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Legal Eye

January 1, 2008

The year of magical thinking


January 1, 2008

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting.

Here’s to the first day of 2008. Better it is to think of today and all our tomorrows. The future is ageless. Why then to revisit the cliffs of fall that all of us have journeyed through yesterday and the days before? I speak of politics. Death is different. It is one inevitability that cannot be wished away. It is a part of life. Last year, the New Year began with Saddam Hussein’s going to the gallows. All the television channels sadistically replayed his final moments. It was a sorry start to a new year.

We begin this year; fresh with the thought that Benazir Bhutto is no more. Pakistan is plunged in gloom. The future has one thing in common with death. It does not reveal itself. Difficult it is to say then how things will pan out. Who will call the shots is a question only the Almighty has the answer to. We are just ordinary mortals who spin grand plans not knowing what tomorrow brings. We can only ease our pain by penetrating it with a candid conversation with ourselves of the fearsome terrorism that we’re stocked with.

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

Thus wrote Joan Didion, a celebrated journalist moments after her husband of 40 years died before her eyes at the dinner table. I have borrowed the above title from her bestseller ‘The Year of Magical Thinking.’ She wrote the book the following year in a bid to make sense of her loss. “Didion applies the iconic reportorial detachment for which she is known to her own experience of grieving; there are few expressions of raw emotion. Through observation and analysis of changes in her own behaviour and abilities, she indirectly expresses the toll her grief is taking,” sums up her book short-listed for the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Joan Didion admitted that when she was

writing the book she would often “cry” because what she read on the pages before her was stuff she had not allowed herself to think about in the past.

Pakistanis have suffered through a lot in the last one year. It would be helpful to talk about what happened and why. Instead of heaping all the blame on President Pervez Musharraf, including his fatal failure to protect Benazir Bhutto, we need to go beyond and study the whole landscape that has thrust itself on to us like a bad dream.

Joan Didion says she named her book ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ because she kept telling herself if she “invoked the right rituals at the funeral, he (her dead husband) would come back to me.” She also says that the word ‘magical’ relates to children who suffer guilt when they have done something wrong and want it rectified. While Benazir cannot come back much as her followers would wish, her promise to help make the lives of the poor and the trampled can yet be fulfilled by those who will now commandeer her cadres across Pakistan. What the slain leader may not have been able to achieve in life, she may yet be the ultimate catalyst to change the course of history in death. The destiny of 160 million Pakistani dying to see stability, peace and progress can be controlled from beyond the grave in Garhi Khuda Buksh.

But perhaps I am swayed by emotion like the rest of our writers and television analysts who now claim that Benazir Bhutto, had she lived, could have taken Pakistan out of the abyss. Until three months ago, BB by many was condemned for supporting Musharraf and toeing the American and British agenda. Many of her critics, myself included, said she had made a Faustian deal that was not for the cause of democracy but her personal cause. But emotions are still raw and the television channels insist on deifying her. Nobody is willing to think beyond Benazir Bhutto.

As I said, she can yet dictate democracy to be delivered by zealots wanting to keep her memory alive; wanting her to be the prime minister, not in body but in spirit. The question of the day: Can Amin Fahim be her proxy? I think not.

What 2008 needs are honest, straight, sharp leaders who can stop the rapid drift Pakistan is sliding into and save the millions waiting to be rescued. Is it that impossible, I ask you, to provide a decent life to those who have never known the meaning of education, health, shelter, clean water, two square meals- a- day, justice, jobs and security? Is it that impossible I ask you to plug state wastage on a few; ban VIP culture; catch the corrupt; sack the incompetent; recognize merit; provide universal education and healthcare to those who deserve it most?

President Musharraf continues to damage himself; he continues to damage the vital institutions that lend him support. He has to halt. Let 2008 be a year of making amends for him. He can yet undo the wrong that he was led to believe as right by his coterie. He must look around him and distance himself from has ‘advisors’ who continue to lead him into a labyrinth of lies instead of pulling him out. Such men and women are dangerous. They have to be dropped.

Next: Instead of sitting on the fence and booing the present government, are we as citizens not responsible for letting the state down? This is no platitudinous talk but just a soul-searching exercise that is critical if Pakistan has to be saved from anarchy. Some analysts are demanding Musharraf’s resignation and making him “accountable for constitutional violations before a court of law.” While I second the thought, I still think we need to go beyond the reflexive anti-Musharraf rhetoric and look to the threats pounding Pakistan.

It’s no idle hand wringing that Pakistan is in danger of being penetrated by foreign powers waiting to come in and plant their western agendas. Musharraf is so weakened that he may not be able to resist America and Britain and others from infiltrating our sensitive institutions on the pretext of securing Pakistan from disintegrating and its nukes falling into Taliban jihadi control. Fate is not favouring Musharraf and the caretakers who are proving to be a colossal failure. Cravenly they have gone into hiding while their President scoops up the blame of events far beyond his intellectual, moral and cerebral capabilities. Today he is liked only by those who stand to benefit.

Co-Chairman of PPP, Senator Asif Zardari stridently demands the UN, US and UK to intervene in the investigation of his wife’s shahadat; The most influential newspaper in the world, The New York Times launches a frontal attack on our army and the President; The US presidential candidates both in the Democrat and Republican parties make stinging statements against Musharraf; British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other world leaders look for slipping through our cracks and meddle; The International Crisis Group screams blue murder and blames the “Pakistani military and jihadi groups,” whom it accuses of being in bed together.

Enough! Foreigners must be told where they get off; but by the same token Brig Javed Iqbal Cheema must stop his phantasmagoric statements as the Interior Ministry spokesman and start telling us the truth; President Musharraf needs new advisers and new friends and honest New Year resolutions that we the people can believe in and not dismiss as poppycock; He must mop-up his skewed up plans and begin anew.

Happy New Year!

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