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When heroes fall

June 10, 2012

TO reach for Yeats when things fall apart is the easy part.

Making sense of it all, like Yeats’s The Second Coming, is much harder. Yet, try we must.

When CJ Iftikhar was restored to his throne, the country he surveyed looked like something out of The Second Coming: the blood-dimmed tide had been loosed; the ceremony of innocence was drowned; and the best lacked all conviction while the worst were full of passionate intensity. Pakistan needed fixing.

So, with the winds of history at his back and a messianic zeal in his heart, CJ Iftikhar set out to remake Pakistan, to start a new chapter.

CJ Iftikhar was right: Pakistan needed fixing and a new chapter was about to begin. Where he got it wrong was what was coming next.

His imagination doubtless fired by the possibilities of the post-partisan lawyers’ movement, CJ Iftikhar set out to create a new order just as disorder was establishing itself as the dominant theme of our times.

The end of the Musharraf era had helped obscure the truth. It was difficult to see at the time that what was collapsing was not just another era of military rule but the old order itself, the old centre.

While Pakistan had always been a messy country, the presence of a powerful army-led establishment had lent a predictability to the affairs of the state: no one really knew how to fix Pakistan but everyone knew their place in the scheme of things, for the most part.

In the era of disorder, however, everyone questioned the place allocated to them — and there was no one to make anyone agree to what was asked of them.

The old centre — the army — had seen its security paradigm unravel and a mediocre leadership struggle to regain control.

New power centres, the media and the judiciary in particular, were flexing their muscles but no grandmasters were they yet.

The civilians could have seized the moment but they were seized of the same old rivalries and self-interest and unable to take advantage.

No one to impose control, no one able to take charge and no one really trusting the other — it was always going to end in tears.

The sordid allegations swirling around the judiciary this week are almost beside the point. If it wasn’t this, it would have been something else. And if it hadn’t been their turn, it would have been someone else’s.

The old guard is paralysed and weak, the upstarts have yet to learn the ropes and the ne’er-do-wells — the status-quo politicians — are stuck in Horace’s version of carpe diem: their hopes are few and they’re content to drink their wine. With no one to take charge, everyone’s in charge.

Which is why even the conspiracy theories are more contradictory than ever. In memogate, the uniform and the robe and the tiger teamed up to corner the red, black and green. In the rise of the PTI, the uniform was trying to hunt the tiger. In the survival of the PPP, the uniform had secretly aided the red, black and green.

In Swissgate, the robe and the uniform were trying to discredit the government to impose one of their own. In Mehrangate, the robe was trying to distance itself from the uniform. In Bahriagate, the uniform is trying to bring the robe to heel.

Pick your flavour, there’s something for every taste.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

Still, in CJ Iftikhar’s response this week to the allegations against his son, there is a temptation to follow through the logic.

And where Yeats can’t help, perhaps recourse to Shakespeare can.

With the allegations against his son about to get a public airing, you can almost imagine a distraught CJ Iftikhar wailing:

“Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!”

Here was the man who had set out to remake Pakistan dragged into the very mud pit he had vowed to clean up. In his fierce response, you can find heroism — or a reason to pity.

As the wily Iago had advised Cassio, “You have lost no reputation at all, unless you repute yourself such a loser,” so CJ Iftikhar came out swinging, fighting to protect the public approval that is the foundation of his reign.

Admirable as his actions were to the many, they betrayed a weakness to the few who mattered, the ones who are part of the disorder from which the CJ is trying to create order.

One slight flick of the wrist, one casually whispered rumour, one allegation of the kind even the cleanest politician suffers several times in a career — and it provoked a fierce and very personal response.

The personal nature of the response suits the other side, hidden as it is behind a wall of conspiracy and subterfuge. One side is out in the open, suffering cuts and taking hits that were inconceivable just a week ago, while the dark forces of conspiracy, which rely more on manipulating public opinion than winning its favour, look on in satisfaction as another hero is cut down.

And that’s the problem for heroes in times of disorder. They can’t win but they can lose big. Or to put it in the words of the Dark Knight, “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Pakistan does need a hero. But the times we’re in all but guarantee we won’t get one.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm