Reconciliation: what next?

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

GENERAL Musharraf has been re-elected president. The electoral college was depleted, but not significantly, despite the best efforts of the All Parties Democratic Movement. It is not certain which way the Supreme Court decision will go as it rules on the candidature of the president.

If the decision goes in favour of Gen Musharraf, our legal pundits will continue to debate whether such a decision would represent a resurrection of the doctrine of necessity which one of our Supreme Court judges proclaimed ‘buried’ in the course of the court’s earlier deliberations. For the moment, however, there is a measure of uncertainty on this count. But this is not the only uncertainty.

If the president loses the case, he may not want to shed his uniform. Can we expect another turnabout as the argument put forth by the stalwarts of the PML-Q — a party now threatened with political extinction — that a president without his second skin is a liability and not an asset for his erstwhile supporters? Will this argument be bought in the face of domestic and, more importantly, international opposition?

The Reconciliation Ordinance has been promulgated. The media has expressed moral indignation at the perceived blanket amnesty to those who have looted the country. But little attention has been paid to the counter claim that after 11 years of extensive and expensive investigation, the prosecuting authorities have failed to provide evidence leading to a conviction in any of the many cases filed against former prime ministers and other politicians.

A catchy but badly rhyming jingle on one major private TV channel seeks to remind the nation in rough translation that ‘history forgets the nation that forgets its past’. But the images in the accompanying skit focus on the 1986-1999 period making no mention of the many millionaires created by dubious deals in the 1977-1988 era. Even the 1999-2007 era has been forgotten, as have been the cases of those politicians who having made their peace with the present regime were forgiven their past trespasses.

It is not realised that a selective recall of history is even more destructive for a nation’s moral fibre than ‘forgetting’ history. More likely this is realised but a complete recall of our chequered history is not part of the agenda.

That such an ordinance cannot be reconciled with the Constitution is the main plaint in the petitions that have been filed in the high court and Supreme Court. How will the courts handle this hot potato, which, perhaps even more so than the president’s eligibility case, has the potential for exacerbating the present political uncertainty?

How strongly will this ordinance be defended by a government whose prime minister and the leader of the ruling party have dubbed it as a ruse to divide the opposition and secure a credible re-election of the president at the same time? How sincere is the denunciation by the president’s spokesman of such ideas? Does such denunciation mean that the president is also shedding his political alliance that provided a façade of democracy for his authoritarian rule along with his uniform?

In this period of intense political manoeuvring, a leader of a religious party has proved once again that no Pakistani politician is more adept than himself in keeping a foot in both camps. He justifies this on the grounds of pragmatism. Others are less kind.

What is important, however, is that he has done favours for which he will expect substantial rewards from both elements in the reconciliation process. His personal demands can probably be met but what of those of his far more radical lieutenants? For them, the deployment of the maulana’s political skills must yield much more than mere personal benefits. Will he be able to seek and secure in the forthcoming general elections the same measure of support that he got in 2002?

An outside observer can provide no definitive answers to these questions. More importantly, neither can those who are more intimately involved. And therein lies the rub.

This is a time when the situation along our western border and in the settled districts bordering on the tribal agencies is fast deteriorating. No plausible explanation has been offered for the surrender by 250 or 300 soldiers. The president suggested recently that they surrendered because they mistakenly assumed that this was how they had to implement orders to avoid confrontation. There have been reports that at least nine of them have been beheaded and the threat of further such beheadings hangs heavy.

Sunday brought news, if official accounts are to be trusted, of a successful assault on the militants, but Monday brought the grim news that an additional 50 soldiers had gone missing. On Tuesday morning, one read the heartbreaking news that while many of them had been located, 25 had been killed.

This is a time when music video shops in Peshawar’s suburbs are being bombed out of existence in the same fashion as has been done in Bannu, Kohat and other cities in the Frontier. This is a time when Swat is virtually under the control of Maulvi Fazlullah and his cohorts who boast of setting up check points and arresting all lawbreakers — more likely their opponents.

We are dealing with outlaws who make no secret of their loyalty to the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and who want to make the tribal agencies and more part of Mullah Omar’s fiefdom.

This is a time when the Lal Masjid has been opened again and in the very first sermon delivered the maulana has held out the implicit threat of suicide bombers being deployed once more.Now is the time when those at the helm should be concentrating their experience and skills on the threat the country faces from extremism. Their efforts should focus on drawing up viable projects for spending the Rs18bn that are available for the development of the tribal areas and for providing skills and gainful employment to the disaffected youth whose idleness makes them ideal recruits for the extremists.

This is what they should be strategising about. But no, this is not about to happen. Even if all goes well in the courts, if commitments are honoured, if old alliances are re-worked all we can look forward to is attention being focused on the formation of a caretaker government that can be trusted not to rock the boat.

The attempt will be to manipulate the election rules to keep alive the prospects of the same stalwarts who were allowed to contest the 2002 polls despite being clearly disqualified. This will enhance the public disillusionment with the electoral process.

As hapless chattering members of civil society, all we can do is entertain the forlorn hope that an energetically waged election campaign will revive the magic of the rallies that reinstated the Chief Justice or threw up charismatic leaders in the political era of yore.

Tampering with the truth

By Hafizur Rahman

BIOGRAPHIES of Pakistani leaders who are no longer in this world continue to be published. Usually they are always complimentary because, as we Muslims say, it is not decent to write about the dead in a critical manner, i.e. one should not speak the truth about them since they are not there to rebut charges.

I always laugh at this point of view and say, “All right, I will not say anything bad about Yazid and Shimar, the villains of Karbala, as they are both dead.” This too is not liked by my friends and relations who think I am being flippant about a serious emotional matter.

Some time ago I wrote a column about the need to revise history books so as to tone down certain portions that hurt the sentiments of Muslims or Hindus of the subcontinent. Today again my topic is historical facts, the attempt to falsify them and twist them to suit political and ideological ends, which is being done in Pakistan all the time.

Much has been written about the past leaders of Pakistan, and the latest is a book on Field Marshal Ayub Khan by his son Gohar Ayub. All the books are intended to be truthful history – at least the names of all these leaders are not hateful to the authors and the public, and history books for schoolchildren do not distort facts to describe their times as periods of darkness, as they do in the case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Let me tell you something bizarre. Some years ago, a national postage stamp exhibition was held in Quetta. It was officially given out that stamps bearing the image of ZAB will not be put on display. What do you say to that? Like the school history books, the exhibition tried to show that there had been no such person as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in our times. Did you ever hear anything more childish, more narrow-minded and more stupid?

One would have thought that the national stamps exhibition was organised by grown-up, sensible and educated persons having something to do with public life in Pakistan. Maybe they were senior bureaucrats from the Pakistan Postal Service. But the decision proved that they were grown-up only in years, educated only in time-serving hypocrisy and sensible only to the political wind blowing from Islamabad.

Such people remind me of an old film called “Hotel Sahara” about the North African campaign during World War II. In this film Peter Ustinov is the owner of a desert resort hotel in Upper Libya. The town is under the control of Italians, of course, as was the whole of Libya, and the hotel’s bar displays a fine big portrait of Benito Mussolini. Then the Italians had to retreat before the British, and Mussolini is consigned to the cellar to cede pride of place to a picture of King George VI.

After some time the British too had to withdraw and yield the honours to the Germans, so King George also withdraws to the cellar and vacates the wall space in the bar to a big photograph of Adolf Hitler. In the end the king’s portrait is hurriedly retrieved and again adorns the bar when General Montgomery forces General Rommel to vacate the town. What made the film funny was that before successive invaders reached the hotel, the picture of their national leader was already in place and their national standard flying merrily on the flagpost.

Some people who are ready to change their loyalties with every new regime are like the hotel-keeper in that movie. I don’t blame them, for survival is the first instinct of all those who are beholden to the powers-that-be for sheer bread and butter, or for privileges and undeserved perks.

It is the authorities, the regimes, the governments who are bloody-minded and vindictive in their attitude to their predecessors (especially if the predecessor was a man like ZAB) and want to erase all thoughts of him from the minds of the public.

Whatever one may think of Mr Bhutto as a man and prime minister, can any Pakistani forget the heady days of the Islamic Summit called by him at Lahore in March 1974? At that time I saw hard-boiled bureaucrats and political cynics literally weeping with emotion at the various scenes that highlighted that memorable occasion presided over by Premier Bhutto.

The sequence in the government documentary film with the crowds going mad with triumph as the limousines passed carrying the leaders of the Islamic world to the Badshahi Mosque, and then the scene in the mosque itself – all of it was enough to make the Muslim faint with the rush of blood to the head.

And yet, in the days of General Ziaul Haq I saw the same documentary censored to the extent that while all the kings and presidents and prime ministers of Muslim countries were present in the summit, the prime minister of the host country was nowhere to be seen. It was like staging “Hamlet” without the Prince of Denmark.

No great leader ever lost his deserved aura of greatness by others running him down, nor did any pigmy become a giant through self-aggrandisement, and worse, by denigrating his predecessor.

The modern media, with all their devastating influence, fail to achieve the impossible. How can you mutilate history by referring to ZAB as the devil incarnate and his time as a period of darkness?

It’s a wonder that those who hate him have not snatched from the dead man his greatest contribution to the strength of Pakistan — initiation of its nuclear programme and laying the foundation of the Kahuta Laboratories which helped to set off the atomic explosions and manufacture missiles for our defence forces.

There have been muted claims giving the credit for all this to General Zia, but even Bhutto’s enemies realised that this would be too much for the public to swallow, gullible though it is.

It is a sure sign of mental retardation and infantile politics to presume that history will be read the way you want it to be read. Contrived efforts will not make a hero of a non-entity, nor can they strip a real hero of his greatness through propaganda and massive publicity. Why not try truth for a change?

A marriage on the rocks

By Ismail Khan

MAULANA Fazlur Rehman of the JUI and Qazi Hussain Ahmad of Jamaat-i-Islami are two leaders with different personalities and temperaments. Yet, for five years they have pulled along together, keeping the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal intact since its inception in 2002. That led to their astonishing rise to power with a vote bank of only 11 per cent. The alliance made a formidable force to reckon with in national politics. Yet, few expected the conglomerate to last long.

If it lasted that long it was because of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s remarkable brinkmanship and balancing act that kept the shaky alliance with its professed common goal of enforcing the Sharia intact.

Fazlur Rehman entered into a coalition with the PML-Q in Balochistan but at the same time kept Chaudhry Shujaat’s party at arm’s length in the NWFP. He allowed Chief Minister Akram Khan Durrani to attend the National Security Council meetings against strong opposition from Qazi Hussain Ahmad but refused to make his appearance in the controversial body himself.

Despite blowing hot and cold over the Women’s Protection Bill, he let it go through without much ado. He became leader of the opposition in the lower House of parliament but happily played along to enact the much-contested Seventeenth Amendment.

The JUI-F bailed out the government every step of the way. Far from the prying media eyes, Chief Minister Akram Durrani camped at the Frontier House, Islamabad, meeting clerics and ulema from Islamabad and the Wafaqul Madaris to defuse the situation at the height of the Lal Masjid crisis.

His critics point out that Fazlur Rehman chose to go abroad and disappear at times of serious debate over critical issues within the MMA or allowed one of his senior party colleagues to speak on issues ranging from resignations to dissolutions and take on the Jamaat-i-Islami leaders at stormy meetings as he sat silently rolling his prayer beads.

Hence few believed that the maulana would take the plunge and allow Chief Minister Durrani to seek the dissolution of the NWFP Assembly. Even his MMA colleagues were weary and sceptical of Fazlur Rehman, given his track record of going back on his promises.

Therefore, the compromise decision at the APDM meeting in Peshawar to delay the dissolution of the NWFP Assembly till Oct 2 was a tactical, smart move by the JUI-F leader to allow enough time for the presidential polls to get through.

The no-confidence motion moved by the pro-Musharraf opposition in the NWFP Assembly further betrayed the maulana’s double game, making it fairly obvious on whose side he was.

Frustrated, the Jamaat-i-Islami, the ANP and PML-N lawmakers resigned from the NWFP Assembly. The JUI-F retaliated by suspending its membership from the APDM. Its refusal to follow suit on resignations dealt a serious blow to the MMA. The JI was bitter at being replaced by the JUI-F as the pro-establishment party.

The key question now being asked is whether the MMA will hold together as a single entity. There is no denying the fact that the events of the preceding months have dealt a severe blow to the JUI-F’s credibility and image. It will have to make an extra effort to improve its public credentials.

Some circles of the Jamaat-i-Islami believe that the JUI-F has become a liability and hence it is time to say adieu to its coalition partner.

There is a great deal of consternation within JUI-F ranks where the JI is concerned. The tone and tenor of some its leaders indicate that the long-drawn marriage of convenience is drawing to a close.

The mood in the JUI camp was demonstrated by the unceremonious removal of six JI ministers following their resignations from the NWFP Assembly and the tabling of a no-confidence motion against the JI-affiliated speaker.

There are some in the JI who believe that the party could team up with the ANP and the PML-N, the other two components of the APDM that resigned from the NWFP Assembly. to form an electoral alliance. One JI leader described it as ‘formidable’.

The two components of the MMA, however, realise that they cannot make an impressive showing in any election that is fought separately as in the 2005 local bodies polls. In the October 2002 elections, the MMA had had a great win seizing ground from the ANP and the PPP. This is weighing heavily on their minds.

The die is already cast against the MMA, whose popularity graph has taken a nosedive, owing to the incumbency factor and its failure to deliver on its election promises. Poor governance, corruption and the worsening law and order situation in the NWFP have worked against the MMA.

Political pundits believe that the MMA, even if it holds, will not be able to repeat its astounding success of 2002. But it would still manage to garner enough seats to become the single largest group in the NWFP Assembly.

The general assessment, until the JUI-F did a somersault on the dissolution issue, was that the MMA might get somewhere close to 45 seats in a House of 124 members.

The MMA’s own assessment conducted through a provincial government agency, however, was more circumspect, giving the religious alliance 35 seats. This is a far cry from their 70 seats in the NWFP Assembly with the JUI-F as the major loser. The JUI’s faux pas over the dissolution is likely to cause further damage to its already dwindling popularity.

Again, if the 2005 local bodies’ elections are anything to go by, the major beneficiaries of the MMA’s loss would be the ANP and the PPP, which are expected to regain most of the territory they had lost to the religious alliance in 2002.

The PML-N may also stage a comeback in its traditional stronghold in the Hazara belt at the expense of the PML-Q. But whatever the political composition of the next NWFP Assembly, it is a foregone conclusion that no party would be able to form a government on its own and that the NWFP would live up to its history and tradition of a having coalition government again.

But the main concern is whether the government will be able to hold elections in a peaceful manner in the face of the growing militancy in the province and the tribal areas.

A testament to Pakistani art

By Niilofur Farrukh

THE nation now has its first purpose built National Art Gallery (NAG), a befitting gift on its 60th anniversary. This project was conceived several decades ago but was frequently stalled and nearly scrapped by a military dictator and several civilian governments. It almost defied destiny to be born, to be a testament to Pakistani art.

While the art community is elated to have the National Art Gallery, the response within citizens groups has been varied.

One group calls it a white elephant since it’s a non-development project built from funds that could have been better used for vital grassroots initiatives. Another lot wanted to know if rare works of early masters would be available for sale there. On being told that it was a repository of art and not a commercial gallery, they promptly lost interest. The cynics reject NAG for they perceive its agenda to be an elitist one. The man on the street is indifferent.

As someone who has been in the field of visual arts for several decades, I feel every citizen is a stakeholder in the National Art Gallery for it houses our collective art legacy. It is a place where significant artists of Pakistan will be recognised and their work preserved, documented and presented as a symbol of shared pride.

However, I am also aware of the circumstances that have created the barriers of ignorance and indifference that separate society and art, a critical component of its culture.

The two institutions that could have given the citizens the skills and experience to engage with art are the public gallery and the school system.

Unfortunately, the public gallery run by state-funded cultural institutions was compromised by Ziaul Haq’s political directives and funds for art were squeezed off from the 1980s. Unable to recover from this setback, the commercial gallery took on this role by default and did what commercial galleries do best — it commodified art into a ‘product’.

This not only de-linked it from its intellectual moorings but took art out of the public space where the nation could have felt ownership of it, and isolated it into private collections.The school curricula with its paradigm shift from human development to career orientation de-prioritised the humanities and arts. Visual art was the first to come under the axe.

Today, most public and private schools do not teach art. This means that a large section of the literate population of our country spends an entire life without hands-on experience of art or any meaningful engagement with it and, most importantly, never gets in touch with its creative potential.

Despite this ground reality it continues to take me by surprise to see an ever-growing number of young people, sometimes from remote towns, propelled by the sheer energy of their talent join art schools and maintain dynamism within the field.

In the last six decades, the artists of Pakistan have struggled in an unreceptive environment to create a multilayered art that maps the country’s socio-political transformation and development of ideas within the visual arts discourse.

The 16 inaugural exhibitions at NAG open a window on how the nation has negotiated political and cultural space to reclaim it from 200 years of colonial disconnect to construct an independent identity.

The rare assembly of the work of several generations of artists under one roof gives a sense of historical continuity. In the show ‘Iconic Presence’, one is introduced to the early Modernists who appropriated the 20th century’s lingua franca of art as a symbol of progressive ideals and evolved it through an indigenous vocabulary particular to Pakistan.

Here also hang paintings by Zainul Abedin, Jehangir and Murtaza Bashir from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) whose contribution till the 1960s cannot be denied.

On the first floor, the curator of the exhibition ‘Dialogue with Tradition’ invites contemporary miniaturists to use selected works of the master miniaturist Ustad Haji Mohammad Sharif as a point of departure in their work. This innovative exercise creates a link with the past and deconstructs purist tradition to widen the framework of miniature painting to accommodate new ways of seeing.

Both the pioneering movements, Pakistani Modernism of the ‘Iconic Presence’ and Neo-iniature showcased in ‘Dialogue with Tradition’ complement each other; one rejects traditional art to craft a young nation’s new identity, the other, half a century later, confidently resurrects tradition with a globalised sensibility.

The myth that Pakistan has no sculpture is shattered by the show ‘An Intensity of Space and Substance’ where established exponents mingle with a new generation that dissolve boundaries between conventional sculpture and new art forms like installations.

Fixed notions of art are constantly challenged by the persistent presence of technology that appears to define a new frontier. With the supremacy of the idea pivotal in conceptual art, an erosion of the authority of skills and hierarchy of medium has allowed a hybrid vocabulary to evolve into a complex articulation that transcends signature style and medium. Site-specific art that defies the white cube of the formal gallery can be seen spilling into corridors and stairwells of the NAG.

Video installations are as much a part of contemporary art as unconventional material like dry twigs collected from roadsides by Ruby Chishti to construct her mammoth installation and the use of shredded white plastic bags in Khalid Chishti’s elusive figures. Familiar objects like plastic lotas (vessels for ablution) are turned into a throne, by Ali Raza. This alludes to local politics.

Interactive art seeks audience participation in ‘Karachi Kiya’, a labyrinth of suspended perplex sheets that was first exhibited in Karachi where visitors were invited to write their message on their own section of the city. An act designed to sensitise inhabitants to their collective plight in a mega polis fractured along ethnic, economic and political lines.

The National Art Gallery has set a good precedent by showcasing a provocative cross-section of Pakistani art. Its next goal should be to run pro-actively programmes aimed at cultivating audiences both among school children and society at large. Only when this is achieved, can this institution make art accessible to the Pakistani people and help them to find its connection with their reality.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007


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