Between tragedy and farce

Updated May 31, 2018


THERE is a school of thought which says that you can know something about the creator of anything by studying his or her handiwork. Works of art can be a window to the deepest recesses of the artist’s mind. Scientists reveal something about themselves in what they choose to make the focus of their inquiries.

The handiwork of humans, though, is not always exquisite. Often, it reeks of folly, other times of craven motivations and malice. The man who invented the AK-47 assault rifle, for example, wrote a haunting letter to the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church months before his death at the age of 94, back in 2014. “The pain in my soul is unbearable. I keep asking myself the same unsolvable question: if my assault rifle took people’s lives that means that I, Mikhail Kalashnikov … am responsible for people’s deaths,” he wrote, according to a report in Izvestia, the Russian state-controlled media organ.

At least Mr Kalashnikov had the nobility of soul to reflect on his deed, to see with open eyes the terrible consequences it had wrought on the world, and to accept, even if partially, that he may bear some responsibility for the deaths caused by his creation.

The jihadi establishment is a tragedy. After decades of nurturing, it gave us deadly suicide bombings and grisly murders.

My mind comes back to this thought as I look at the handiwork of those who have long insisted on shaping our destiny, and in the course of doing so, left behind a pile of debris that is in part tragedy, in part farce, and in much measure, has simply shrivelled into oblivion.

Let’s take a few examples. The jihadi establishment is the tragedy. After decades of nurturing, it gave us deadly suicide bombings and grisly murders, 10 years of a running war in Swat and the tribal areas; large parts of it today hang like an albatross around the country’s neck. 

The PML-Q (remember them?) disappeared quietly into oblivion as soon as the people’s voice had a say in the selection of their rulers. Those with a memory longer than that of a mosquito might remember how Chaudhry Shujaat played an outsize role in this country politics. Yet look at him today.

Gone too is the general who lorded it like a king for more than 10 years; today he stands accused of treason and is on the lam from the law, with the excuse that he is of ill health while videos of him dancing to catchy Indian tunes in foreign clubs routinely circulate on social media. I confess, at this point the Q League’s story veers towards comedy, except that the laughter is short-lived when we consider the legacy of blood and greed that the general left us all with before slinking out of the country.

The real comedy today is Bol TV, and its parent organisation Axact. The channel has seen many flare-ups in the past, including one in which its star anchor accused the owners of withholding millions of rupees in pay once they turfed him out. Shortly after that very public spat, the star anchor, Amir Liaquat, was back. More recently, he ran into another spat, this time when Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority took notice of a little stunt he pulled on air, when he inflamed sectarian passions for no reason, according to the court. Once more the anchor in question, who in the past has hurled allegations of blasphemy against all manner of people, was banned from his show, but later upon protestations, the court said he could appear on TV as a guest, not as an anchor on his own show. So the latest is that the anchor appeared on his own show, but as a guest instead of the lead anchor.

These thoughts were all on my mind when news came of a demand from Balochistan’s home minister to delay the election came in. The demand was submitted as a resolution in the provincial assembly, arguing that people will be proceeding for Haj (elections are on July 25, the pilgrimage is due about a month after), and monsoon rains might cause flash floods in late July. The reasons are bizarre enough to be taken seriously.

A day earlier, the MQM sent a letter to the Election Commission of Pakistan requesting that it refrain from announcing the poll schedule till census-related matters were sorted out through a validation exercise. Then a resolution was introduced in the National Assembly, carrying signatures of MNAs from the Jamaat-i-Islami, PPP and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party demanding an immediate validation of the census exercise, without which they would not accept the results.

Shortly after this came news that the PTI had reneged on its acceptance of Nasir Khosa as interim chief minister in Punjab, and once again talk veered towards delayed elections, the script, and hidden hands guiding the sequence of events. Are these two seemingly unrelated events linked to each other? There was, at the time of writing, plenty of fodder for the late night talk shows, which is where it seems the nation’s destiny is now hammered out.

The puppets tell us something about the puppeteer, if one watches carefully. Having left the country with a legacy that includes examples like the Q League, Bol TV and the jihadi militants, perhaps the puppeteers will have some of the mettle of Mr Kalashnikov, and at least in their twilight years, reflect on the consequences of their deeds, the terrible forces they unleashed to achieve short-term, and shallow objectives.

Because that is what their handiwork tells us about them. The country is littered with their creations, and each one of them has grown either into a tragedy, a farce, or disappeared into oblivion. What are they cooking now? And how will their latest specimen end? Whether we like it or not, we have no choice but to discover the answer.  

The writer is a member of staff.
Twitter: @khurramhusain

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2018