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Why collective suicide?

January 20, 2012

UNLESS Mansoor Ijaz finally arrives in Pakistan and makes an explosive statement before the memogate commission, the next couple of weeks are threatening to be uncharacteristically quiet.

Yes, quiet. The next hearing of the prime minister`s contempt notice isn`t for nearly two weeks. That the court didn`t convict and send Yousuf Raza Gilani to the gallows left the media-prosecutor-judges smouldering as they seemed to be aspiring hangmen too.

Crestfallen they may be but they`d have to live with that.

Such dramatically telescoped, conclusive court proceedings were never slated for that single day anyway. To face a possible conviction and land in prison Mr Gilani would first have to be charged then tried.

Then he`d have to exhaust appeals/review possibilities.

This was merely a show-cause notice, asking him why he shouldn`t be charged.

Thursday`s proceedings were steeped in such propriety and civility, and so bereft of political sloganeering (apart from those political activists in black coats inflicting indignity on their profession afterwards), that one hopes that incendiary sessions are a thing of the past now.

A respite would be welcome. Don`t we all want better governance, less rhetoric, fewer flying barbs, more delivery and the space to assess where we are? Didn`t the nail-biting excitement of the past few months seem to have paralysed Islamabad and beyond? Didn`t the ball need to be kicked into long grass if only temporarily? Once our talk-show hosts, a few exceptions notwithstanding, are done with venting their spleen, and realise the futility of questioning the integrity of one of the finest legal minds in their country only because he is defendingthe prime minister, perhaps they`ll revert to the real questions.

We became so ensnared in the minutiae of court proceedings that we nearly lost sight of the most fundamental irritant in national politics: civil-military relations.

Today, not just the partisan eye blames the judiciary`s renewed vigour to go afterthe government on GHQ`s ire over memogate.

But are things that simple? Not for any meaningful period of time anyway. Consider this scenario. The elected government continues to command a majority in parliament. It is `neutralised` by the judiciary because of its real or perceived violations of the law and constitution.

With the decline of an elected government would the `civilian` variable in the power-sharing arrangement with the military disappear or is it more likely to be replaced by the superior judiciary as was evidenced in the final months of the Musharraf regime? We all know what happened then.

Back to square one? Good heavens no. World Bank estimates Pakistan`s growth in the current fiscal year to be at 3.9 per cent. Frankly, I couldn`t believe the figure.

Please don`t throw China and India`s growth rates at me.The two Asian giants have neither faced natural disasters such as floods nor have been hit by a tsunami of intolerant, self-righteous buffoons. Despite these oddslook at our potential.

Given the backdrop of a vast majority of 180 million Pakistanis merely aspiring for a peaceful environment in which to find enough work to feed, clothe and educate their children wouldn`t our political, judicial and most of all national security shenanigans appear badly out of place? We have often discussed how miserably poor the government`s governance record is. We have also asked whether giving extensions to military commanders was the right course if the civil-military imbalance was to be corrected. Poor governance is hardly the route to civilian supremacy.

But we also need to acknowledge that only the poor and the dispossessed deliver on their part of the deal nearly 100 per cent. They work very hard and well in excess of hours (and in much poorer conditions) than tolerable in any civilised society.

To say the affluent pay barely a fraction of what they owe in taxes to the state would be a cliché, an understatement. A visit to any court will explode the myth of a `people`s judiciary` as, apart from admittedly worthy symbolic gestures, no justice is being provided at the grass-roots level. What little is actually delivered is paid for in hard cash.

We mention the scourge of madressahs once too often without really focusing on the abject and utter failure of each and every government to invest in education. No meaningful attempt has been made to ascertain facts about these institutions of religious education.

Depending on which side of the divide we stand on, we`ll either say these madressahs are imparting a proper educanon or assert they introduce misfits into society whose commitment to obscurantism and intolerance is so complete they can kill or be killed for it.

And yes how many times have we openly debated where a large chunk of our resourcesgoes. Mostly to waste surely as that could be the only explanation for why our more than half a million strong organised, well-equipped armed forces have to forge alliances with insane hordes to achieve their near shambolic national security aims.

These are but some of the issues, the tip of the iceberg.

How do we tackle them? I am reminded of what a friend of my brother`s, who had just broken off his engagement, told him many years ago. The friend said he hadn`t met his father-in-law who was abroad when he got engaged and took the drastic decision on meeting him.

“I had no choice in the case of my father. But a father-in-law I would most definitely be able to choose.” One wishes that the relationship, the equation between the judiciary, executive and the military was that simple. But it isn’t.

The only viable option is to abandon the path to mutually assured destruction and get on with it.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.