Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Silence and neutrality

April 16, 2013

SILENCE is the most profound expression of neutrality. Some of the caretakers appear to disagree, though.

Apart from making avowed statements in which they recognise the holding the elections as their ‘main’ concern, the outspoken among them are quite eager to reconfirm this link between silence and neutrality.

It seems that some of the people had somehow anticipated an election in winter. The local television channel in Lahore runs an advert in which the ‘forever hot’ Imran Khan is shown appealing to the voters’ good sense wearing a leather jacket.

As out-of-season sales go the advertisement has competition from all this talk about celebrating Basant when summer has already set in.

The only explanation of this baffling attempt at recalling spring may be that the brief was prepared sometime ago and that it was to be put into action in the winter, in the run-up to the Basant festival that once upon a time used to be held on the second weekend of February.

You may fly kites at any time of the year, provided the law allows you to do that. One thing you can’t do is celebrate Basant outside spring. That would be so unnatural.

So many of us can still feel the pull of the string on our fingers and our hearts. So many of us miss Basant, a beloved that we first lost to the corporate world and then lost completely due to a ban by the government. But that is all beside the point. The question is should an interim set-up be taking up issues as contentious as this one?

Basant does not just divide people into camps on the basis of cultural and security lines; a certain party element also crept into it during the last government. The PPP politicians, among them the then governor of Punjab, had pursued a revival of the kite-flying festival quite forcefully.

It was to be interpreted as a statement of his party’s commitment to cultural freedoms as opposed to the conservatives who invoked all kinds of excuses to deny the people the simple pleasures of life.

This was probably their way of trying to win back Lahore, whose zinda dilan had proudly perfected a brand of the Basant festival which only they could indulge in.

It may have sounded like an ingenious idea to a desperate PPP mind seeking to revive through a revival of Basant the old fallen fortunes of a party in this city. The effort unfortunately failed after creating some excitement but not an organised movement for the return of kite-flying.

Soon after taking charge, the interim chief minister expressed his wish to have the kites fluttering about again. The economic argument resurfaced when someone remembered just how much employment the business of kites generated.

Someone spoke about the terrible lack of entertainment in the lives of Pakistanis while others wondered if a middle way had been found where the sport could be allowed while posing minimum danger to lives.

Rumours that the enthusiasts may be allowed at least a day’s reprieve in open grounds did the rounds, and this is precisely as high as the acting chief minister’s trial balloon rose.

The Sharif government in the province had maintained the ban on Basant and no sensible neutral in Lahore right now would risk rubbing the Sharifs the wrong way.

Tradition suggests that it is now their turn to take power in Islamabad, so the motive behind the stirring up of the Basant debate must have been rooted elsewhere. It could well have been taken up out of a genuine desire to have the kites back, a remark made in good faith as they say on such occasions — not that it always makes sense.

It made absolutely no sense when the interior minister in the federal interim set-up was reported in the papers to have hidden behind ‘good faith’ over a more than controversial statement he had made about Mian Nawaz Sharif.

It was not just any statement but a declaration of the minister’s belief in the person of Mian Sahib. The people clearly heard him say that he supported the PML-N chief as a sole national leader of merit and that he was going to vote for his party in the coming polls — the same polls whose fairness the caretakers are ‘mainly’ here to ensure.

If anything can be said about the reaction to this declaration of allegiance by the acting minister, the PML-N’s opponents appeared to be less agitated than the provocation dictated. There was of course criticism by the PPP and the PTI, but while a removal of the erring minister from the cabinet was indeed demanded, the event was worthy of wider and far more vociferous protest than it attracted.

This somewhat subdued response may have been due to the fact that political parties were at the time taken up with so much else relating to the election.

The same excuse of being too occupied, however, cannot be applied to the people at the head of the interim set-up. The acting prime minister should have taken it up with the alacrity it demanded for this is exactly the job he is assigned to do.

The interim prime minister had taken his time over selecting his cabinet. The team he finally came up with seemed to live up to its neutral billing given that political parties by and large accepted it without too many objections.

It would have been ideal if the things had stayed that way. It was unfortunate that the words escaped the interior minister’s lips the way they did. But once the silence of neutrality had been broken the interim government should have not dithered from immediately relieving the gentleman from his temporary responsibility. A warning against partiality is not enough.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.