Unfortunately, the significance of PTI’s anti-drone initiative was obfuscated by the mainstream media that seems to be swinging mindlessly like a pendulum between two self-serving poles of opinion. Where do our media pundits hope to take us by endlessly fuelling a futile debate between these two irreconcilable, and equally appalling, extreme positions, and forcing the polarizing framework defined by them on all and sundry? Can the PTI campaign against drones be understood in terms of this deceptive divide between the so-called liberals and so-called Islamists?

Going by the discussion dominating the print-space and airwaves, our opinion makers seem to have taken upon themselves the exclusive task of mediating between the two equally misleading narratives, echoing their concerns and publicizing the controversies they raise to distract from real issues. Even when the contradictions in their stances are challenged, the discussion stays within the circular bickering over their opposing perspectives. It doesn’t seem to matter that both of them have no solutions to offer and their prescriptions could only lead us to further disaster.

The self-appointed custodians of Islam and the so-called liberal intelligentsia might be each other’s sworn enemies but, actually, they have a lot in common. Both are selective in picking up pieces of reality to strengthen their narrative; one is blind to the atrocities committed by the terrorists while the other would like to ignore the barbaric imperial game being played by the US right under our nose. Both are immersed in cauldrons of foreign-funding and support that sustain their networks. Both parrot borrowed narratives that have little to do with the Pakistani socio-political milieu. Most importantly, both condone the imposition of their worldview through violence and glorify terrorists.

Is it just a coincidence that these so-called Islamists and so-called liberals are both out to demolish the last defense against the terrorists, Pakistan’s security establishment? The maulanas are targeting the armed forces for facilitating the US-led occupation of Afghanistan while the liberals target them for not facilitating the global bad mash whole-heartedly and clandestinely supporting the ‘good’ militants. In either case, more than their fragmented assertions and diagnosis of the problem, it is the solutions they offer that are worrying, to put it mildly.

Take the case of maulanas who have gone so far as to proclaim those killing Pakistani citizens as shaheed. The question here is: if the Pakistan government and its armed forces are following the wrong policy of cooperating with the US, what should be done about it? Shouldn’t the maulanas use their political clout and mobilize the public opinion to bring about a change in that policy? By glorifying the terrorists attacking the people, institutions and state of Pakistan, what they are doing instead is inviting anarchy; justifying the atrocities committed by the terrorists and inciting a war against the security personnel and Pakistani citizens by non-state armed groups.

The liberal apologists of the empire are no better. Again, rather than using their disproportional influence in the media and corridors of power to achieve their goal of ensuring complete servility of Pakistan’s armed forces to the imperial game plan, they would like drone-terrorism to do the job. If the defenders of Pakistan refuse to clean up the terrorist sanctuaries in our tribal areas, then the US is justified in using drones to do the job, they say. Too bad if school-going children, grandmothers, farmers and tribal leaders get killed in the process. Too bad if drones flying over vast areas of the country, day after day, terrorise entire villages.

The discussion between the two poles goes around in circles endlessly, swallowing other perspectives in its whirlpool and hindering the evolution of a national narrative that must be built around the rejection of terrorism, whether in the name of Islam or for the benefit of the US-led empire. Barring small minorities on either side mouthing borrowed narratives that justify terrorism in one form or the other, the people of Pakistan would like to be rid of both faces of the monster. The PTI’s anti-drone initiative comes across as an attempt to articulate this national perspective. It is ironical that the mainstream media which should contribute towards refining the national narrative seems only interested in drowning PTI’s efforts in that direction in its polarized whirlpool.

For a long time now, the PTI has been vocal against drones and US meddling in Pakistan on the one hand and against terrorist acts committed in the name of Islam on the other. Unlike Jamaat-e-Islami, the party has never glorified terrorists or endorsed their agenda of imposing a barbaric interpretation of Islam through violence. It has consistently talked about winning over people from tribal areas disgruntled by both drones and the excesses of the counter-terrorism strategy pursued by successive Pakistan governments in collaboration with the US, and isolating the hardcore terrorists, the mercenary proxies out to sow chaos in the country. Yet, the party has not been able to create a clear distinction between its stance and the position of the maulanas. This is partially due to the propensity of our media to stay confined within the Islamist-Liberal divide. But the party must share the blame for creating this impression as well.

To play a more meaningful role in evolving a national narrative, the PTI leadership needs to spell out its stance more categorically and clearly. Besides, it should demand a clear rejection of terrorists from its partners. When Imran Khan shares the stage with Liaquat Baloch and Sheikh Rashid, as he did in Peshawar, he sends very confusing signals indeed. Having a coalition with Jamaat-e-Islami in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa might be explained away as a compulsion of politics. But as the party embarks upon what could grow into a movement in coming days, the PTI must choose its partners very carefully. Rather than inviting more political parties to its anti-drone initiative, the party should get rid of all bandwagon riders and make it truly a solo-flight for PTI. After all, it is the only party that has shown commitment to translate the issue of drones into meaningful political action.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

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