AIK dhaka aur, comes a cry from afar, for the towers of authoritarianism are tottering, the halls of government are in dreadful confusion, the spoons (chamchas) of this order don’t know what to say, and the crisis which erupted on March 9 – always to be remembered as a glorious day in our history – enters a decisive phase.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. As a nation we either collapse into a state of collective depression or, with luck on our side, step forward into a brave new future. It’s not a question of one man’s fate.
If it were that it would be nothing. No, it is a question affecting the country’s future. For, in the next few days we have to answer the question whether we are at all fit for
self-government or only fit to be herded like cattle by one self-appointed saviour after another?
This question can also be framed in a slightly different manner. The next few days will decide whether the Pakistani dream was worth it – worth all the effort and sacrifice that went into its making – or was it, after all, an exercise in futility. For, let us make no mistake about it: subordinating the national will to the interests of an individual amounts to nullifying the struggle for Pakistan, making nonsense of Iqbal and Jinnah and whatever they stood for.
Was Pakistan created to make it safe for military rule? An absurd proposition but then no more absurd than the games we see being played around us. The Supreme Court’s decision on the question of Pervez Musharraf’s eligibility to stand as a presidential candidate while in uniform is eagerly awaited. And what is the gist of this case? Can an army chief stand for president? People around the world must be laughing at us, wondering what kind of people we are. It is sixty years since we gained independence, seven years into a new century, and some of the country’s best legal minds have spent days wrangling over the absurdity of an army chief, one past his retirement date, standing for president?
And it’s not as if it is a ‘genuine’ election we are talking about. This is a set-up affair, a fake and phony presidential election, assemblies whose term is about to end ‘electing’ Musharraf for five more years. Eight years in power already but the lust for power remains as strong as ever.
What does it matter if the nation, heartily sick of Pakistan’s lackey status to the United States, wants a change, any change as long as it is a bit different from the dispiriting performance of the last eight years. Self-interest decrees otherwise.
What’s it with us and democracy? Why is our preferred model always someone like Hosni Mubarak or Suharto? Why does the autocratic mode of governance hold sway over most of the lands of Islam?
The developed world may have embraced democracy – indeed democracy being one of the hallmarks of its progress – but why does the meaning of democracy elude our grasp?
What an historic opportunity we in Pakistan have wasted. With our British legacy of parliamentary democracy, we could have been different, a model and beacon for the rest of the Islamic world.
But driven perhaps by an all-consuming sense of insecurity, we systematically went about destroying the foundations of democracy gifted to us by the British and instead raised monuments to greed and incompetence.
Greed and incompetence becoming our national gods, it was perhaps natural that we sought comfort in dictatorships, whether civil or military. Greed and incompetence can flourish under a democratic umbrella too (remember some of our democratic heroes and heroines) but if one is really serious about looting national wealth, nothing like a shabby dictatorship to make it happen.
Marcos in the Philippines, Suharto in Indonesia, Sani Abacha in Nigeria all of them deserving Oscars for looting their countries. In a democracy, however bad, a Zardari or a Sharif can be questioned and denounced. In the kind of setup we have, there can be a sugar scam, insider trading on the stock exchange, a questionable sale of the national steel mills (mercifully aborted by the Supreme Court), and now a wheat scam and few questions are asked. If the economic wizards of the present dispensation could have their way we would be rid of most of our national assets, including the national airlines.
I am in Lahore for the past few days and the stories one hears about ‘qabza’ groups and shady financial dealings are straight out of Mafia fiction. With so much at stake, who in his right senses would think of relinquishing power?
So are we dead as a nation, immune to things great and uplifting? By no means and this is the baffling part because given all that we have had to endure our spirit as a nation should have been dead long ago. Given the slightest opportunity the Pakistani nation stirs in its sleep and comes alive, as we saw during the course of the lawyers’ movement when across the country a groundswell of support arose spontaneously for Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and lawyers agitating on his behalf.
CJ Chaudhry may have had his faults (which mortal does not?) but something in the way he stood up to Musharraf touched the nation’s heart and so people in their thousands came out to cheer him when he took to the road to address different bar associations.
The common people of this country, those who are not into the national pastime of getting rich by fair means or foul, worship courage, they worship selflessness. They have an instinctive feeling for what is right and what is wrong. Crores if not billions of rupees are being spent on a television campaign these days extolling Musharraf as some kind of a national deliverer.
What will make fools in government realise that TV ads make a hero of no one? Pervaiz Ellahi, the Punjab chief minister, has spent billions in self-serving ads since coming to power. Does he think his public image has been enhanced because of this self-glorification?
Why don’t people come out on the streets on the call of the political parties? Because they are sick of the antics of the paper tigers who head them. Who in all of Pakistan is prepared to take Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Musharraf’s deadliest secret weapon, seriously? He only has to open his mouth on television for viewers to start sniggering, all too aware of his huge talent for false logic. Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto may have signed no public pact but who in the country doesn’t know that some kind of an understanding has been struck between them? Benazir is playing softball with the general and he with her. She continues to swear by democracy but is anyone fooled by her protestations?
As for the Sharifs it will be some before they stop paying penance for the deal they struck with Saudi help way back in 2000. What you sow is what you reap.