IT may be a cliché but history does repeat itself and, in our case, this cycle runs faster than a dog chasing his tail. Even then, are we ones to learn any lessons from history or tragedy or even a slap in the face? Perish the thought.
By ‘us’ I don’t mean you and I, as we are helpless spectators but those who say they are leaders civil, military, the arbiters of our destiny, the ones who sit in judgement where the issues of our life and liberty are subject to a stroke of the pen.
And collectively these titans have let us down royally and so often that it is difficult to count. Pardon the somewhat oblique message here. When you see the same thing over and over again and say the same thing with a similar frequency, it does get a bit tiresome.
Nonetheless, I should get to the point. Look at what is happening around us. I will restrict myself to a quick recap of the past 50 years and leave alone the Moulvi Tamizuddin case and developments such as the creation of the Convention Muslim League for another time.
Next Thursday, Dec 16, will be the 50th anniversary of the fall of Dhaka and the dismemberment of Pakistan, ironically, after the only election in the country’s history that was not disputed. And yet the then West Pakistan elite led by the military wasn’t prepared to accept the result.
It is said that the military ruler Gen Yahya Khan had been led to believe by his intelligence that Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League would not be a big winner in the majority East Pakistan and, therefore, a weak coalition would come into being led most likely by right/centre-right parties.
In formulating his stance, Mujib must have been chastened by his experience of a few years earlier when Ms Fatima Jinnah, whose side he stood by and campaigned with and for, was not just denied her due in the indirect presidential election but also given awful sobriquets by Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s regime.
So after the 1970 elections when power transfer was delayed to the hands-down winner Mujib, protests erupted in the eastern wing and a civil war followed a military operation. Refugees spilling over into India gave the latter the excuse it was looking for to launch a full-scale military attack and inflict humiliation on Pakistan.
Of course, the December humiliation was such that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was handed over power in the remaining Pakistan on the basis of his electoral triumph in the west because the anger of the people obviated all other possibilities. But after he had rehabilitated the forces defeated in 1971 his ouster was engineered in 1977.
From then on, the strategy has been clear as day, even if some don’t choose to see it. Hand over (trappings mainly) of high office to politicians after controlled electoral exercises but not power/authority.
It does not need repeating what the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution and its Article 58 2-B inserted by Zia in 1985 did to the democratic process in the country. It was used four times to send packing elected governments well ahead of their term-end, including those ushered in via controlled electoral exercises.
After Mr Bhutto’s 1977 exit up to 1996, all engineering seemed aimed at denying the PPP under Benazir Bhutto meaningful power. It was a tribute to the tenacious leader and her diehard supporters that she twice managed to stick her toe through the door into the corridors of power. But got no further.
The key ally then, who was used to deny Benazir Bhutto her due and even mock her politically, was Nawaz Sharif. He willingly played the game and contributed to undermining the democratic process at the behest of the extra-parliamentary puppeteers.
But post 1999, Sharif found to his dismay that it was he himself who was at the receiving end of machinations and games to first oust him from office and then block his return not just to office but to the country too. Ergo, the Charter of Democracy was born. Sharif’s transformation to a democrat was complete.
But Ms Bhutto’s assassination brought a different PPP leadership to the fore. And soon the Charter was in tatters and more recently even its remains were laid to rest. The 2008 and 2013 elections were as fair as could be expected in the country.
The governments that came into being as a result tried to assert themselves. In the absence of the Eighth Amendment that was undone while the Charter of Democracy was still alive, the patriotic zeal of the judiciary equalled if not exceeded that of the guarantors of our national security and triumphed against corrupt politicians threatening the country and its patriotic institutions.
A hybrid experiment, that replaced those seen as scoundrels, is teetering on the brink of failure, inflicting immense pain on the shirtless, led to one small window of hope. The Gujranwala PDM rally, the naming and shaming that seemed to ignite the people and find resonance among the masses, is now no more than a disappearing dot in the rear-view mirror.
From what one hears, the politics of confrontation (or people’s rights in my lexicon) has made way again for the politics of reconciliation and if several principles have fallen by the side in the bargain, so be it. A seemingly more ‘credible’ civilian façade is being carefully prepared and will be unveiled soon.
My only worry is that when prominent national political leaders, with mass support from what one can see, are prepared to settle for mere crumbs from the table of the wise and the powerful, the bold and the beautiful, will there be anything left to trickle down to the have-nots?
And is it wise to test the patience of those struggling to feed their children endlessly? Infinite deprivation and want can trigger infinite chaos that none can control or steer. Do I need say more?
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2021