It was sometime in 1996 that I was assigned to cover a Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) rally in Rawalpindi where the famous tribesman Mast Gul was to speak. The stage was set in front of the outer gate of Liaquat Bagh, close to Gordon College, and there were around 4,000 to 5,000 people - mostly JI activists - in attendance.
The atmosphere was charged as the enthusiastic JI activists appeared anxious to listen to the guerrilla leader's speech. He was being portrayed as a war hero by the local media and right-wing public intellectuals. In a standoff that lasted two months in 1995, Mast Gul kept the Indian army at bay at the Sufi Shrine of Chrar-e-Sharief in Kashmir, in the vicinity of Srinagar. Later he escaped from the scene to reach Pakistan, hoodwinking the Indian army.
He now stood in front of the crowd, inviting the people of Rawalpindi to join the armed freedom struggle in Indian held Kashmir. Mast Gul was clamouring for blood. “I want 5,000 martyrs from the city of Rawalpindi…in fact every city of Pakistan should contribute martyrs for the Kashmir cause,” I recall him saying in broken Urdu, thick with a Pashtun accent.
To hear these words was shocking to say the least. “5,000 martyrs from Pindi would mean 5,000 affected families,” one of the journalists there whispered in my ear. Rawalpindi used to be a small city in those days, and hypothetically speaking, such a large number of deaths would have shaken the city’s population psychologically. But Mast Gul continued his histrionic speech, telling his audience that they were living in desperate times which necessitated desperate measures. After listening to him, an ideologically motivated Islamist would be convinced that death is more important than a psychologically stable life in a stable social and political environment, “I need 5,000 martyrs from Rawalpindi…give me 5,000 martyrs…Kashmir needs you…” His words echoing over an emotionally charged crowd left a lasting imprint on my memory.
Since then, I have attempted many times to answer the disturbing question: What would have happened if Mast Gul’s wish had come true, how would the death of 5,000 young people impact the psychological and social makeup of my city?
Mast Gul vanished into thin air, as far as public life in our society is concerned. But his desperate call to die for a political cause or ideology has endured in our society. In the last 20 years, I have come across many instances of people – and high-profile people at that – preaching the same desperation to die for a political cause.
Occasionally, we see high-profile people who themselves lead very cozy lives, putting on the same act as Mast Gul; the idea of death with the same level of desperation is inbuilt into their public assertions. Dr A Q Khan, for instance used to say – whenever there arose military tensions with India – that Pakistan has the capacity to destroy seven Indian cities in the wink of an eye. I consider such statements in line with the Mast Gul’s clarion call. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that Indians are equally capable of destroying an even larger number of Pakistani cities.
Such desperate statements are justified strategically. They say India has a far superior conventional military capability and the gap is ever widening. To keep India’s aggressive military designs in check, Pakistan has to appear desperate, almost primed to use its nuclear capability against any advance of the Indian army. This image of desperation is the crux of Pakistan’s nuclear strategy if the past public assertions of Dr A Q Khan and many others like him are anything to go by. In other words, it would seem that Pakistan constantly needs a Mast Gul to keep selling it as a country desperate enough to react instantly in the face of threat.
Pakistan officials seldom discuss their nuclear doctrine in public. On the basis of some western writings it becomes clear that the official nuclear doctrine – as far as it is revealed to these western experts – is not as desperate as the Mast Guls of our society would have us believe. But there has never been a time in our public life after we became a declared nuclear state when we were without a public figure that followed Mast Gul’s show in Rawalpindi that day. And all this makes official strategy suspect.
Who is currently putting on the Mast Gul act in Pakistani society? Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in his jingoistic interviews – given from the cosy drawing room of his house in Karachi – with Indian news channels, regularly talks about war with India. “We are not wearing bangles,” he says. “…If they cast a dirty eye on Pakistan, we will scorch their very eyes ... our capability to destroy is real and we mean business”.
How important social and psychological stability is for a stable society goes without saying. We need psychologically stable human beings, who are more interested in life than death, to take our society towards a bright economic future. Unstable humans ever immersed in the ideas of death, who are continuously hammered with the ideas to be desperate about death, will hardly prove to be stock for an economically growing society. Who knows how much these clamours for death and blood have contributed in the emergence of an ideology which produces suicide bombers — a dreadful phenomenon that is playing havoc with the stability of our society.