Thursday June 20, 2024

The moment of truth

By Asha’ar Rehman
April 01, 2023

It all really depends on which Pakistan you are face to face with at a particular moment. You may find yourself in a land that is brutally enslaved by the old and developing taboos of all shapes and kinds. Or alternately and hopefully you may be existing in a Pakistan whose citizens have been liberated from the age-old demons of oppression to finally be able to speak their own truth. So much freedom will be on display in this Pakistan, there will be so much truth to confront you with – even when reconciliation, that long desired twin of truth in the long debate among the country’s progressive circles, still badly eludes us.

The question remains: can all this frankness on display in our discussion of the erstwhile sacred cows lead to durable relief? Or is this a temporary phase after which the traditional powers are going to return to their above-reproach vantage positions?

Beginning with the piece of truth revealed right at the top of the Pakistani edifice which is shaking under the impact of a whole series of recent disclosures. Such is the mood out there that nobody is willing to accept the timid efforts by our former army chief when he tries to disown an interview. The ever-present fair and conscientious journalists are doing the drill of pointing out as to what ingredients constitute an authentic interview. Yet, so unshakable is the public conviction about the general's ability to say things that few, if any, seem to want to not believe that it’s him clearing his chest alright.

The right thing from here would be to earnestly review whatever journalist Mr Maitla has reported as a conversation to understand the true scope of work an enterprising individual in the chief of army staff’s post can create for himself. The next conversation must feature demands about how to contain such an adventure and this will only be possible by lifting the veils of secrecy over the past conduct of men in this most crucial position.

Who is afraid of holding these most deserving people of accountability? Certainly not the general public who have in recent times developed a tendency to not just be uneasy with these protectors of theirs, but which has increasingly learnt to level allegations of routine excesses by the establishment.

The frankness of the times certainly raises hope for reforms and introduction of strict professional discipline, and not just in the case of one institution. The so-called divide in the judiciary which in turn is blamed on the polarization of society is also not without its positive dimensions. Here is a good opportunity to follow these leads, whatever circumstances they might have been thrown up in, to weave a more constructive initiative. This may be difficult, given the present faceoff between political parties with ‘questionable’ motives, but for the ordinary Pakistani looking for a magical great escape from captivity, it is a miracle worth longing for.

If these extraordinary times do not spell out liberty for Pakistanis, then what will? There is the required level of restlessness among the people and of course to counter and defuse that, the system must be working overtime to create its own defences. One clear shield is where it offers an individual from within as the latest in the line of saviours.

You must respect the people’s choice of their leader but that doesn’t mean that you should not question the estimated capacity of a candidate to deliver? In other words, does an Imran Khan riding high the wave of popularity talk about reforms in proportion to the extreme sense of depression that is conveyed by today’s voices rooted in the unprecedented boldness and frankness of voices that define the mass of Pakistanis right now?

The voices have been raised on the land before. The hopes have been dashed in the past. The popular charge has been neutralized and the saviours have been turned into villains and those who needed to be contained have emerged even stronger in the process. Once again, those who are most vulnerable to being hated by the people are the most prominent candidates waiting to fill in as today’s villains.

They are easy subjects of ridicule: politicians lamely distributing wheat flour, politicians declaring politicians as their rivals in a duel and them gathering in parliament as part of an ‘ugly’ effort to self-preserve. The accusations they are dumped under may all be true and more horrific details about how they have held the people in their deadly tentacles may be in store. But in this season of truths and disclosures, some corrections are even more urgent than sending a bunch of politicians to jail.

Let’s not waste all this energy that has been built to such a notch in punishing the politician. That can be done with minimum fuss by rejecting them on the day of an election. The rest of the anger can easily be channeled to correct the wrongs that corrupt a system. For example, wrongs such as those which reduce a court hearing to the intensity of your everyday television talk show, wrongs encouraged by a reliance on the suo motu, and whatever a general in the all-important post must not consider worthy of his notice.

The writer is a senior journalist.