Politics of Dissent and Neutrality

Neither dissent, nor the anti-dissent has changed their historical yin-yang process. This, an ever green social-dynamic is as old as the history of human consciousness itself is. It is only the difference of time (age, era and epoch) and circumstances (socio-political ecology) that has changed the nature of dissent and manifestation of anti-dissent mostly in the form of state-offense / oppression against the dissenting citizens and the people.

What can be the most simple meaning of the dissent? “NO!” The history of “No” in human heritage is richer and magnificent than the history of “Ay.” In earlier eras, dissenters poked the eyes of rulers, superstitions, obsolete ideologies, the clergy and the traditional socio-political leadership.

Dissent, today, is a political action. Yes, the world has become over-politicized mostly because the state institutions around the globe have become fatter than their healthful normal size.

Civil Society and the State

Traditionally, appellate and higher level courts (a pillar of the state) used to play a role as the conflict resolution mechanism between state and society. The contemporary addition for “conflict resolution” in the state-society relations is the broader civil society that naturally tilts towards the people.

It is a dilemma of the state institutions today that in a bid to control society and politicsin the name of law enforcement and security, they have overtly attempted to eat-out the broader civil society that classically was meant to be a neutral cushion between state and society to strengthen the healthy course of justified social discourse and action. Unfortunately, the broader civil-society in most of the countries in the world has itself become a virtual tier of the state; thus its tilt towards people’s long term interests and support for the dissenters has diminished.

Basically, the political mainstreams of our times are not ready to initiate or support an oppositional discourse around state-society relations in their various forms.

Dissenters and governance

If the overall attitude and behavior of the various governments and state institutions around the world towards dissenters is reviewed, it would become crystal clear that basically the reduction in the space for civil liberties, freedom of expression and exercising dissent is a result of the gradual weakening of the democratic essence and perversion of democratic values due to the unhealthy and self-interested-based decisions by the various government of the world.

Most of the countries in the world, usually consider “geography” a taboo for national security. “‘Territorial integrity” is the cornerstone of their security doctrine. Others have the ideological taboos like Communism, Secularism, Democracy, and Islamism. They see the integrity of that country associated with that particular ideology. Pakistan, among these countries, is a highly peculiar example for the dissenter vis-à-vis state-society relations. Pakistan itself is neither a historical country, nor has it attempted to develop a Pakistani nation during its sixty-seven years of existence. In Pakistan, Sindhi and Baloch freedom mongers; advocates of secularism; believers in religious diversity and activists yearning for an end to the military’s dominance are considered the greatest challenge to the security and integrity of the country. There is a less space in Pakistan for the activists and thinkers that are practically associated with the social movements for these values and ideologies.

The attitude of Pakistani civil society towards dissenters is worse. A majority in Pakistani civil society ally with the state in a bid to crush dissenters because like the Pakistani state, civil society is also pre-dominantly Punjabi Muslim and deeply imbricated with the military.

Furthermore, the majority of civil society outfits in South Asia –especially those formally devoted to “peace” have a highly skewed and narrow notion of SouthAsian peace based on the state-to-state peace initiatives.

They do not practically believe in social connectively. Due to this, the people-to-people contact between the conflicted South Asian countries is essentially a contact between state-supported and -sponsored civil society activists. Dissenters like Sindhi, Baloch, and Pashtun nationalists from Pakistan have been never given due space in such processes. And, when it comes to those who simply believe in the freedom of Sindh and Balochistan, they are considered a challenge to the South Asian peace. As if Sindh and Balochistan are not geographically and socio-culturally parts of South Asia. Therefore, it can be said that the country-wide civil society and inter-country civil society interaction in the various regions of the world, particularly in South Asia, mostly are proxy state-to-state communications under the cover of civil society outfits. And, the people-to-people communication is basically a communication between the representatives of the powerful who are fundamentally anti-dissenters.

What Next?

The overall situation of the neutrality of civil society and freedom of dissenters in South Asia is the worst form of what exists in the other regions to a milder extent. It is essential that we reinitiate a discourse about the freedom and neutrality of broader civil society, and a strengthened rights regime for the dissenters. In a bid to attain this, we not only need to re-define democracy, but also re-focus state-society relations.