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The plot: lost apparently


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THE verdict handed down last week by the Supreme Court, retrospectively unseating prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from his position as head of government, will be debated at length over the coming weeks and months.

As has been pointed out by many a commentator, the full effect and the implications of this development are likely to play themselves out over several years, if not decades. The word of the judiciary is binding — but was this, for Pakistan, the best of the many outcomes possible? The cliché applies: only time will tell.

Being neither a political commentator nor a student of constitutional law, I will leave that discussion to be picked over by minds better qualified. But this ruling and its immediate aftermath have brought to the fore, once again, an intensifying societal trend that, as a student of anthropology, I find very interesting and at the same time deeply worrying.

To be sure, in some quarters we saw a certain degree of grace under pressure, a restrained response that suited the gravity of the situation. Beyond these limited few, though, what we saw as a whole in society’s reaction was a good measure of an emotion that, for want of a more precise word, exemplified vindictiveness, pleasure at the sight of a symbol of power being pulled down.

Beyond the legal aspect of the matter (whether or not justice had been served) what many saw as having been served was comeuppance for — here I’m conjecturing — having been favoured by fortune far more than the bulk of the citizenry is.

I once read somewhere that of the many varieties of fish in the sea that are caught for consumption, crabs are unique in that if there are a number of them in a bucket, you don’t have to cover it up to keep them in. Like all creatures a crab will try to escape confinement — and has a good chance of managing it if it’s on its own. More than one, though, and the others will pull the would-be escapee down.

Does that analogy hold in terms of Pakistan? Do we, as a citizenry, assuage the pain of our wretchedness by pulling back into the bucket anyone that looks like having a chance to escape?

One cannot, of course, argue that Mr Gilani was, by being in a position of high political office, trying to ‘escape’ the swamp in the sense elaborated above. But it has become undeniable that as a people we take more than just a little pleasure in the downfall of others, and concerns of being unkind or indelicate or failing to see the bigger picture simply do not occur to us.

This underlying emotion was demonstrated in the headlines in various newspapers the next day, displaying — though in a delicately restrained fashion — a sort of gleeful excitement (rather than sobering reflection) at the development.

It was demonstrated by a number of published photographs that showed people — in particular workers of a young political party — exchanging sweetmeats and hugs.

It was demonstrated by the manner in which television went after whoever was willing to appear on air and wring from them some sort of damaging admission, an incendiary comment, a potentially divisive statement.

This is far from the first time that we have seen this sort of reaction; the examples are too many to recount, concerning falls both big and small — the execution of an elected prime minister being a case that stands out for its sheer enormity.

If one lets the eye of the imagination zoom out and go beyond the specifics, pull further and further away till the faces and names and forms are blurred, then the situation appears to resemble nothing so much as a pack of hounds whining excitedly, pawing eagerly at their restraints, waiting for a chance.

Do we need reminding that ‘historic’, ‘landmark’ or ‘momentous’ events or developments are not necessarily positive? ‘Game-changers’ are not necessarily deserving of a joyous reception.

The events set in motion by the SC verdict may be all these, but they constitute a sad day for a country which, it seems, resolutely refuses to let any person or institution start digging a tunnel to some degree of freedom.

Instead of prancing in the streets, as television footage showed people in some areas doing, we should have been reflecting upon the sorry pass at which this country finds itself, and pondering how we got here, how each of us contributed in our own way, and what needs to be done to get ourselves out of it.

Instead, we pointed at the figures involved and, like hyenas, laughed. Most recently, we did the same when the Malik Riaz-Arsalan Iftikhar affair raised its head or when ‘memogate’ caused the ‘defrocking’ of an ambassador; there is little doubt that as a society we’ll continue to do this in the future.

The point is not whether any or all involved are heroes or villains — the point is that what all these developments say about the state of Pakistan and its society, and the direction in which they send us, ought to have us hanging our heads in sorrow. Relevant here would be that quote used often by local commentators with reference to Pakistan. You know the one: Khalil Gibran on nations that greet leaders with trumpets and boot them out with hoots — a poem, in fact, that was referred to in the six-page additional note by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa alongside the detailed decision regarding the prime minister’s contempt case in May.

Why do we do this? There can be many potential avenues of explanation and recrimination. But this much is clear: we — Pakistan — do seem to have lost the plot. Do we now simply await the death of Piggy (Lord of the Flies)? That would be anyone’s guess.

The writer is a member of staff.

Comments (13) Closed

peter jakson Jun 25, 2012 08:04am
Evolution is the process best described for the present day state of affairs in Pakistan, however, it needs to be seen, right. You need to deliberate on this process and come clean or wait for a long haul and wither in waiting. The choice seems hard to make, but i believe its better to act rather than repent for indecision. What i am suggesting here is not a an Arab spring kind of thing, but certainly, you need to stand up to be heard, peacefully and democratically.
Sure Kant Jun 25, 2012 06:49am
We might claim that Pakistan is not a failed/rogue country. However, as reflected in this article, the soul is lost. Completely.
Baghi Jun 25, 2012 11:47am
I also share your worry. Some times quick and ambitious moves prove fatal in the long run. SC took a very abrupt move. Reducing 7 member bench to 3 and then urgent decision and its implementation. Out of 300 attainment of 211 votes for the proposed controversal candidate of same party should be taken as a jolt by SC. Hope it will refrain repating same action in future.
Mlang Jun 25, 2012 03:09pm
Even in terms of normal men.. Gillani was the one reinsating them and they disqulified him.. Now if they did this to gillani wat would they do to others.. And what about champions of restoring judiciary like aitizaz.. Azad kurd.. Asma and others who are nomore on judiciary side.. What u have done mr. iftikhar as our cj is not even expected from a normal man of honour.. How could u forget that it is the same pm who reinstated u.. And look at ur son arslan what he is doing under ur nose if not under ur instructions..
bkt Jun 25, 2012 04:37pm
You keep going on and on about an "elected prime minister" being hanged by conveniently forgetting that Bhutto was no longer elected. He had stood in the elections and he had cheated, bringing any results of his election into doubt. Moreover he had lost the 1970 elections which had brought him to power. He should have had an election which was fair and free, instead of one which was rigged. His legitimacy as an elected Prime minister was no higher than Pervez Musharraf's. Small point, but as valid as your silly lament.
@SecularPakista1 Jun 25, 2012 03:02pm
The reaction to PM's ousting needs to be in context of our history. The optics of this was more than legal or political. This was more a symbol of the feudal class being challanged for their behavior. Pakistan has applied its laws only on the weak and the poor. The standard is: If you are rich, you can get away with anything including murder. This is a struggle of the feudal against the people that is now playing out in the media, the courts, politics and the street. The optic was a feudal taking a fall. Until we apply the laws equally such dispalys of glee from the common man will contiue to embrace the electronic and print media.
raika45 Jun 25, 2012 04:24am
For once a well written article from a layman's point of view.Simple and to the point regarding the situation your nation is in.With the world in economic and financial turmoil,this is no time for your country to be embroiled in a political/legal tussle of supremacy.You have bigger problems like your economy which is in dire straits.You should get your prioritys right.
guest Jun 25, 2012 04:31am
..............I will leave that discussion to be picked over by minds better qualified............. Thank you. Much appreciated.
Margret Jun 25, 2012 04:33am
It would be interesting for a country's prime minister to write to a foreign government, "please come and punish our president". Is this what the cj wants???
@MeTousif Jun 25, 2012 07:40am
CJ please read
Jpy Jun 25, 2012 08:37am
This show is nothing but political point scoring for the next election. But the tragedy is the Supreme Court by its over ambition become party to this entire conspiracy againt an elected govt
Rahmat Ali Jun 25, 2012 08:45am
I had this idea long time ago but the tragedy is that the people who do not like a party or a person they just just do not want listen any goodthing about that person or party but if they heard somthing bad against that party or person is most wellcome without thinking about patriotism and national interest.
Mikal Jun 25, 2012 08:56am
Although the evidence presented is interesting, I do not agree with the conclusion of this article, it is to narrow in its view of the current situation.