Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

March 18, 2018

The Pyrrhic victory of Dr Faustus: Part - I


March 18, 2018

First, let’s examine the concept of a Pyrrhic victory. Pyrrhus was an army general who suffered tremendous losses even though he defeated the Romans in 280 BC. Since then, a Pyrrhic victory has been used to describe situations where the victor’s losses are as great – if not more – as those of the defeated party.

When somebody puts his/her respect, principles, wealth, public support and even his/her long-standing friendships at stake to gain something that may give the victor a sense of smartness, we may call it a Pyrrhic victory.

Then, who is Dr Faustus? A character from ‘The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus’ (1588) by Christopher Marlowe, Dr Faustus is a well-respected German scholar who becomes dissatisfied with his limits and decides that he wants to practice magic. He receives instruction in the dark arts and begins his career as a magician. He summons the devil and offers his own soul in exchange for 24 years of service from him. The deal is signed with Dr Faustus’s blood. Though his intelligence and scholarship earns him the degree of a doctor, his downfall is imminent.

Faustus’s tale is not very different from that of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and fell to his death when the sun melted his waxen wings. Ultimately, hubris is the undoing of both Faustus and Icarus. Faustus claims to have mastered in every subject and depreciates all logical principles as being mere tools for arguing. To him, medicine is worthless if it cannot raise the dead and the law is akin to a mercenary who gets paid to make the killing. Since all humans commit sins, Dr Faustus says “Que sera sera” (What will be, will be).

If you apply that to Pakistan, the recent victory of Asif Ali Zardari in the Senate elections is a Pyrrhic victory – a victory in which losses have been witnessed on all sides, but weigh heavily on the victor. The difference is that Pyrrhus realised the heavy toll of his high-handedness on his people. But in the case of Pakistan, the victor – or rather, the victors – don’t even realise that they have harmed their friends more than they could harm their enemies. You don’t need a magnifying glass to recount the losses. You simply need a discerning eye to dissect the victim’s body.

And who is the victim in this victory? The victim is democracy itself. A democracy that the people of this country have fought arduously for over the past 70 years. A democracy which leaders like H S Suhrawardy, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Mian Iftikharuddin, Fazlul Haq, Tameezuddin, and Fatima Jinnah, have struggled to uphold. Democracy was not an imaginary concept; it was something that the people of this country had managed to get, only to have it slip away from their hands. Democracy was the ideal of Benazir Bhutto and she died for it. Despite the mistakes she made in the 1990s, she had learned a valuable lesson.

Democracy is the ideal of today’s political workers, whether they are affiliated with the PPP, PML-N and PTI or any other party that believes in adult franchise and considers free and fair elections to be the stepping stone to a more egalitarian democratic system. The notion that elections must be free and fair doesn’t only apply to direct elections. In fact, all elections – whether they are at the national or subnational levels, including those for national and provincial assemblies – where people and their representatives vote, have to be free and fair. Any attempt to subvert the free exercise of vote results in a Pyrrhic victory where the victim is democracy.

Another victim is the dignity of our politicians – the dignity that has been so dear to some of the leaders of the PPP itself. The list of those who lost their dignity in the recent Senate elections is long on all sides. But most of the politicians on this list are from the PPP. The party, which has been a refuge for democratic, liberal, progressive, and secular political workers, has forced some lifelong PPP supporters to reconsider their position.

It has not been a pleasant spectacle for those who expected more from the party of Benazir Bhutto – a leader who believed in democracy to such an extent that when Nawaz Sharif announced the boycott of elections, she persuaded him to put his party in the contest. The spectacle has been ugly and nauseating for those who did not want Dr Faustus to sell his soul. The well-wishers of Icarus wanted him not to fly too close to the sun, knowing full well that most politicians have wings of wax.

Unless the sun has reduced its temperature or has changed its nature by not burning those who come close to it, it is better to remain at a distance. Or, if the democratic system has built a strong sunshield to protect itself and its wings are not made of wax, we can take the risk. At present, the sun is too strong. It doesn’t allow any protection to be built and prevents any attempts by politicians to grow stronger wings. The PML-N, despite all its past mistakes, has tried to build a shelter from the sun. But the PPP has uprooted any nascent foundations of a civilian and democratic shield.

The loss has been tremendous. The fun that ‘defence analysts’ are having on TV is shameful to say the least. The democratic aspirations that the people had cultivated after almost 10 years of a teetering democracy have almost been shattered. The primary responsibility of any political party is not to gain a share of power by hook or by crook; the primary task is to maintain and restore people’s confidence in the democratic system, without which the vendors of despotism will have a field day. Those who malign politicians and decry democracy have almost won.

Do we remember PPP workers and leaders like Nasir Baloch, Munawwar Suhrawardy, Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti? And many others who could have sold their souls but didn’t. If Raza Rabbani was not the right candidate to be re-elected as the Senate chairman, why was he sent to the Senate again? The person who brought glory to the Upper House and was acknowledged and feted for his command over federalism and his democratic leadership was suddenly found to be lacking in qualities. Or, was it loyalties that were expected of him?

The public humiliation of Raza Rabbani and his marginalisation in the party has become a big blot on the PPP. The party is emerging in its new avatar that prefers obsequiousness over uprightness, and values the sun more than those who have been scorched. The message has been sent and the missive is clear: it doesn’t matter if you win 500 votes or 5,000 votes, and have no experience of parliamentary politics. What counts is the pleasure of the powers that be, more than the principles of any decent politics.

Dr Faustus appears to have bargained for an ignominious deal and the deed has been signed with the blood of all those who have sacrificed for democracy. If you conclude a Faustian bargain, the arrangement will not allow you to enjoy the fruits of the harvest. The result will be a thornier bed for the democratic bride who will forever be condemned to a miserable sleep.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

Topstory minus plus

Opinion minus plus

Newspost minus plus

Editorial minus plus

National minus plus

World minus plus

Sports minus plus

Business minus plus

Karachi minus plus

Lahore minus plus

Islamabad minus plus

Peshawar minus plus