In 2008, and well into 2009, on that fictional piece of geography called the moral high ground sat a holy trinity: the restored lights of the judiciary, the jihadi media obsessed with setting deadlines for presidential vacancies, and political elements carried away so much by their performance in the 2008 elections that they styled themselves prophets of change.
In the sinful depths below stood Musharraf holdouts, Q League remnants and votaries of corruption associated in the public mind with that occult sign, Ten Percent.
It was a starry-eyed period and according to the prevailing wisdom it was only a matter of time before the knights of the moral high ground came down and destroyed the evil forces lined up below. Full of self-righteousness and foaming at the mouth, the jihadi media considered this not a probability but a certainty, awaiting only the right moment for fulfilment.
If a week is a long time in politics, four years is an eternity. How dramatic the changes in this time. The moral high ground has disappeared as if it never existed, while the depths and valleys are echoing with the sounds of unrestrained laughter.
Not that the sinners have been washed in milk and have risen to the mountains. No such luck. Rather, the moral highlanders have been exposed as wearing something like the emperor’s new clothes. The sinners can be forgiven their laughter.
Forgetting everything else, the rarefied climes of higher justice from which the innocent at heart expected so much have yet to recover from the revelations surrounding the financial acumen of young Arsalan Iftikhar. What Moonis Elahi has proved for his elders, the Chaudhrys of Gujrat (not that the elders were babes in the wood but they could have done without his ministrations); what Ali Musa Gilani has been for his father, the former prime minister, not that the elder Gilani needed instructions from anyone in these matters; the asset that young Hamza is proving for his elders in Punjab, and I am not even mentioning anyone else; Arsalan Iftikhar, single-handedly, is proving for the climes of justice. The fates move in mysterious ways.
This is enough to reassure us of Pakistan’s future. Moonis, Ali Musa, Hamza, Arsalan: we are hearing the beating of the retreat, the old guard giving way to the new. The coming elections promise to make this turnover more complete. Can anyone imagine the laughter rocking the sides of the original Mr Ten Percent?
Even this figure, ten percent, or rather this occult sign of the Masonic order holding the Islamic Republic in its grip, has become outdated. An ordinary building contractor, a tehsil municipal officer, will scoff at this amount today. Indeed, if you were to say ten percent, he would think you were insulting him. In the Pakistan of today ten percent is almost benign, and if there were a national consensus on this as our share of the proceeds in any undertaking, our march towards the sun would be something to behold.
The guns of the jihadi media have fallen silent, as they had to after the repeated embarrassments the champions of this order had to endure after the failure of all their predictions. Memogate was the last great attempt to align the stars with their wishes but what a damp squib Memogate turned out to be, the greatest embarrassment of all. If in ISI’s hallowed headquarters there were a museum dedicated to things best forgotten, the relics of this affair would occupy pride of place.
The halls of justice and the foaming guns of the jihadi media were the two parts of the trinity straddling the moral high ground. The third part consisted of the afore-mentioned political elements. They too have come down to the plains because the longevity of the present order – completing its five-year term – has been a lesson in pragmatism for all concerned.
Hence the result: a more level playing field today, with no highs and lows, no one in a position to claim spiritual pre-eminence, all in the same hamaam (bathhouse) where they always used to be, with much the same amount of clothing.
And if any doubters think that the good times have rolled by without taking the defenders of our ideological frontiers – hang geography – into their ambit, let them be reassured. Brothers to the high command are contributing in whatever way they can to the great cause of national defence, their efforts in this regard adding lustre to the family name.
This makes it more of a level field than we could have imagined...Mahmud and Ayaz standing together, in line with our glorious past and the true spirit of Islam.
Iqbal’s vision of what was to come, Jinnah’s Pakistan? Time we grew up. This is more like Malik Riaz’s Pakistan and if we were really to look around us he would be the nation’s patron saint. This is a perfectly logical choice. Since the national craze for some time is to make big bucks the fastest way one can, the man who has made the biggest bucks in the fastest possible time deserves a special place of honour.
Enough of breast-beating. Time for a new national reconciliation ordinance, so that a line can be drawn under the past and we can move forward. We have entered newer and more sacred territory. Ephedrine scandal? The alleged profit accruing from this affair is said to be seven billion rupees, small change in today’s Pakistan. But the heartening thing is it is taking forever to conclude. Who says we don’t have our judicial priorities right? Quick and merciless justice for alleged blasphemy offenders but a more lenient attitude for narcotics smugglers.
Notice how all the talk of corruption has lost its erstwhile vigour and passion...only because the new crown princes, set to inherit and lead the new Pakistan, have set higher benchmarks and newer milestones. No surprises if the Turkish bath is crowded.
Islamabad is a study in envy. Dig deep into anything and you will find two things: “powerful connections” which is the name of the game in the Islamic Republic and that eternal question, cherchez la femme...look for the girl. Behind every deal you find an elegant moll or powerful connections. Ever since I have heard stories of a moll getting great government business for an advertising company, and having the run of the prime minister’s office, Gilani being my kind of prime minister, I have asked myself why I am not in the advertising business.
Consider this as a warning. There are six months still for the elections. Much can still be done. But if performance does not match expectations, don’t be surprised if the original ten percenters have another laugh at the nation’s expense.
The PPP may not have been able to manage the economy but it has managed politics better than all its rivals. A minority party in the National Assembly in power, at the head of a coalition, for five years...this has never happened in our history. Bhutto was the brighter mind, the more intelligent soul. His son-in-law, who would never have been his son-in-law had he been alive, is the better politician.
So rivals take heed: improve the art of political management if you are not to cut a sorry figure at the approaching crossroads of history.
Tailpiece: As Maj-Gen Athar Abbas and other friends have pointed out, Nasim Begum and not Madam sang the haunting “...rah-e-haq ke shaheedo...” Sorry.