DAWN - Features; November 20, 2002

Published November 20, 2002

The shadow of Speaker’s election

By Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD: The game was done and won by President Pervez Musharraf’s loyalists, as the Pakistan Muslim League-Q snatched the newly-elected National Assembly’s speakership from its disunited opponents on Tuesday and appeared set to grab the prime ministership as well.

But their victory was marred by fresh charges of vote-rigging that has clouded the whole electoral process engineered by the military government to partially restore civilian rule.

It seemed what happened in Tuesday’s vote will continue to haunt former parliamentary affairs minister, Chaudhry Amir Hussain, during his speakership of what could be the most stormy House in the country’s history.

One blank chit, then another, and another were found in the ballot box as possible substitutes for ballot papers as counting of votes for the speaker’s election progressed under the blaze of television cameras, raising eyebrows even in the visitors’ galleries and cries of fraud and rigging from a packed House.

As if this was not enough to show something wrong had happened, three ballot papers — apparently marked in favour of the PML-Q candidate — were taken out from the ballot box folded together, giving rise to the charge they were hurriedly inserted into the box after being marked by some election manipulator.

This obvious vote-tampering of the kind unseen in any previous election in the National Assembly not only provoked protest walkouts by the People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPP) and the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) but also demands for a fresh election and setting up of an inquiry committee to find out who organized the irregularity.

The session’s presiding officer, former speaker, Illahi Bakhsh Soomro, dismissed both the demands but his ruling that “I think it is a fair election that we have conducted” seemed to impress only the PML-Q, whose candidate secured 167 votes against 80 of MMA nominee Liaquat Baloch and 71 of PPP’s Aitzaz Ahsan.

The PPP, which had emerged as the second largest party in the Oct 10 elections with 81 seats in the 342-seat National Assembly against PML-Q’s 118, was damaged by the defection of about 10 members of the so-called forward bloc and the 60-seat MMA was propped by likely support from some pro-alliance members from the Federally Administered Tribal areas and the 19-seat PML-N.

But the vote-result, in which the two anti-government parties together were only 16 votes behind the winners, showed the prime ministerial race will be a close affair though the PML-Q was expected to win it as well as the juggernaut set in motion to ensure this to happen did not seem to have been halted.

Political sources said the powers that be would be in a much better position to ensure victory for PML-Q candidate, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, in the prime ministerial election on Thursday, which will be decided by show of hands or a division rather than secret ballot for the speaker’s election.

Despite failing to make a comfortable coalition with the MMA, the PML-Q had clinched the figures’ game only last night after the 17-seat Muttahida Qaumi Movement threw its lot with it in an apparent trade-off for the government’s surprise crackdown against the Karachi-based party’s rival, Mohajir Qaumi Movement.

The failure of the PPP and MMA to put up joint candidates for speaker and deputy speaker proved their ideological differences were too strong to give way to their common goals of the supremacy of parliament versus fears of the military’s continued dominance over Pakistan’s politics.

But Tuesday’s brief outbursts during the election proceedings — one MMA member calling Musharraf’s presidency illegitimate and an MMA-inspired prayer by the soul of Aimal Kasi executed in the United States for killing CIA employees — were an enough indication that Chaudhry Amir Hussain will have to manage a difficult house.

Hundred years of Iqbal studies

It’s a pity and what a waste of time and cerebral space to know so much about small people and so little about great men! All that most of us know about Iqbal is that he is our national poet and that he was the one who conceived the idea of a separate homeland for the Muslims of India. These two items of information are considered to sum up the whole of Iqbal.

Among those few who know more are those who know a couple of his poems and some more among the hoi polloi who know he was born in Sialkot and used to talk about something called Khudi which he wanted us to raise and elevate to a level that would put the Almighty in the mood to refashion the world according to our liking. But the percentage of people having any understanding of the man and his message, what he was, what he thought, what he meant by and what he said cannot be any figure on the left side of the decimal. Yet it is plausible there may be quite a few among us, the ignoramuses, who try to know him better by reading stray articles in the newspapers and periodicals. But while this may suffice to know about the present crop of our leaders, film actresses, hair stylists, pop singers and con artists whose life and works can be summed up in two paragraphs, it would be an inadequate way to properly learn about men whose ideas have shaped our destinies.

Fortunately in this Year of Iqbal the Academy of Letters has come out with a compendium that in a single volume spans hundred years of Iqbal studies, the entire 20th century that is, including intimate memories of his contemporaries, their assessment of his earlier work, his rise as a poet and thinker and growing influence on his time, his role in Muslim politics, the development of his thought on Islam, his revolutionary message, the last years of his life when he lay in bed and the many aspects that his poetry offers for examination. Something you can study at leisure. One or two pieces a day and to be sure by the time you finish this exhaustive tome, you will have acquired enough familiarity with Iqbal to be able to understand some of the things scholars talk about at seminars.

The compendium has seven parts but the most engaging of these for the lay inquirer is, of course, the first section which opens a window on his extraordinary personality. Ghulam Bheek Nairang, his college mate, always finds him shirtless, scantily wrapped in tehband and vest, relaxing in his cot, smoking his hookah. Cambridge and Heidelberg could bring no change in him.

Sheikh Abdul Qadir in his essay of 1902 describes how Iqbal, then twentyish, beardless, moustachioed and dressed in moderately fashionable clothes virtually grabbed the rostrum at a mushaera to announce his arrival as a poet. The surprised audience demanded that he introduce himself. “Alright”, he said, “then allow me to submit who I am. This servant of yours is named Iqbal which is also his pen name. I come from Sialkot and am a student here of BA class in the Government College. I am proud to be a disciple of Hazrat-i-Dagh, but have no amity or enmity with anyone in this respectable audience. I have written a few couplets which I seek your indulgence to recite please.”

Ghulam Rasool Mehr in his account of his association with Iqbal narrates how the poet took Zafar Ali Khan to task for publishing some lengthy poems of a poet from Kanpur: “Some time I feel like taking a third class ticket to Kanpur and stab him in his tummy. But then I think what a waste of money that would be.!”

Prof Hameed Ahmad Khan sketches him as a tallish, plumpish man with deep intelligent eyes overhung by bushy eyebrows set in a fleshy face that was very fair with a rosy tint in the cheeks, a broad forehead bordered by thick black hair combed straight back without parting. He shaved his beard but sported a variety of moustaches, rather sparse and quiet, but zestful, not grandiose like Kaiser William’s nor humble like Chamberlain’s. His whole demeanour was characterised by a deep thoughtfulness that seemed to detract him from personal relationship. Even with his life long devotees he seemed to have no intimacy. Ideas alone animated his discourse. His manner reminded one of a kindly old eastern teacher exploring his world of ideas in the company of his pupils.

This absence of personal closeness, to which Prof Hameed Ahmad Khan has pointed, is also corroborated by his son, Dr Javed Iqbal. He remembers there was no demonstrative expression of affection in his manner though there was no lack of love. He seldom kissed or hugged him but when he did, it felt as if it was more out of form than exuberant parental affection.

He slept with his head resting on his arm, his leg shaking constantly and he snored fiercely. He seldom missed his morning prayers which he performed clad in his usual vest, tehband and a towel to cover his head. He was not keen on fasting. But when he did fast, he kept asking for the Iftar time. He loved to listen to music, learned to play the sitar, hated to wash and bathe; wouldn’t change clothes for days and sighed sadly when he had to go out. He disliked activity and preferred to relax in his cot. If he made Rs500 from a case, he took no other for the rest of the month.

Syed Nazir Niazi’s account of his last illness is very touching. The love, affection, care and devotion that his friends showered on him during this period is a measure of their own greatness. Only people in authority can claim such attention these days. He disliked allopathic medicines for their bad taste and the system because it didn’t take the individual into account and was clueless about the nature of life. Hakim Qarshi’s majoons and khamiras tasted so well but the dose was too small. Homeopathy could have appealed to him as it treated the man, not the disease. But it was not introduced to him. Minutes before he breathed his last he was given a glass of fruit salt. “How will I drink this huge tumbler”, he complained.

A miracle a day keeps you happy!

ONE more desperate and a last minute miracle was performed by the military government on Tuesday to prevent the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) or the People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPP) from capturing the speaker’s chair. Amid the allegations of rigging, the House elected Chaudhry Amir Hussain of the PML-Q as its speaker. But then it was all for the good. Just imagine what would have happened if either Liaquat Baloch or Aitzaz Ahsan had won the contest. Both had taken oath under what they claim to be 1973 Constitution, uncontaminated by the Legal Framework Order (LFO). With either of them in the chair, it would have become well-nigh impossible for Musharraf to force the LFO down the throat of parliament, notwithstanding all the numbers he had managed to allot to the King’s party. Next, it would have become almost impossible at least in the National Assembly to establish the constitutionality and legality of the oath of the president. This was a recipe for certain dissolution of the newly-elected assembly.

Another last minute miracle came in the shape of an eleventh-hour move by the military regime against the so-called no-go areas in Karachi as a trade-off for the 17-vote support of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement for the candidate of the King’s party for the office of speaker. The same regime, which had insisted all these three years that there were no no-go areas in Karachi, not only discovered them on Nov 18, but actually raided the offices of the Muttahida’s rivals, the Mohajir Qaumi Movement, and started getting vacated the houses of some 1,500 families who were allegedly ejected by the Afaq group. Afaq himself had reportedly disappeared. But here one must give full credit to the Muttahida for playing their cards tactfully. If it had declared its support to the King’s party very early in the game, perhaps the no-go areas would have remained in place even today. On the other hand, if it had continued to stick to its confrontational position even after the elections, perhaps, the regime would have thought of some other miracle and obtained the desired results in any case. The regime on its part, however, played its hands rather clumsily making the whole thing appear like a blatant horse-trading affair which it was in any case. The regime waited until the last minute and only when the King’s party’s talks with the MMA broke down completely that the regime sent the law enforcing agencies to the no-go areas. And it was only after having seen with their own eyes the uprooting of their rivals from their stronghold that the Muttahida held a press conference (around 7pm on Nov 18) to announce their support to the candidate of the King’s party.

The House saw its first walkout even before the new speaker could take his chair. It is perhaps for the first time in the Pakistan’s parliamentary history that rigging was alleged in the election of the speaker. A number of blank slips of paper were found in the ballot boxes and on the other hand a number of ballot papers bunched together came out of the boxes. This prompted Maulana Fazlur Rehman to stage a walkout along with members from a number of other parties. When Abdul Sattar Lalika and Khurshid Kasuri of the PML-Q tried to go after them to bring them back, their party colleague Sheikh Rashid stopped them saying: “We have not called the House and, therefore, it is not necessary for us to bring the protest to an end.”

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the parliamentary leader of the PML-Q, who had in the meanwhile joined the group, looked on almost like a novice in the company of the MNA from Rawalpindi who these days is found mostly in three-piece dark suits looking important and also displaying a certain sheen on his face.

Hafiz Hussain Ahmad of the MMA from Balochistan deserves full marks for baiting the presiding officer, Illahi Bakhsh Soomro, into letting him lead the House in offering fateha for Aimal Kasi, the man who was executed by the US for killing the two CIA officials in America. Taking advantage of his position, the inimitable Hafiz turned even this sombre event into a hilarious affair when after having prayed for the soul of Kasi and with his hands still raised in a prayer posture the maulana cursed all those who had a hand in Kasi’s capture, his extradition and death.

Mr Amir Hussain who has been elected speaker with 167 votes, including five doubtful ones, is likely to be hard pressed to defend the ruling on oath given by Mr Soomro on Saturday last, perhaps in a fit of exultation, corresponding to feel good sentiments caused by the resumption of the democratic process after three years. It seems that Mr Soomro was feeling the strain already since on Tuesday morning he tried to recant his previous position. He referred to his statement of Saturday and said that it reflected the position given in Article 65 of the Constitution. Shah Mahmood Qureshi of the PPP wanted a clarification of this point on a point of order as soon as the House commenced its business for Tuesday. But as the presiding officer was getting himself ensnared in his own verbiage on this issue, Maulana Shah Aziz of the MMA sent a roar of laughter through the hall as well as the galleries when he said that while the House had brought itself into being by taking oath of office legitimately, the president brought himself into being illegitimately because, according to the maulana, Musharraf did not follow the laid down procedure in the Constitution for the election of the president. Dr Sher Afghan drew the attention of the presiding officer to a report published in an English newspaper saying that some members were asked by the PML-Q caucus to insert blank slips of paper into the ballot boxes and bring their ballot papers to the their leaders.

According to the newspaper story, these ballot papers were given to the persons of confidence to cast them along with their own votes. This let loose a sort of pandemonium in the House which drowned the objection raised by PPP’s Zafar Ali Shah to the presence of a stranger in the House. It was only when Mr Soomro restored the calm that it was realised that Arbab Ghulam Rahim, a SDA member from Sindh, who had won both a national and provincial assembly seat, was sitting in the House without having taken the oath. He was asked to leave the hall, which he did rather reluctantly.

On Tuesday, it was the turn of Makhdoom Alam Anwer, a former PPP man but now a PML-Q MNA from the southern Punjab, to visit the NA library. He was found reading an article ‘The Pressures on Pakistan’ by Anatol Lieven in a US magazine, Foreign Affairs. Makhdoom should know what pressures mean and how long one can resist them.

Jon Elia — the intimate stranger

AS all would die, so did Jon Elia. During the last 40 years Death stared in his face many a time but he kept on eluding it. A chronic TB patient in the mid-50s, he escaped from the clutches of Death due to sheer will power. May be his fervent faith in the immortality of his poetry overcame the frequent summons of Death. Finally he bowed out on 7th November, leaving behind thousands of his fans to mourn his loss.

I saw, over five decades of close association with him, numerous batches of young poets flocking in to him for inspiration and guidance but it is an irony of fact that not many of them proved constancy to be their main virtue. One saw them vanishing in thin air thinking that they had reaped the harvest and could survive on their own. I do not want to name numerous poets and writers who benefited from Jon Elia’s Greek Academy like discourses on philosophy and poetry. Some of his pupils have acknowledged their indebtedness to him, some died before committing themselves to Jon’s contribution to their upbringing as poets and writers and some still cherish the day when Jon Elia, along with his two illustrious brothers Raees Amrohvi and Syed Muhammad Taqi, contributed a great deal to the cause of a serious intellectual culture in this country, the way Voltaire’s old man did in the Candide — not carrying about the harvest. The sowing of seeds was more important than the thought of reaping the resultant harvest.

The way Karachiites - in fact Pakistani writers - have received the news of Jon Elia’s death - is quite reassuring to all those who thought that poetry and literature had ceased to enjoy any priority in our scheme of things. I have seen some of those writers who never came out of their houses for years thronging the condolence meetings held to pay homage to Jon Elia. To tell you the truth some of them appeared to have come from their graves!

It appeared that a lifetime of active participation in literary and cultural life of the City had made Jon Elia an icon - a symbol of our literary legacy - and the City intellectuals rose like one monolithic body - to mourn Jon Elia’s death as a loss of some very precious possession which could have been taken for granted while Jon was alive. However it become when it became a certainty that Jon Elia was no more to keep us unaware of his worth as a gift of Providence.

His first collection of poetry, brought as part of the Duabi Jashn 1990 was not a representative selection of Jon Elia’s poetry. It was not the selection which his Mahram - a phrase formed with the initial letters of the group of friends comprising Mumtaz Saeed, Hasan Abid, Rashid Saeed and I - had compiled keeping in viewing the gradual development of Jon Elia’s poetry but a collection of some Mushaira stuff interspersed with the real 22-carat Jon Elia poetry - sparkling, penetrating and highly innovative. Any how his next collection Yaani, soon to be published, is going to be quite representative of Jon Elia’s poetry.

I have written a number of articles on Jon Elia’s poetry in English and Urdu - in fact a monograph of my writings on Jon Elia could be brought out and, perhaps, it will appear in due course of time but Jon Elia deserved a lot more.

I believe that there are many writers among the mourners who could share their impressions about him. Jon Elia was not only a brilliant poet. He invented scores of new metrical schemes in his poetry - more than many classical poets of Urdu. He also gave birth to hundreds of unusual phrases - similes and metaphors - which no other poet of his age has done so far. Besides Jon Elia has use well-rhymed Nazms and free-verse poems with an unusual command over the form and content. There is no doubt that he has no peer in the area of innovative form of creativity. As a Mushaira poet he dominated the Mushairas and quite a few popular poets feel compelled to refrain from participating in Mushairas fearing that they would be eclipsed by Jon Elia. I have seen the audiences he bewitched as a magician overseas and the least that could be said bordered on the superlative: he was amply dazzling. He had the unusual gift of turning a Mushaira into a great event.

Jon Elia was a scholar of great merit. He translated numerous classics of Arabic and Persian e.g. Masih-i-Baghdad Hallaj, Jometria, Tawasin, Isaghoji, Rahaish-o-Kushaish, Farnod, Tajrid, Masail-i-Tajrid, Rasail Akhwan-us-Safa - perhaps the kind of work which no single person could ever think of attempting - and Akhbar-ul-Hallaj etc. He has also authored four works Ismailiat, Sham-o-Iraq Mein, Ismailiat, Jazair Arab Mein, Ismailiat, Yemen Mein and Hasan Bin Sabbah.

Since the above works were translated or authored for Ismailiat Association and Islamic Cultural Centre, Karachi, it is expected that these learned bodies will make arrangements to publish these works. I know that the financial resources of the above named organizations were quite adequate and they could really ensure that these works of one of the most important writers of his age would enrich Islamic studies as well as Urdu. Tajrid is one of the most difficult works and so is the Rasail-i-Akhwan-us-Safa. Only one or two Rasails of the Akhwan-us-Safa (the famous work of the Brethren of Purity of the Abbasid period) could only strengthen the modern generation’s perspective of a grand intellectual legacy. I believe that Jon Elia could have a place for him in the annals of our intellectual history if his translations, compilations and original works in prose were published. They could prove to be a landmark.

Jon Elia, it has not been often conceded, is an important stylist of Urdu prose as well. He had a peculiar stamp of originality deriving its strength from the modern Arabic stalwarts of prose and he excelled in the prose - style characteristic of the revealed or inspired Semitic classics. Perhaps he was the Khalil Jibran of Urdu. In fact his Mushaira image never allowed him to turn to these areas of accomplishments. He thought that his labour of love in prose will be looked after by the organizations he worked for. But this has not come to pass.

I believe it is about time his editorials in Monthly Insha, Alami Digest and other periodicals are compiled so that the pieces of vibrant, yet reflective, prose are available for those who did not have the opportunity of going through his ‘stray reflections.’ I hope that these writings will open the door of perceptions about a writer who has been intellectually active for over five decades.

Jon Elia is dead but he will live on because his poetry touches the chords of our intimate but unusual feelings so often that he emerges as the most intimate stranger.

Shoaib must consider himself lucky MANSEHRA:

NOTHING has suggested so far that there is any basis to the security concerns that have been raised about Harare and Bulawayo as venues for World Cup matches. It confirms what many of us knew in the first instance that these security concerns masked political objectives which were to discredit Robert Mugabe.

The two matches that Pakistan has played in Zimbabwe have, if anything, been too peaceful, the applause been polite and the school-boys at the grounds have been a joy to watch, happy children with their laughter and broad smiles having the time of their lives, without the benefit of grotesque masks and war-paint on their faces.

The ICC must take the lead in keeping politics out of cricket and not, willy nilly, seen to be a party, reinforcing the perception that it is still a white man’s club. If any team chooses not play in any of the venues of the World Cup, a case can be made for booting it out of the tournament.

Enough is enough. The politicians must not be allowed to hide behind their cricket team. And this applies equally to India whose refusal to play against Pakistan is devoid of any kind of logic and is political grandstanding pure and simple.

The series against Zimbabwe pitted one of the strongest Test teams against one of the weakest, made even weaker by some of the shoddiest fielding it has been my misfortune to watch. There was a time once when Zimbabwe’s fielding used to be compared with that of South Africa.

Why has Zimbabwe allowed its fielding to go to seed? Consistent bad fielding is proof of a lack of commitment. Yet Zimbabwe’s bowlers have toiled hard. Give Yousuf Youhana a chance, and my grandson, aged five would have taken the catch without any effort, and you give Youhana a hundred, give him two chances and it’s early Christmas for him.

The Pakistan batsmen were not reading the wickets at Bulawayo and did not have the patience to graft their runs.

Still the presence of Inzamam-ul-Haq and Youhana has made a huge difference. Neither has shown any signs of the injuries that kept them out of the team against Australia. A timely recovery, perhaps, with the help of faith-healers?

Shoaib Akhtar must consider himself a lucky man, the match referee was Clive Lloyd and not someone like John Reid and the umpires were David Orchard and Srinivas Venkatraghavan and not Darrell Hair. He might have been fined or banned instead of being severely reprimanded which is being considered just a rap on the knuckles.

One hopes, all the same, that he has been suitably chastened. He is a greater bowler in his own right and does not need the extra-assistance of ball-tampering. Shoaib is the one cricketer who does not need any more controversies. It took a lot of effort on the part of the PCB to get his bowling action cleared. Even now, there are some who have some doubts about it. But this is behind him. Why start something new? He must know that from now on the umpires will be watching him like hawks to see whether any hanky-panky is going on.

Lloyd may not be sitting in the match referee’s chair. Why do our cricketers keep shooting themselves in the foot? I was on Pakistan’s tour of England in 1992 when ball-tampering became the main event and the rest of the cricket a side-show.

It wasn’t pleasant to read the newspapers or sit in the press-box. It was not pleasant to hear people calling cricketers “cheats”. We don’t want to start that all over again.

The ICC has not hesitated to bring in technology and the experiment in Colombo was a good one. But something must be done about excessive appealing. So much pressure is being exerted on the umpires that some rank bad decisions are being given.

I think the umpires need some protection and in a previous column I had suggested that the fielding side should be penalised one run for every appeal that is turned down.

After all, bowler is penalised for bowling a no-ball or a wide. Worst of all is the planned and orchestrated appeal where all the close-in fielders go up. This amounts to cheating.

Every team is guilty of excessive appealing, some more than others. It also gets the crowd worked up. I think every effort must be made to make cricket a gentleman’s game once again.

Sometimes, I look at old videos and it strikes me how much the game has changed, for the worse. Cricket used to be played with equal passion in those days. Somehow, there seemed to be more dignity in the game. I don’t think that one-day cricket can be blamed.

It’s just that the game has become too competitive and it has become competitive because the game is all about money. Perhaps, the sponsors could introduce their own code of conduct.

And finally a word of advice to Shahid Afridi. He should watch his weight. Otherwise he will be weighed in the balance and found wanting. There seems to be no other reason why he’s just cooling his heels.



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