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A tiny hope but just

January 05, 2013

WHERE else but in what we have made of our beautiful land would there be so much talk of all else but elections as parliament nears the end of its term?

That there is continuing violence isn’t a surprise, given how much (contrived or real) ambivalence there has been in our ranks on how best to deal with it or perhaps whether to deal with it at all.

Let me just remind you of what was in the headlines just two days either side of the New Year, which is celebrated in many societies across the globe as a harbinger of hope and things positive to come. How much hope has it brought us? Here are a few examples from the front page of this newspaper.

Dawn’s front page on Dec 30 told us 21 kidnapped levies were found executed, despite the government’s effort to initiate a dialogue through tribal elders with the militants holding them. Six people were killed in a Sargodha-bound bus blast near Karachi’s Cantt Railway Station.

The next day’s page one led on the car bomb attack in Mastung, Balochistan, on buses carrying Shia pilgrims to Iran, in which 20 Shias were killed. Most of the victims were from Rawalpindi on a day of respite for the local Shia Hazaras.

On New Year’s Day, the front page informed the reader that nine bodies of ‘insurgents’ had been found in North Waziristan. Suspected cause: extrajudicial execution.

A day later, the lead story told us of the killing of seven charity workers including six women near Swabi. The four-year-old son of one of the workers, Nyla, was in the van that was attacked. He witnessed his mother being shot and remained next to her blood-soaked body till being found.

The same day Karachi saw a motorcycle bomb exploding not far from the venue of an MQM rally organised to hear Minhajul Quran leader Dr Tahirul Qadri and Altaf Hussain deride the present democratic order with more vigour than anything else. To be fair, both decried terrorism also.

That the two leaders spoke out against terrorism and emphasised the need to deal with it head-on wasn’t controversial at all. It was their rather opaque goals about what exactly they wished to achieve with their so-called long march that raised many a brow.

The concern is valid, given our experience of what the engineered ‘orders’ and the quasi-military structures have delivered to us over the country’s existence. From Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan’s basic democracy set-up and his 10-year term in office to Gen Ziaul Haq’s partyless election and his inability to work even with a handpicked parliament and prime minister during his decade in power.

But the ultimate was the uniformed ‘chief executive’ who ruled us for nearly another of our blighted decades till recently. All three, and some others who ruled for comparatively shorter periods, caused huge damage to the country as they systematically subverted and blocked sane channels of popular will.

And because they felt, and were not, accountable to anyone, they embarked on some adventurist security policies which have now come back to exact a bloody price from a nation in which the people at large had no say in their formulation in the remotest of ways.

Forget the past, many tell me. Let’s focus on the more recent then. Forget Ayub and Zia and their shenanigans (though I believe those are very relevant to this day); forget that the Supreme Court has heard evidence how the khaki leadership tried to rig an election all those years ago.

Forget the wonderful engineering task so successfully undertaken in 2002 by Maj-Gen Ehtasham Zameer, a then top ISI official, and one that he proudly owned up to on national television, for that too was 10 years ago.

But a tad difficult to forget are Lt-Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha’s attempts to undermine the civilian government in the name of national security as also his alleged efforts to prop up a ‘cleaner’ alternative to the ‘dirt’ that floats around government and parliament today.

It is a totally different matter whether his support boosted or undermined the leader who already had a reasonably credible appeal in the masses and whose message about the system’s failings, even if one disagrees with the disdain he expresses for elected politicians, struck a chord with many, many people across the country.

So, when Dr Tahirul Qadri, who someone dubbed the latest Minar Madari (conjurer), announced at the Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore that he’d strive for a caretaker government comprising ‘clean, competent’ technocrats to steer the country out of the current mess, the misgivings were natural.

That the good doctor wanted to recreate Cairo’s Tahrir Square in Islamabad on Jan 14 to ‘topple’ the set-up and was calling for the army’s support to do that was ironical to say the least. In Tahrir Square Egyptian democrats squared up against the dictator, Mubarak’s, security forces.

Here Qadri is asking the national security institution to help him topple an elected dispensation. This on top of his totally fictional example of the dismissal of the Berlusconi government by the ‘European Court’ on corruption charges when no such thing happened.

It was good the DG ISPR gave a statement, distancing the army from Qadri. The latter’s views about elected politicians and institutions were so in line with the army’s thinking that observers attributed his sudden rise to DG ISI Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam’s efforts for the cause of national stability.

This denial, and we are taking it face value, and GHQ’s reported upgrade of the ‘internal’ threat as the major threat facing the country generates hope that better sense will prevail: elections on schedule where the electorate can throw out the corrupt and the inept as should be the norm.

Also, once the army has officially identified and designated a major threat to the country, it may also diligently take the lead in securing a consensus in how to deal with it. Dare I feel a shade more optimistic this week than I have in many, many weeks? Perhaps I can but just perhaps.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.