The major league
It was quite a sight watching many otherwise reasonable looking and sounding gentlemen who had been at the forefront of condemning at the drop of hat suddenly turn around and applaud the animated former minister after his explosive press conference on August 28.Such somersaults are certainly not a rarity in this godforsaken republic. An edgy nation well known for always dreaming of a figurative messiah and a saviour riding in (in slow-motion) from a hazy horizon on a white horse/camel with a sword in one hand, a hangman’s noose in the other and the holy book spread out across his heart; or in the case of Zulfiqar Mirza, on his head!
Not that these dreams about benevolent strong men emerging to deliver justice and honour to the teeming millions have remained to be mere fantasies. Far from it.
From Ayub Khan to Z A. Bhutto to even the dreadful Ziaul Haq, all emerged as saviours.
After imposing the country’s first Martial Law, Ayub Khan was hailed by the majority of Pakistanis for rescuing the country from corrupt bureaucrats, squabbling politicians and ‘dangerous’ Bengali, Baloch, Sindhi and Pushtun nationalists.
The initial hailing of a relieved public only fattened Ayub’s messiah complex, so much so that by the late 1960s the messiah had truly lost touch with reality.
For example, in 1968 even when thousands of students and workers had begun a concentrated protest movement against the cronyism and corruption that had become the mainstay of the man’s government, Ayub decided to spend millions of Rupees to celebrate his regime’s ‘Decade of progress.’
Ayub’s fall mainly at the hands of those who’d hailed him as a saviour set a cyclic precedent that has continued to this day. Take the example of Z A. Bhutto for instance.
A truly popular leader, Bhutto was carried into power on the shoulders of millions of West Pakistanis, expecting him to perform a series of economic, political and social miracles.
Some six years later (in 1977) the same messiah was walking towards the gallows.
Did the country erupt with shame and anger at this atrocity engineered by a wily usurper, General Ziaul Haq? Nope. Why should it? After all here was a new messiah who, unlike Ayub and Bhutto, was waving the holy book in our faces calling it the country’s new constitution.
Those who were convinced that the secular despotism of Ayub and the left-liberal populism of Bhutto had failed to meet the hopes of Pakistan’s Muslim majority, were mighty impressed by Zia’s tough Islamist talk.
They were convinced that it was on his back they could piggyback their way towards making Pakistan an Islamic state.
Of course, apart from imposing certain ‘Islamic laws’ based on some puritanical strains and interpretations of the faith - in the process not only alienating the country’s minority religions, but many other Islamic sects as well - and actually institutionalizing corruption to keep his backers in the agencies, military, business community and feudal circles well fed, Zia soon fell from grace.
His unpopular dictatorship was only held afloat by the wayward ways of a divided opposition, relentless state repression and, of course, millions of Dollars and Riyals that kept pouring in from the coffers of the United States and Saudi Arabia to keep him at the forefront of a convoluted ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan against the already struggling Soviet forces.
In the end it was left to the state to finance and organize a momentous funeral for the once-upon-a-time messianic hope when he fell from the skies after an explosion in his plane saw it burst into flames over Bahawalpur in 1988.
Today the only thing one remembers of him are the seeds he sowed of whose poisonous trees and fruits we are still reaping and, of course, the many jokes that were cracked in his lifetime about his supposed piety.
But this did not stop another military man from getting entrapped by the messiah complex. And how could he not, especially in a country always on the lookout for miraculous saviours.
General Parvaz Musharraf’s popularity ratings in the first three years of his dictatorship (1999-2003) remained well over 60 percent. Surprisingly, this time around very few Pakistanis actually knew as to why they were hailing this messiah.
Here was a man who didn’t know his right eye (liberalism) from his left (propping-up Islamists). Believing he could carry on this cock-eyed charade, he ended up digging his own hole when the military’s own creations (the jihadis and the radicalization of society), sent him spinning to earth, committing one blunder after another.
In the end after facing an all-time low in his popularity ratings, this self-claimed eternal commando was forced to resign and go into exile, abused and cursed even by those who had so proudly voted for him in a so-called referendum in 2002. As this country continues to look for, prop-up and then discard messiahs, very few it seems realize that messiahs fail because they are only our own exaggerated and mythical projections of justice, good governance and respect.
Interestingly, whereas the major political parties seem to have sensed this and have started to avoid over-promising and getting trapped in the self-destructive messiah complex, Pakistanis have turned to certain minnows in this respect.
These are the mini-messiahs who arrive thinking they can become another Z A. Bhutto but usually end up in a limbo or worse, suffering from a rather sour case of delusion.