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December 9, 2016

Can’t we go back to the pre-Ziaul Haq days?


December 9, 2016

Islamabad diary

The 1977 movement against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a calamity and the subsequent martial law, the path to which was paved by that benighted movement, was a catastrophe. Both events, the movement and the martial law, snuffed the lights out of this country, God-appointed as we like to think, and pushed it into a modern version of the dark ages. That’s where we remain stuck to this day.

It’s something to do with the Muslim world that once socially regressive steps are taken it becomes virtually impossible to roll them back. Take our own example. Gen Zia passed the Hudood Ordinance to look pious and devout in Saudi eyes. It was also meant as a sop to the clergy which had been in the forefront of the 1977 movement. What have been the benefits of that ordinance and of the fiery rhetoric that was the centerpiece of Gen Zia’s Islamisation? What profound effects has this had on anything, the nation’s morals to begin with?

Are we a cleaner society as a consequence, more honest and straightforward? Are corruption levels down? Have the various administrative services stopped taking bribes as part of their work ethic? Is there is less adulteration in the food markets of Pakistan? Is there greater respect for the rule of law? Have we been lucky in our rulers and do our rulers, from the ten-percenters to the knights and high ladies of Panamagate, represent a higher order of morality?       

Now if these haven’t been the consequences, what on earth are we talking about? Let’s not ask certified sinners, most likely beyond the pale of redemption and hence biased in their answers. We should ask someone like Maulana Tariq Jamil, the televangelist from whom there is no escaping if you are given to watching television, as most of the nation is, there being little better to do of an evening in this republic officially dedicated to dryness and piety.

Ask this question of him: are we a better society as a result of all this relentless evangelism? And the related question: of what use has been the Hudood Ordinance? Is Pakistani society nearer the light, closer to the promised kingdom, more virtuous, as a result of it?

The obvious beneficiaries are two classes of men: 1) policemen whose asking price if you were caught with a bottle of the forbidden stuff or had liquor on your breath shot up because the Hudood Ordinance made the possession and drinking of liquor more serious offences than they used to be; and 2) the honourable profession of bootleggers who grew fat on the proceeds of prohibition.

When something is banned it doesn’t disappear from view. Its procurement and supply only become more difficult, to the immeasurable benefit of the afore-mentioned brotherhood. In cities like Islamabad and Lahore, known spiritual suppliers are now counted among the more respected, and certainly the more useful, members of society. Every upright soul stands in need of their services.

What will the pontiffs say to this? Is it preferable to live with this hypocrisy, keeping up the pretence of things even when the living reality is altogether different, or would it be a slightly better idea to rethink the cost of this patently sham Islamisation?

Parliament cannot roll back the tide. Expect not such suicidal boldness from that august body claiming to be sovereign in all its prerogatives. The amount of forbidden stuff regularly consumed in its lodges when it is in session would fill one of the seven seas. But where this should make them bold it seems in their case to have the opposite effect. Most honourable members are incapable of saying an angry word before their leaders. Any attempt at social revolution is clearly beyond their competence or industry.

It would take a strongman to bring about such a change. But we’ve seen our strongmen and they’ve either been cardboard figures or made of wax. Musharraf had a chance to do so much. In his first two or three years he faced no opposition. The English press was on his side and many knights who became champions of the media later ate from his hands and acted like his press agents. And the holy fathers had not found their voice.

If he had so chosen Musharraf could have said that Gen Zia’s sham Islamisation, including the Hudood Ordinance, was being revoked and a council of eminent divines was being set up to propose genuine Islamisation – in effect employing hypocrisy to beat hypocrisy, much like poison being used as an antidote to poison.

But Musharraf lacked imagination and he had poor advisers – let me not name them– with no sense of history or a sense of the opportunity before them. Two of his leading generals, one the principal coup-maker and the other the accountability czar, were Gallians – old boys of Lawrence College – but they came up to nothing, missing their chance as Musharraf missed his.

The Zia slate could have been wiped clean and a social revolution could have been started, beginning with the revocation of the Hudood Ordinance. Pakistan would have been a freer country. And who knows the gates of creativity and fresh undertakings, now firmly shut and pulled down, could have opened, and all our pent-up and wasted energies could have come out and been put to better use.

Our leading soldiers are great at some things. There is certainly no one to beat them at the real-estate game – which prompted me once to say that real estate should be a subject taught in the PMA. But imagination and a sense of history are not strong points of the senior officer class.

An exception has to be made in the case of those officers and men who have gone through the fire and endurance of Zarb-e-Azb. This is a battle-hardened lot which, if we are lucky, should help lay the foundations of a new officer class – more idealistic and less tainted by the prospect of material gain than those who came before them.

Zarb-e-Azb has made the army tougher and given it a new spirit. There was the Zia army led by hypocritical generals, piety hanging on their lips because that was the spirit prevailing at that time. The begums of generals and senior bureaucrats were all into holding milad functions because that again was in keeping with the spirit of the times.

There was the Musharraf army when officers and men if they happened to be in uniform were afraid to venture into bazaars. That was how popular the army had become. And there was the Kayani army which did some good things like the liberation of Swat and South Waziristan but lost courage and the use of its will at the gates of North Waziristan.  

There was a time, before Zia, before even Bhutto and the debacle of East Pakistan, when Pakistan was a land of hope and promise. How do we return to that time? How, in short, can we get rid of the old hypocrisy? To me this seems to be Pakistan’s biggest challenge, before everything else.

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