home and false leaders with their vested pearls of wisdom put to rest; we shall be able to breathe again, speak again, the media can be free, information accessed and we too may become a land of opportunities where everyone lives free and there are no children born of a lesser God.

‘A Body of Men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody’, Thomas Paine