Between Black And White – Aasim Zafar Khan

“So Mr Khan, in your opinion, what is the difference between terrorism and extremism?” There were four of us in the room, three on one side, and me, all alone, in the hot seat. 

What should have been a nice, formal interview, had turned into an inquisition: I was being forced to think.

“Well Sir, in my opinion, extremism is a mind-set, and terrorism is but one of the many manifestations possible from that mindset”.

Silence. 

“What do you mean by mindset?”

“Well, that it’s a state of mind really, a way of life, so to speak. Anyone can be an extremist. And extremism can be positive or negative, depending on its manifestation. Take for instance, Arnold Schwarzenegger. You remember him, from the film Predator? He was the fittest man in the world at one time, and he became that by being a fitness extremist, his resolve was single-minded, the goal was clear, and there was nothing that could stop him, even though there was a valid counter-argument of the health hazards involved, but that didn’t work for Arnie. That for me, is one form of positive extremism.”

Silence. I wonder if they got the analogy.

One man speaks up: “I think he was best in The Terminator”.

Can’t argue with that.

“And what about negative extremism?”

“Well, take your everyday terrorist or any right-winger in the government. They’re as good an example of negative extremism as any.”

A few weeks later, I got the job. But that answer stayed with me. It was one of those rare moments of clarity, and today, I see extremists everywhere: in religion, politics, business, everywhere. 

Let’s focus on politics. Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri combined have done democracy a great favour and a grand disservice as well. Regardless of who wrote the script, they have utilised their right to protest beautifully, shaking the foundations of the government, and ensuring that the PML-N will never be the same again. 

But in being closed to compromise, which is a major identification mark of an extremist, they have further polarised an already fractured community: the voters.

Today, one is either pro-PTI or anti-PTI, there is no in-between. But one must clarify that just because one is anti-PTI does not in any way mean that they are pro-Nawaz, or pro-Bhutto or pro anyone. 

Can it not be possible that a person is anti-Imran and anti-Nawaz as well? How about being pro-system? That’s where I see myself. The system must survive and carry on, regardless of all its failures and ills. And if that means that Nawaz needs to stay, well then, Nawaz needs to stay, not because one wants him there, but because that’s how the system works. The same would have been the case had it been Imran in power, or Zardari.

The PTI had so much potential. It still does. But Khan is leading his followers into extremist territory. They are today unwilling and perhaps even unable to operate in the grey, able only to see black and white. That’s not politics, that’s extremism. 

Just as an experiment, try talking to a hardcore PTI follower. They have been blinded by Khan’s rhetoric, it’s all or nothing old chap, no in-between. Funny. Politics is the in-between.

Going by the model currently being employed in Islamabad, whenever the next government comes in, and if we don’t like where it’s taking us, we can just start protesting, bring the country to a standstill, cause the economy a huge loss, and the state some more embarrassment on the international scene, and bring about the government’s downfall.

And then the next one comes in, and gets the same treatment – and again and again and again.

What a way to live. Pretty soon, it’ll become a little industry. What do you do? I organise Dharnas. And laddie, what do you do? I participate in dharnas. 

It’s ironic that when we were under military rule, the rallying cry was ‘Democracy, now now now!’ It was the fight of one system over another. Now, in whatever form it is present, we have what we’d asked for. So let’s take it on the chin, and carry on. A few years are nothing more than a speck in the life of a nation. 

But no, we want resignations. We want tabdeeli. We want a tsunami. This is best answered by what the great Otto Von Bismarck remarked in a speech to the Prussian upper house sometime in the 1860s: ‘Politics is not a science, as the professors are apt to suppose. It is an art. Sometime later, he added, ‘It is the art of the possible’.

What Imran wants is wholesome. He wants to change the entire system. While this desire is not without merit, a change of the system is, for lack of a better analogy, a reboot with a new operating system. Is the new OS in place? 

What Khan wants is not possible. And even if it were possible, it is not advisable. It sets the wrong precedent. Not only will it cause a major dent in the growth of democracy in the country, it may just create a political vacuum which will invariably be filled by those who have governed Pakistan the longest. Probably already has, in a new soft form.

Cut a deal Khan Sahib. You’ve done more than anybody else ever has. There is honour in that. Go back to your barracks, and if need be, return to dharna-ing in a few months. To keep trying now is ludicrous.