April issue 2014
Constructing Coercive Consent
The recent demand of the extreme right to allow a free zone to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has added interesting colours to a bizarre sketch. The sketch was already constructed through the demand of facilitating the TTP to set up a legal office in Peshawar. The demand of office was previously made by none other than the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leadership, and repeated time and again by the cabinet members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. This sketch seems to clearly depict the contours of an emerging scenario in which hegemony is closely linked with militancy in some interesting ways.
Dr Shahid Siddiqui in his book, Language, Gender and Power, published by Oxford University Press recently, has quoted socio-linguists around the globe to illustrate the correlation of discourse or narrative construction with ‘influence,’ ‘authority,’ ‘hegemony’ and ‘consent’ all making constituent parts of power. The said book refers to Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks (1935) to reveal the concepts of ‘spontaneous consent’ and ‘coercive consent.’ Spontaneous consent is achieved by the powerful when ownership and distribution of resources are manipulated. This manipulation apparently legitimises the powerful to construct and permeate socio-cultural, socio-political and socio-economic narratives for their advantage. This creates marginalisation and leaves a whole population powerless.
In due course of time, all those subscribing to the narratives of the powerful attain a level of ‘privilege’ and ‘influence.’ This process normally leads the powerless to surrender their free will for the attainment of privilege. Hence, the powerless become the subjects and the ruled. At face value, this seems to be ‘spontaneous consent.’ The dangerous part of this formation is displayed when the marginalised lose the concept of collective self, language, history, culture, social evolution and political decision-making. The language, culture, social norms and political dispensation of the powerful become respectable and all this is seen as being natural and normal. The language, culture, social norms and polity of the marginalised, on the other hand, get stigmatised. We then find terms like ‘agent,’ ‘traitor,’ ‘corrupt’ and ‘immoral’ attached to all those who deviate from this ‘norm.’
To justify this manipulation, the powerful build political and military structures to kill and subjugate the voices of dissent through the use of violence. With the passage of time, a culture of violence is manufactured leading to a culture of silence. A symbiotic relationship between the culture of violence and the culture of silence leads to ‘coercive consent.’
The demand of ‘office’ and ‘free zone’ for the militant network by the extreme right in the shape of the PTI, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S) and Difa-e-Council Pakistan (DCP) to the militant network must be analysed in this framework. Just a cursory glance at the discourse, strategies and tactics of the militant network suggests a well-thought out plan to initially achieve ‘spontaneous consent’ and when this did not work, the alliance went for the ‘coercive consent.’ Through the construction of a discourse, devising objective strategies and through the meticulous use of planned tactics, the alliance of the extreme right and the militant network achieved a three-pronged success.
The alliance was able to, firstly, get state laws promulgated. This process marginalised religious minorities and women, and suppressed dissent by the critical voices. Secondly, it also succeeded in creating a closed society by enforcing its brand of ‘morality’ through the use of fear.
The fear was permeated through the use of extreme hair-raising infliction of brutalities. The forces and organisations affiliated with the alliance brutally beheaded elders, security personnel and dissidents. They exhumed and hung dead bodies. They killed and chopped the organs of those who they thought were indulging in ‘immoral’ activities and hung them on electric posts. They carried out suicide attacks on high-level targets. They bombed markets, funeral processions, mosques, jirgas, hujras and target-killed members of peace committees.
This fear went a long way towards divesting the common people of their communicative ability. The loss of communication led towards the loss of collective expression. This naturally resulted in the loss of collective response to the long-drawn process of social marginalisation. This also resulted in the internal and external isolation of the state and society of Pakistan.
The third concerted strategic and tactical success in the wake of the onslaught by the alliance of the militant network and the extreme right was achieved when indigenous cultures, heritage, history and arts were wiped out. The indigenous cultures symbolised diversity and pluralism, both dialectically opposed to the militant discourse. The assault on indigenous cultures can be observed in attacks on Buddha statues, shrines, tourist resorts, games, cinemas, musicians, artists, scholars and dancers. This phase perhaps consummated the process of coercive consent.
While the militant network was busy perpetuating fear, isolating state and society internally and externally and perfecting coercive consent by annihilating indigenous cultures, their allies in the extreme right were engaged in confusing the common public through the media, political campaigns and socio-cultural ceremonies. The obfuscation was brought about through the simultaneous techniques of diversion and normative construct.
The discourse of ‘Jihad’ and ‘Shariat’ or ‘Khilafat’ and ‘Shahadat’ was normatively reinforced by the extreme right, thus giving credence to the discourse of the militant network. The ones among the religious scholarship who refused to be part of this process — Mufti Naeemi, Maulana Hassan Jan and Dr Farooq Khan being prominent examples — were eliminated in the meanwhile.
The diversionary and obfuscating tactics of the media and the political campaign have taken interesting twists and turns over the past decade. The first attempt at diversion and obfuscation started with the construction of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. The next phase of obfuscation was initiated with the claim of a ‘foreign hand.’ It was claimed that no Muslim could inflict such destruction on other Muslims. It was then that the construct of the Taliban as a manifestation of ‘Pashtun nationalistic aspirations and frustration’ started doing the rounds. This construct was permeated despite the fact that most of the destruction was inflicted on the Pashtuns by the militant network.
The recent theory in this regard emerged in the narrative of ‘revenge.’ It was claimed that all the terrorist activities by the militant network are carried out to avenge drone strikes and demonstrate repugnance to the presence of NATO forces in Afghanistan. A self-contradictory discourse of the Pakhtun culture-specific revenge was constructed to support this incongruous narrative. Nobody bothered to question why the people of Federally Administered Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had not avenged the death and destruction of their near and dear ones at the hands of militant organisations.
The alliance of the militant network and the extreme right in Pakistan brought the already constructed discourses of ‘the enemies out there adamant on wiping out Pakistan from the map of the world’ and ‘Pakistan as a fortress of Islam’ to their best use. The use of jihad to allow private armies to carry out jihadist activities in the neighbourhoods provided a useful spring board to the alliance of the militant network and the extreme right. Leaving FATA outside the domain of the constitutional, legal and administrative framework provided the militant network and international jihadists with physical space for their military infrastructure.
It is now the mainstream Pakistani state and society which seems to be on the defensive with respect to the demand for a ‘free zone’ and ‘legal office’ for TTP. Keeping in view the fact that the alliance has achieved considerable influence, authority and hegemony in the culture, polity and society of Pakistan through their discourse, strategies and tactics, one can expect that the alliance is fast moving from social control to state control of Pakistan. Thus, quantitatively speaking, the alliance might not account for even five per cent of the whole population of Pakistan.
Hence, it is not a matter of ‘only dialogue’ with ‘only military operation’ against the militant network that will lead to the so-called peace. A full-fledged reconstruction of the whole discourse of statehood, state security and human security might put the state and society of Pakistan on track to a sustainable peace.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s April 2014 issue.