While the old General seems to have made his way back in to the headlines, it often occurs to me how the Pakistani political set-up (read: circus) is run a lot like a badly-made soap-opera that’s been running for the last twenty-odd years, or ever since I’ve been aware of the country’s political consciousness. This is mediocre entertainment for bored housewives with a mundane but overly dramatic dialogue where characters vie for power and dominance over each other against a backdrop of envy and pride. The unsophisticated characters keep shuffling around, almost randomly, sometimes they die, sometimes they come back to life and occasionally, they’re immortalised in the mythology of the show itself. There are dramatic twists and intriguing turns, leaving you anxious at the point of suspense, but nothing really changes.
Pakistani politics isn’t that different really, even if you go by a layperson’s explanation of how the system works. If you talk to a rickshaw driver, or a chai walla, or whomever the contemporary news media defines as ‘the man on the street,’ they’ll tell you pretty much the same thing: that the system is corrupt, the political elite consists of crooks, every thing's a charade or a masquerade enacted just to dupe the citizens. All that is knowledge exists in the public realm and you don’t really have to be a scholar in politics, or fall back on some of these intricately-crafted conspiracy theories to really know that. But in saying that “everyone” knows something, it is reduced to that ‘two-bit kind of common-sense, old-wife’s-tale’ kind of wisdom. But should such a perception of political reality really be shrugged off so casually?
Recent developments, like countless others in Pakistan – which usually turn into media spectacles overnight – have almost always blatantly showed the utter hypocrisy of the so-called “democratic” Islamic or whatever system that we have going in this fair republic of ours. Almost every other analysis piece on Pakistan talks about the repetitive dictatorship-democracy transition cycle the country’s been stuck in for the past few decades. Sometimes, it reminds me of “Matrix Reloaded,” where the same events reach the same conclusion every single time. Sometimes its like déjà vu , sometimes its more like ‘I toldya so.’ It’s quite apparent that the nation only has two major alternatives for a system of government:
a) a democratically elected government, or b) a military-industrial conglomerate regime.
Both those alternatives seem to run their course to reach the same conclusion each time.
Grand systemic contradictions aside, if we just zoom into one of these systems, lets say the “democratic” system we’ve had running for the past few years, and have tried out before in the past, we begin to see a pattern of repetitive contradictions. What I mean is, it’s always the same people coming into power, growing corrupt, turning megalomaniac and authoritative, being ousted by the same old people on the other side of the fence, who grab onto power and do the same mindless rituals again. Also,we should note that both the parties manage to accumulate ridiculous amounts of capital, both political and economic during their respective tenures. It’s almost like, ‘you bat an innings, I’ll bowl an innings, and then we switch...’
To an outside observer of the country these massive shifts from military rule to democracy and vice-versa might seem very complex to break down. Usually it’s a highly-organised emancipatory force that ousts a dictator to bring about something that better emulates the people’s rule. And even when the people do get to decide who gets to take the helm, its usually a decision reduced to merely choosing between the lesser of the evils.
But my question is, why are there only “evils” to pick from? Why can’t our buffet assortment be more diverse so as to encompass things other than the Sharif Brothers’ nihari, and the Bhutto-Zardari souffle? And if that doesn’t tickle the taste buds maybe the diners would be enticed by the stale smell of ex-dictators (leftovers from last week)?
At the end of the ’90s who would have even dared to suggest that the man in the president’s chair today would ever have a chance at it? But perhaps it was easier to foretell Mr. Musharraf’s reentry into a life of politics. Usually people aren’t so kind to dictators. Dictators don’t walk out with their head still attached to their shoulders (they’d be lucky if they walked), but those are bloody revolutions, not festive emergencies followed by euphoric elections, facilitated by ‘deals’ all cut and dry. It’s always the same story, instead of fighting our battles, we’ve become used to watching our battles being fought for us on television.
The word on the street always goes like, so-and-so is coming back to power, or so-and-so is returning to politics. Why are they coming back into power? Rarely do people who get fired from a job for utter incompetence get rehired in the same company at a higher level. If we keep bringing the same people back and giving them second and third chances, and then start giving their sons and their daughters, nephews etc. chances as well, then nothing will ever change, everything would revolve in the same place at the same mundane pace.
http://e-scape-artist.blogspot.com/, can be found on Facebook and tweets at http://twitter.com/e_scape_artist. Akhtar is currently writing from New York City where he studies politics at the New School for Social Research.
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