Opening fresh wounds

Published December 7, 2007

WHEN Pervaiz Elahi who, judging by his anti-PPP tirades, seems to be getting more desperate by the hour, arrived in Talagang on Nov 26 to file his nomination papers he got the protocol befitting a mansabdar of the Punjab. From Balkassar on the Motorway up to Talagang the police were lined up to pay him due homage.

The Musharraf order, whatever brave front it puts on, is in mourning because the uniform which was its mightiest emblem now adorns another person. But in the fullness of its powers, two kinds of civilian puppets stood with it, cheering it on and hailing its achievements: the district nazims and the drumbeaters of the Q League. Ample funds and local powers were with the nazims, who now are moving heaven and earth on behalf of the Q League’s sad-faced candidates in this election (sad-faced because time has moved on).

The entire election process, from filing of nomination papers to the declaration of the results, is overseen by the subordinate judiciary. Without independent judges how is it possible even to contemplate free elections? After the havoc wrought by the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO), we know the state the judiciary is in.

Yet having acquiesced in the games which saw General Musharraf getting himself ‘elected’ president, the opposition parties have left themselves with no choice except to participate in the heavily-loaded affair which lies ahead.

But the dangers lurking on this road are pretty obvious. Prediction about other things may be difficult but about one thing we can be reasonably certain. On the evening of Jan 8, much before all the results are in, a great cry will go up across the land accusing the government of a historic act of rigging. Far from settling anything, the election will open fresh wounds.

Why are all the blinds pulled down so completely in the Presidency? Why are its denizens, psychologically besieged behind those frightened walls, so cocooned from reality? A tainted election is the last thing Pakistan needs or wants at this juncture yet it is towards a tainted election that we seem to be marching.

The Presidency is living in a world of its own. On the mind of its chief resident rests neither the burden of posterity nor history. Self-preservation is the only wisdom holding sway behind those worried walls.

The ‘wasteland’ looks set to be the final title given to the Musharraf years: an opportunity squandered. Yet the shorn-of-his-locks president could still find some honourable mention in history’s footnotes -- alas, in a crowded book the only space available -- if, in the twilight of his powers (and we know how fast the shadows are closing in), he can bring himself to conduct elections reasonably free and fair.

This requires all the instincts honed during the last eight years. And that is why a sudden change of heart is so impossible. The second half of a man’s life, says Dostoyevsky in The Possessed, is merely a continuation of the first half. Radical departures are a virtue of youth, not declining evening. Musharraf can only be what he was. So I think destiny’s lines are written. These elections will be what they are and when the tocsin sounds on Jan 8 we will be well and truly into another crisis.

What was it in the circumstances of our birth to make us so prone to crises, one having scarcely ended before the fault lines of another emerge? We seem not to have it in our capacity to break the inexorable logic of this endless cycle.

I have nothing against Shujaat Hussain and Pervaiz Elahi, the two Chaudhrys of Gujrat. But to have a nation’s domestic agenda dictated by this duo, which is what happened when Musharraf was Gen-President, is a joke gone too far. In local or constituency politics no one comes near them. But it’s like making Chicago’s celebrated mayor, Richard Daley, who ruled Chicago back in the 1950s-60s and who also was peerless when it came to gravy-train politics, president of the United States. Or Al Capone chairman of the Sunday league of Baptist preachers (not that there is any organisation by this name, but you get my point).

Shujaat and Pervaiz are Chicago material but Pervaiz’s heart is set on the prime minister’s mansion. Some truly funny things have been played on the people of Pakistan (Shaukat Aziz being one of them). But Pervaiz nursing the idea of prime minister takes the prize. Whence the encouragement? President Musharraf. This is one presidential favour the country could do without.

Despite Dostoyevsky’s observation about repetition in life, people grow in office, their horizons widen and they learn new things. But we seem to be caught in a time warp and Musharraf, somehow, is not coming to terms with the cropping of his locks in the form of his diminished presidency. The Presidency thinks he should be called President, not General. But can any amount of official circulars change the way people think? Protecting the Q League and trying to turn the wheel back are not the best ways to find a place in a nation’s heart.

Pakistan’s never-ending turmoil, our so far fruitless quest for stability, has led to at least one happy outcome: some of the finest, most resonant poetry of protest written anywhere in the world. At mountain’s top is Faiz, after him Jalib and a host of others. Protest and rebellion against the established order of things, elusive love, and love never quite reached or consummated, love unfulfilled, is what our poets have sung of, in timeless words and imagery.

Munir Niazi, quintessential poet of love, or perhaps doomed love, but also the shrewdest of commentators on the national condition. As, for example, in that verse in which he talks about frantic movement (harkat tez tar) but journey’s progress halting and slow, an apt description of Pakistan. Or that haunting verse: “Ik aur darya ka saamna hai Munir mujh ko, mein aik darya key paar utra tau mein ney dekha”: ‘there is another river in front of me Munir, I saw this when I had crossed one river’, lines which the opposition parties may have cause to remember when they cross one river on Jan 8.

Metaphor and imagery, the distillation of so much into a few words, constitute the essence of poetry. And having produced some of the finest latter-day poets of rebellion, we should have a natural affinity for the symbolic meaning of words and events. But our ruling classes seem singularly free of this failing. Time and again they have proved themselves blind to the symbolism triggered by political choices.

Consider two examples. Q League is the name of the political grouping, made up largely of turncoats, which has supported Musharraf from the 2002 referendum (of glorious memory) onwards. Were the founders of this rag-tag political grouping oblivious to the loaded nature of the name Quisling? Musharraf has announced that ‘emergency’ (actually martial law) would be lifted on Dec 16. In the besieged walls of the Presidency was there no one to tell him that Dec 16, the day our troops in East Pakistan under the command of that famous soldier, Lt Gen ‘Tiger’ Niazi, laid down their arms is the darkest day in our national calendar?

The task before the nation is immense. We have to honour our judges who have resisted dictatorship. We must never forget them. Their resistance constitutes the best thing to have happened to Pakistan for over fifty years. And we have to find rulers, from what corner I do not know, not totally insensible to the meaning of poetry and symbolism.

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