DAWN - Opinion; February 25, 2008

Published February 25, 2008

Not a recipe for stability

By Tasneem Noorani

THERE is euphoria in the air thanks to the election results. This has also been manifest through the stock exchange index going through the roof. Pakistanis are relieved that their fast fall into a precipice has been halted.

Sweets were distributed by even those, who were not activists of any political party: such seems to be the unpopularity of the government. People feel they can hold their head high again, as the country seems to have done something civilised for a change and is in the news for the right reasons.

But are these elections and their results really a guarantee for a stable Pakistan? We have seen that euphoria of a popularly elected government in 1970 was cut short in 1977, followed by a prolonged authoritarian rule. Again four popularly elected governments in eleven years were sent packing prematurely, followed by another prolonged authoritarian rule, which lasts to date.

One of the major reasons is the ease with which elected governments in this country can be overthrown. The standard operating procedure (SOP) for taking over Pakistan was laid down as far back as 1958.

In his book, Glimpses into the Corridors of Power, Gohar Ayub writes about the 1958 take-over. “While he was away, President Iskandar Mirza contacted Air Commodore Maqbool Rab and Brig Qayyum Sher, asking them to arrest Father (General Ayub) when he returns from Dhaka.” The author suggests that since General Ayub was sure he was going to be dismissed from the post of C-in-C, so he had no option but to take over. We heard similar reasons for the take-over in 1999.

About the methodology of the take-over after the decision to throw out Iskandar Mirza was taken, Gohar Ayub writes that “the letter of resignation for the President to sign was dictated by Maj.Gen.Yayha Khan and Maj.Gen.Abdul Hamid. It was typed by Major Abdul Majid Malik (now a democrat). It had been decided that Lt. Gen. Azam Khan, Lt.Gen.Burki and Lt.Gen. K.M. Sheikh would arrive at the house at midnight and tell the president to resign.

“The telephone lines of the President House and its entire staff were then cut. The police guard was disarmed, a few minutes before the arrival of the generals. The president was woken up and summoned to the drawing room, where Lt. Gen. Azam produced a pen and asked him to sign his resignation letter.

When the president hesitated a little, Lt. Gen. Azam put his finger on the paper and simply said, “Sign here.” Realising he had no choice, he signed on the dotted line. The three generals returned to General Ayub where tea and coffee was served.” As simple as that. Under very similar circumstances, the last elected leader of Pakistan was also bundled out of the PM House forty one years later, in 1999, with the same SOP being employed. For SOP, all you need is one loyal Brigade Commander (111 Brigade), one loyal Corp Commander (10 Corp) and a few like minded generals amongst the Principal Staff Officers.

All these ingredients are almost always available, considering the espirit de corp of a uniformed force. All you have to do is a bit of planning to make the democratic leader look inept and incompetent before you strike.

After the dust settles down and someone goes to court, a judgment in complicated legal language is handed down, which actually means that the military take over is fine and actually necessary for the country. This gives it the required legal cover which is quoted as the justification to stay on and ‘clean up the mess’.

To date, sixty years after our existence and having experimented with both democracy and military government, things have not changed much. Even though the military has been in de facto control since 1999, and despite the fact that a ‘martial law’ fatigue has set in at the end of these eight years, the reimposition of a mini martial law on Nov 3, was hardly resisted, except by the judiciary, the lawyers and some members of the civil society. Members of the general public were not bothered either ways.

The obvious reason for the disinterest of the general public lies in its contempt for the government generally, specially the remote rulers in Islamabad. They continue to wallow in their illiteracy and poverty, regardless of who comes to power. Pakistan continues to figure at the tail end of all international surveys, about education, health, women empowerment, corruption, etc.

Is this situation going to change after the recent elections, where a clear cut mandate against the general and his friends has been given by the people of Pakistan? Yes perhaps for a few years; how many is anyone’s guess. A repeat of 1958, 1977 and 1999 is very much on the cards, especially now that we have a hung parliament, unless we can strengthen the institution of the judiciary, which had asserted itself for once on July 20 when the Chief Justice was re-instated. It was being assumed then that the ‘law of necessity’ would be buried in Pakistan for good.

These elections appear to have been a ploy to make things appear normal and thus divert the attention of the public from the debate on the restoration of the judiciary. Does our country have any chance of staying on the democratic path, despite the expected shenanigans of our politicians? Yes it has only if we have a strong judiciary like the one we sent home on Nov 3. Unless the Nov 3 actions are reversed, the euphoria created by the Feb 18 elections will be rather short lived. This is something that cannot be done by the masses, as they are too involved in their own survival. This leadership has to continue to be provided by the legal community and the civil society, most of whom have been the major beneficiaries of Pakistan.

Hopefully, the stand taken by one of the political parties on the restoration of the judiciary – the major factor in its better-than-expected performance at the polls – will be adopted by other parties as well. For that provides the only hope for a long term sustainability of democracy in this country.


Take the exit ramp

By Ahmad Faruqui

LAST week’s general elections brought with them a sense of déjà vu. Like those of 1970, they represented an epochal moment in history. There are many similarities between the two elections.

Then too, a military dictator who had ruled for several years was in denial about his unpopularity. He viewed himself as the saviour of the nation, a man who had brought democracy to the nation, the kind that suited ‘the genius of the people’. Early in his rule, the general found it convenient to create a political party to give himself legitimacy. Called the Pakistan Muslim League (Convention), it was designed to evoke the warm and fuzzy feelings of being the party of the nation’s founder, M.A. Jinnah.

Over time, the people came to view PML-C as the source of all evil and to see its leaders as corrupt and incompetent. But the people were powerless to dislodge it while tyranny reigned. This party was dealt a mortal blow in the general elections of 1970. Two other secular parties swept the polls, changing completely the political landscape. The religious parties made a very poor showing and one essentially exited the political scene.

There are, of course, a few dissimilarities between 1970 and 2008. The first military dictator was hounded out of office a year prior to the elections by a people’s revolt. Saying that he could ‘not preside over the destruction of his country’, Field Marshal Ayub Khan stepped down from office. But instead of handing over power to the speaker of the house, he handed it over to the army chief, General Yahya Khan.

Some parallels can also be drawn between last week’s elections with those that were held 20 years ago. During his 11-year tenure, General Zia advanced the concept of party-less elections but found that even those gave too much rein to his hand-picked prime minister. So one day he fired him and promised new elections. But a plane crash prevented him from carrying through on his promise. His successor as army chief decided to honour the promise. These did not yield any sympathy vote for Zia’s camp followers. They were routed and a secular democratic government led by Benazir Bhutto was sworn in.

Despite his intimate familiarity with Pakistani history, General Musharraf proceeded to legitimise his rule by creating a political base around another offshoot of Ayub’s party, the PML-Q. This party was routed so conclusively last week that it is difficult not to think of it as PML-Quit. Most of its stalwarts are gone. The religious parties which won a sizeable number of seats in the controversial elections of 2002 are gone and a coalition of secular parties will form the government.

But unlike Ayub (and so much like Yahya), the newly retired General Musharraf has displayed no intention of leaving office. Musharraf would like to bask in the glory of holding free and fair elections. But did he have a choice? There is plenty of evidence that he had planned to rig the elections. The caretaker government was anything but neutral and the Election Commission was suspect.

But pressure from Washington compelled him to change his plans. Had he still engaged in massive rigging, not only would he have drawn Washington’s ire but also evoked ugly street protests. He knew that if the ‘agitators’ caused the country to come to a standstill, the army would distance itself from him. Without their protection, he would not last a day in office.

Ironically, hard-core Musharraf loyalists are still giving him credit for holding free and fair elections. This Pavlovian reflex is akin to thanking a habitual offender for not carrying out a new crime.

These people found justification in Musharraf’s suspension of the Chief Justice on Mar 9 and supported Musharraf yet again when the Supreme Court restored the Chief Justice in July because it was a tribute to Musharraf’s magnanimity. Amazingly, they supported him a few months later when he made a U-turn and essentially shut down the court when it threatened to overturn his re-election. Not surprisingly, they accepted at face value his pronouncements in Europe that Pakistan was a tribal society and that it would take years to make it a democracy.

These people will never be convinced that it is time for the ex-general to go. To them, he is the embodiment of truth, the doer of all good things, and the prince of enlightened moderation without whom Pakistan would return to the Dark Ages.

It is time for them, and for Musharraf, to wake up and realise that the game is over. Everything Musharraf stood for was repudiated on Feb 18. The electoral results have made it clear, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the people do not wish to see Musharraf holding court on radio and television day in and day out. Aitzaz Ahsan spoke for millions when he said, “Musharraf is the most hated man in Pakistan.”

During the last several months, poll after poll showed Musharraf’s popularity plummeting like a lead coin in a bottomless well. But he continued to reject the polls by saying that they only represented the views of a few thousand people and asserted vainly that he was vastly popular in the populous countryside.

But even the King’s party was not taken in by the myths spun out by the monarch. It knew that once rigging was no longer an option, its fate was sealed. Why else would they seek to obtain the release of one of the key instigators of the Lal Masjid takeover, Abdul Aziz, just days prior to the vote? This was an obvious ploy designed to play on the religious sympathies of the people and to garner much needed votes. How else could one justify releasing a real and confirmed terrorist from jail while holding the nation’s eminent justices and barristers under house arrest?

Musharraf had said not too long ago that he would step down when he saw that the people were no longer with him. He said he was continuing as president only because it was in the national interest. He would rather be playing golf or tennis, he noted, but the situation required him to sacrifice his personal interests.

Well, the time has now come for him to do the nation a favour and quit. He would also be doing himself a big favour by taking the exit ramp while it is still visible. There are countless examples in world history when dictators have found it impossible to find the exit ramp and ended up hitting the barrier at the end of the road.

The writer is the author of “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan”.


Creativity is the supreme good

By Prof Khwaja Masud

Anyone who does not possess the faculty of creativity
To me he is nothing more than an unbeliever
— Iqbal

IQBAL regards creativity as the sine qua non for the Islamic Renaissance. To make way for it, the Muslim mind has to be liberated from the sterility of half a millennium of intellectual stagnation and stranglehold of obscurantist orthodoxy.

The stamp of feudalism on our cultures has be obliterated and the outdated medieval imprints on our thoughts have to be got rid of.

During the last 500 years, the Muslim mind has been in the clutches of mimesis defined by Toynbee as “the acquisition through imitation of aptitudes or motions or ideas which the acquisitors have not originated themselves”.

Toynbee describes the fatal consequences of mimesis as “the failure of the Promethean élan which declares itself in a loss of harmony. In the moment of life a change in any one part of a whole ought to be accompanied by sympathetic adjustments of the other parts if all is to go well; but when the life is mechanised one part may be altered while others are left as they have been, and a loss of harmony is the result.

In any whole, a loss of harmony between its component parts is paid for by the whole, in a corresponding loss of self-determination; and the fate of declining civilisation is described in Jesus’s prophecy to Peter: When thoust was young, thou guidest thyself and walkest whither thou wouldest; but when thou shall be old, another shall gird thee and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.”

How true is this for the Muslim civilisation, which on account of mimesis has fallen victim to blind dogmatism, debilitating traditionalism and irrational fanaticism. We love clichés. We revel in platitudes. We repeat time worn, moth eaten views ad nauseam. We are good at writing commentaries. We excel in interpretations and re-interpretations. We shun the new. We abhor the novel. We dread the original. We bask in the glory of the past. We do not have the courage to face harsh reality. As Iqbal puts it; “We do not change ourselves, instead we change the Quran.”

No wonder the Muslim world is so deficient in producing original thinkers, philosophers and scientists.

Science, philosophy, literature and arts cannot flourish in an atmosphere vitiated by bigotry, fanaticism, intolerance, conservatism and irrationalism. They need a Weltenshaung (world view) whose key note is humanism, enlightenment, tolerance and rationalism. Iqbal gives a clarion call for Ijtihad, for ‘Originality of thought and action’. As he puts it: “The originality of thought and action means a passion for revolution. It means a renaissance of the ummah. It produces miracles. It transmutes granite into purest pearl.” Iqbal attaches so much importance to creativity that he goes to the extent of saying: “Anyone who does not possess the faculty of originality is to me nothing more than an unbeliever.”

Creativity is not possible without intellectual curiosity. Therefore, Iqbal enjoins: “Would you ensnare the phoenix of knowledge? Rely less on belief and learn to doubt.” Here Iqbal joins hands with Descartes, the founder of modern mathematics and modern philosophy, who embarked upon his odyssey of discovery with the dictum: “In order to reach the truth, it is necessary, once in one’s life, to put everything in doubt.”

In the words of Iqbal, “To exist in real time is not to be bound by the fetters of serial time but to create it from moment to moment, and to be absolutely free and original in creation. In fact all creative activity is free activity.” He goes on to maintain, “Of all the creations of God, man alone is capable of consciously participating in the creative life of his Maker.” Iqbal makes man a co-worker with God, because he too possesses the faculty of creativity.

To Iqbal creativity is the summum bonum, the ultimate determining principle in any ethical system. Creativity pre-supposes freedom. In the words of Iqbal, “Goodness is not a matter of compulsion; it is the self’s free surrender to the moral ideal and arises out of a willing cooperation of free egos. A being whose movements are wholly determined cannot produce good.”Creativity implies a ceaseless quest for self-realisation, a yearning for new visions and a constant struggle to attain the unattainable.

He says: “Whenever an eye beholds an object of beauty/ The heart yearns for something more/ With an impatient eye and a hopeful heart/ I seek for the end of that which is endless”.This longing for ever higher ideals, this Promethean zeal for ever newer discoveries, cannot be isolated from day-to-day struggle against all the obscurantist forces standing in the way of the onward march of humanity. As Iqbal puts it: “Grapple with the waves and dare/Immortality lies in struggle.”

Dr. Khalifa Abdul Hakim recited the verses of Faizi in the presence of Iqbal: “Let us turn towards the niche of light/ And lay down the foundation of a Ka’aba with the stones from Toor/The walls of Ka’aba are crumbling and the foundations are cracking/let us envision a fresh design for another faultless castle.”

On hearing Faizi’s verses, Iqbal said: “These are priceless verses. They are tempting me to compose a worthy response.” He did it in such a marvelous manner that he summed up in them his ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’.

He said: “If Ka’aba falls to ruin, it would make easier task for love/ To raise another castle and bring forth a new design/It is high time that we construct afresh a new order/We should cleanse our heart and remould our mind.”

Such is Iqbal’s daring that he does not flinch even from challenging God. He says: “Gabriel is a helpless prey confronted by my wild ecstasy/ The man of courage entraps the divine himself.”

Iqbal stands for democracy because it is democracy that creates the proper atmosphere for creativity to flourish and blossom. In a letter published in the Civil and Military Gazette, July 30, 1930, he writes: “If anybody thinks that approach to democracy means sailing into a kind of lotus land, he cannot have read a word of history. The truth is exactly the opposite.

“Democracy lets loose all sorts of aspirations and grievances which were suppressed or unrealised under autocracy. It arouses hopes and ambitions, often quite impractical and it relies not on authority but on argument, on controversy from the platform, in the press, in the parliament, gradually to educate people to the acceptance of a solution which may not be ideal but which is the only practical under the circumstances of time. Democratic governments have attendant difficulties, but these are difficulties which human experience elsewhere shows to be surmountable.”

In Payam-i-Mashriq, Iqbal gives a fascinating picture about the birth of Adam, which is equally applicable to him:

Beware ye who are veiled/The one who rends veils is born at last.

An open letter to Aitzaz Ahsan

By Raza Rumi

THAT you are principled, charismatic and right is beyond doubt. You have inspired the cynical, intelligentsia, revived a moribund civil society and awakened Pakistan’s traditionally de-politicised middle class.

This is something that history shall record gloriously – reminiscent of the way you re-invoked the essential attributes of ‘Indus man’ in your treatise on the pre-historic identity of Pakistan.

Today, all efforts to generate ‘positive’ results from Election 2008 have foundered; and there is a new parliament ready to be sworn in. The new National Assembly, reflecting the fractured polity, has one common thread – nearly two thirds of its members constitute or sympathise with what was known as the opposition before February 2008. This is a moment of reckoning and most concrete outcome of a decade long struggle initiated by your friend Mr Nawaz Sharif, your leader the late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and your supporters in the middle class and urban democrats. The movement that followed the suspension of the Chief Justice in March 2007 was a culmination of public discontent that started way before. That you provided a shape and led it, is, your stellar contribution.

This is a historic moment that cannot be squandered or lost to the politics of personalities and individuals. Most Pakistanis are in awe of the dismissed Chief Justice for his strength of character, they have tremendous respect for the members of the bench who refused to succumb to the executive diktat following the imposition of emergency in November 2007. And above all, they are also tired of General Musharraf whose good intentions have only led to the proverbial hell of energy and food crises, rampant inflation and roaming suicide bombers. But this struggle just cannot be about getting rid of the president and reinstating the Chief Justice. That would be a belittling corollary of this fabulous episode in our recent history.

The representatives of the PPP, PML-N, ANP and bulk of like-minded independents are touching the magic number of two thirds in the new Assembly. If they are asked to settle a score with an individual and honour another few, history will not record it in kind terms.

Your call for a march towards Islamabad and the restoration of judges before Mar 9 is bound to polarise the fragile parliament, the political parties that have been beaten, poached, hounded with leaders assassinated or disqualified. It is a delicate juncture of our history and any division in the moderate political class or resort to historical bickering and blame-games will rock the system only to benefit the martial corridors of Islamabad’s Byzantine palaces and their traditional occupants.

This is why many citizens are worried and skeptical that nothing changes in the murky waters of Pakistani politics. If the PPP does not agree to the restoration of individual judges then the national coalition will not be formed; and the polarisation of the 1990s will return to haunt us favouring the Hameed Guls and Roedad Khans who now speak your language but their shadows still loom large over the body politic.

The foremost objective of your movement should be to back the formation of a national coalition of the political parties who have been the victims of the nefarious Mullah-Military alliance of the last nine years. There can be no other alternative. If there are street pressures then this process will get derailed. We need the consensus of the political class on inter-party dialogue and cooperation. This should entail rectifying the Constitution and purging it of absolutist insertions, bigotry and most importantly how the judges are appointed.

If your movement ends up dividing the tenuous partnership brokered by the Charter of Democracy, then mainstream politics will once again be de-legitimised. Another saviour will emerge from the ashes of this cycle to pronounce yet again the need for genuine democracy.

Collisions at this point will only benefit the Mullah whose benefactors are retreating, but in no way giving up. This time they have to be defeated not through blood and resurrection of Garhi Khuda Buxes but through a democratic process that does not make the faceless masters an arbiter of our destiny.

Exactly after two decades, the moment has returned. It was squandered by the political forces and exploited by these faceless masters. Do we want another round of that regrettable phase where one institution gains at the expense of the millions?

Continue your struggle but look at what might be the cost of exacerbating the tension between the big political parties and exerting weight on a parliament that has yet to learn the art of being sovereign. You and your associates must also be a little self-critical. The boycott of elections was not the wisest of decisions. Events proved your late leader right – no matter how tainted the electoral process was, it was the best option available and Pakistanis seized it.

Let an un-manipulated and fully representative executive, backed by an amended Constitution emerge; and let it end the executive arbitrariness in judicial appointments once and for all. And let the Parliament institute sound mechanisms for internal accountability within the superior judiciary. Institutions are greater than individuals, as you very well know.

We know that your sense of history is unmatched. Now is the true test of your leadership where you will have to trade populism for statesmanship.

And, we have faith in you.

The writer blogs at http://razarumi.com, http://lahorenama.wordpress.com and http://pakteahouse.wordpress.com.

© DAWN Media Group , 2008



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