Getting away with farce?

Published November 9, 2007

THIS is unsustainable and cannot last. You can’t mock the heavens and think there will be nothing to pay for it.

These are the acts of desperate men who know that their moment in the sun is up, from whose fingers power is slipping but who want to stave off the inevitable.

Irony is that by their desperate actions they may have brought the inevitable nearer. Sometimes a crisis has to intensify and contradictions have to sharpen before a solution opens up. Our man on horseback by one desperate lunge has brought everything into the open, so brilliant the masterstroke of Nov 3 that he and his increasingly glum supporters are on one side and the entire nation on the other. Folly can’t get any better than this.

The Constitution has been packed up and judges whose integrity rankled with Army House have been sent home (or rather confined to quarters) because their lordships were lenient with terrorists. Or so we are told. As the entire world knows by now, the two judges who released Lal Masjid students (or ‘terrorists’) on bail, Abbasi and Khokar, continue to be judges in the revamped Supreme Court. Abbasi was most zealous in taking up the cases of the Lal Masjid brigade. Wonder why.

Something more odd happened just a day after the trashing of the Constitution: the hush-hush release of over 20 men on Nov 4 accused of planning suicide bombings, and their handing over to the militant commander, Baitullah Mehsud, in return for the release of over 200 captured army personnel. Included in this number was Sohail Zeb, Mehsud’s cousin, caught allegedly with a suicide jacket on. How would this help the fight against terrorism?

No one is fooled by this spin. The knives out on Nov 3 were meant for the Supreme Court because an adverse verdict was expected regarding our man on horseback’s presidential ambitions. But what have the knives actually done? The judiciary may have been purged but the ousted judges have been taken into the hearts of the Pakistani nation.

All of them — Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Bhagwandas, Ramday, Javed Iqbal (his stock sky-high), all those in the Supreme Court and the various high courts who have refused to take oath under the Provisional Constitution Order — are today the undisputed heroes of the Pakistani nation.

Time was when Pakistan had few people to be proud of. Now so many, a whole string of men of integrity and principle who we can look up to, that counting has become difficult. Never was it truer that to the darkest clouds there can be a silver lining. This may be a bleak moment in our history — indeed, perhaps the bleakest — but it has brought out some of the best in the Pakistani nation.

This is not the first PCO in Pakistan’s history but the first to be so openly and widely resisted, the first to draw such widespread condemnation and ridicule. In times past judges used to be so many circus performers eagerly leaping through the loop of a PCO. This time the great majority of them have treated it with the contempt such an unholy instrument deserves.

The call sounded earlier this year that this was a ‘defining moment’ in our collective lives may therefore not be all that forlorn or irrelevant. The nation faces a test and a challenge, an opportunity that could yet define our future.

So the last thing we should be guilty of is to lose heart or give way to despair, or say that Pakistan is a doomed enterprise from which nothing good can come. These are the counsels of defeat. This is the only homeland we have and seeing it fail or collapse is not a luxury we can afford.

When Afghanistan was ravaged by strife and civil war, millions of Afghans sought refuge in Pakistan. If, God forbid, because of the folly and greed of ambitious and shortsighted souls clinging to power something happens to Pakistan, where will we go? We can’t trek beyond the Himalayas and we can’t set up tented villages across the Indian border. We have no choice but to see that the experiment called Pakistan — even if ridden for most of its history by incompetent, second-rate horsemen — succeeds.

Therefore, as my Lord the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, said in his telephonic address to the lawyers of the Islamabad bar (while he was under detention), the tocsin of defiance must sound, the masses must make their voices heard, the Constitution must be restored and horses running wild across the Pakistani landscape must be returned to their stables. (He didn’t actually say the last but you get my meaning.)

The people of Pakistan are agitated, no doubt about this. But this is the kind of emotion from which great things can arise. Provided the leadership that this burning moment requires steps up to the breach and assumes the responsibility of leading the masses. The political parties have not given a good account of themselves during the last eight years. They have either connived with the riders on horseback, to pick up what crumbs they could get from the table of power, or withdrawn into the sweet comfort of inaction. Victims for the most part of the politics of compromise they should know that the time for such attitudes is past. Tumultuous events await a decision. There is disorder under the heavens and, as Mao might have said, the situation is excellent. But if history calls, who will answer the summons?

Wise rulers don’t allow critical situations to develop. It requires rulers of another kind to trigger mass upheavals. So let us be grateful for the possibilities opened up by the latest events in our country. Before Nov 3 most of us were resigned to the fact of another five years for the present rider-in-chief, another step towards the Hosni Mubarakisation of Pakistan. Now that desired outcome is not so sure. So much outrage has been sparked that a different outcome is a distinct possibility.

Even our paymasters, who have poured billions into its coffers to help prop up the present setup, are dismayed. Or so the signs suggest. They were working for a ‘military-liberal’ coalition, Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto atop the same wagon. What they have got instead, thanks to the ineptitude on display in Islamabad, is this mess threatening to become a disaster. For the Yanks a destabilised Pakistan is bad enough but a nuclear-armed Pakistan teetering at the edge of chaos comes close to their ultimate nightmare.

That is why hard questions will be asked in Washington. No one likes backing a liability. So hardly reassuring to see in Islamabad a regime losing its way and falling back on the last resort of exhausted dictatorships: the thumbscrews of repression. How long can the police keep beating protesters? How many people will the police arrest? We will have to build new jails to accommodate all dissidents.

This won’t work and for once the people of Pakistan seem in no mood to accept what has been imposed on them. Something will have to give.

Tailpiece: Lt Gen Hamid Gul has been arrested and is in solitary confinement in Adiala Jail. Why only one Hamid Gul? Islamabad/Rawalpindi has the densest concentration of retired bozos anywhere in the world. How they manage to remain invisible in times of unrest is a mystery waiting to be resolved.

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