Never say die

Published October 5, 2007

“Be patient now, my soul; thou hast endured much worse than this.” –– Odysseus

UNTIL now I never truly grasped the meaning of the Lawrence College motto, ‘Never give in’. When the sky is bright and the heavens are smiling these words mean nothing. They mean something when one is down and out, flattened by circumstances, the last shreds of hope leaving one’s heart.

Then to be able to hold up one’s head and look into the distance with firm eyes is the true test of manliness (or womanliness for that matter). Our circumstances are not promising. Indeed, the entire nation seems depressed. Abandoned to fools and knaves, sold to the United States and therefore not our own masters.

But other countries have undergone much worse. If Vietnam be too distant a memory, there are countries in Africa which have suffered genocide. Afghanistan next door has been destroyed by decades of strife and war. In Iraq hundreds of thousands have died since the American invasion. Millions have been uprooted from their homes. Truly, few hells are worse than those paved with American good intentions.

The Yanks mean well by us too. God help us. About the next army chief, Gen Kiani, it is being said that the Yanks are quite happy to work with him. What a certificate of commendation. Our problem, or at least one of our problems, is the Yank connection. And here we are putting new buckles on it and giving it a fresh coat of paint.

Anyway, what if the high hopes of this just-gone-by summer of discontent appear to have been dashed to the ground? What if the corridors of power remain packed with the same self-serving circus performers? What if the changes armchair revolutionists dreamed of have not come to pass? Progress has still been made and anyone who says we are where we were has not got the measure of things.

The citadels of power stand shaken by the events of this spring and summer. The army has felt the heat too, some of its confidence ebbing away. Is the chastening of authority, never before challenged in this manner, a small achievement?

True, the people remain disenfranchised. Neo-liberal economics — dedicated to making the rich richer and giving a thick boot to the masses — remains the entrenched wisdom. But the gains above listed are not trifling. After all, our journey towards emancipation has just begun. The goal we cherish — to give self-serving idiots what they deserve — is still far off. But as first steps go, these are not small ones. On the foundations thus furnished the future we aspire to can be built.

No need to be downcast. Musharraf receives not a new lease of life. Ah, if life was all that simple. He is about to don the robes of a tattered presidency. Pakistan, all said and done, is not Egypt and its people are not packhorses led by the nose here or there. They may tolerate tinpot dictators but not for long. And thank God for that. No danger of a Suharto or a Hosni Mubarak, both monuments to longevity in power, arising in our midst.Musharraf may cling to power as long as he may but to look at him and his enfeebled authority is to realise immediately that he is already a lame-duck, his ability much reduced to enforce his will. The Q League we always took to be a collection of stooges. But even the Q League is resisting the amnesty deal that under American prodding he is trying to conclude with that last hope of the East, Benazir Bhutto.

When the duck that was supposed to be a toy quacked, what did the young girl say to her mother? ‘Mummy, mummy, it speaks.’ Since wonders will never cease, the Q League is also speaking up. What are we in for next?

Regarding Bhutto, don’t blame her too much for the game she is playing. What is the point of stashing away mouth-watering loot abroad, and having villas in Spain and country houses in England, if you are a virtual fugitive from the law? Instead, give her high marks for intelligence for having her eye on the main chance, which is to get rid of the corruption cases against her. Giving embattled Musharraf a helping hand, which is what she is doing, is a small price to pay for getting herself laundered.

Those who say that by covertly supping at the general’s table she is betraying her father’s legacy are chumps climbing up the wrong tree. Benazir has been going her own way since her father’s death. And much of this has involved looking out for herself and circling around Washington, her holiest of holies. She would have made a deal with Musharraf back in Oct 1999 if only he had been less full of himself.

But he and his generals were on a high horse then and thought they were sufficient unto themselves and needed no one’s help. They delighted in training their guns at all politicians. Now Musharraf knows better. Talk of a retarded education.

Musharraf’s key aide, my friend Tariq Aziz, sang much the same tune those days and gave him the Chaudhries of Gujrat (Shujaat and Pervaiz Elahi). It helped that all this crew — Musharraf, Tariq, Shujaat, Pervaiz — had been once upon a time in Forman Christian College, Lahore, nearly together. Which I suppose makes FC College accessory to what Pakistan has had to endure these past eight years. Now Tariq is one of the principal backers of the deal with the paragon of the East. Talk of wheels coming full circle.

Hand it to the Chaudhries though for showing rank ingratitude. Thanks to the initial boost they received from Tariq, they became the biggest political barons around, enjoying the kind of power they could not have dreamt of. They too had serious banking cases against them but were given a clean bill of health because Musharraf needed them. Now Musharraf needs Benazir but the Chaudhries are resisting that. Et tu Shujaat? How the mighty are humbled. And it is a sign of Musharraf’s dwindling authority that there is not much he can do about it.

So what do we have? Dictatorship on the retreat, Musharraf’s military trappings about to be mothballed, a ruling party in ferment, Benazir feeling ditched and therefore fuming (hell hath no fury…etc, although I am almost certain the deal will come through and she will get the amnesty ordinance she is dying for), an army trying to gain lost respect, lawyers on the march, a media conscious of its power, a judiciary finally waking up to its responsibilities, and Justice Chaudhry still Chief Justice. A weakened presidency, an assertive judiciary: not bad at all.

Pray, one more thing. Everyone knows Wajihuddin will not be president. Then why are people rooting for him? Why is he receiving so many plaudits? Are the people of Pakistan finally coming to realise that true respect comes from integrity not authority?

Meanwhile, a hundred gun salute to their lordships Bhagwandas, Shakirullah Jan, Raza Khan for holding in their minority judgment that Musharraf holding two offices could not stand for president. As long as there are people like them around, no matter how few, no reason to despair.

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