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March 25, 2018

The Pyrrhic victory of Dr Faustus: Part - II


March 25, 2018

The first part of this article elicited unusual response. The emails received oscillated between two extremes; some called the article balanced and well-placed, others condemned this writer to hell for selling his soul to Nawaz Sharif.

PPP supporters were particularly annoyed at the Dr Faustus analogy which, according to them, was uncalled for and inappropriate. PML-N supporters were happy that their leader was not criticised but eulogised, which the article never did. But the most interesting email came from Dr Fehmida Mirza, the former speaker of the National Assembly.

We will come to Fehmida Mirza’s email later; first let’s discuss some of the points raised by the readers. The most common objection was against the perceived losses to the PPP. The defenders of the PPP were of the opinion that their party has not suffered any losses rather it has gained a lot from the victory in the Senate. They think that allowing Nawaz Sharif to have his say in the Senate elections would have incurred more losses to the PPP and would have reduced the clout Asif Zardari has mustered.

This argument goes against the grain of democracy. Gains and losses should be measured in terms of how democracy has been strengthened or weakened in people’s perceptions. Gains are also evaluated by counting how many new seats have been won in parliament through fair and free elections and not through horse-trading. Everyone knows what happened in Balochistan a couple of months back. It is the same province where in 2008, the PPP selected Nawab Raisani to be the chief minister. His credentials did not add any democratic prestige to the PPP feather.

Perhaps the biggest democratic gain of the PML-N was in Balochistan. It could have formed a government with its own chief minister right from the beginning. Rather, Nawaz Sharif invited Dr Abdul Malik to form the government as chief minister. That was gracious and in accordance with democratic norms. Although Dr Malik himself has acknowledged that civilian governments in Balochistan have never had a major say in the running of affairs, his selection by Nawaz Sharif to be the chief minister was a positive step. Sharing of power is a sine qua non of any democratic setup.

The selection of Nawab Zehri as the next chief minister of Balochistan was as bad as Nawab Raisani’s, but perhaps Nawaz had no choice. The coalition government in Balochistan survived for four-and-a-half years; for all democratic purposes it should have been allowed to complete its last six months in office. One requirement for democracy to survive and prosper is the willingness of the opposition to allow the government in power to complete its term and present its case to the people in the next elections. In the 70-year history of Pakistan, our opposition parties have failed to establish this tradition.

Another argument from PPP supporters was the assertion that neither principles nor respect was put at stake. So the argument goes: both principles and respect are not long-lasting. If the ruling party is violating democratic principles, the opposition also has the same right to do so. But if we accept this argument, no democratic principle will ever take root in this country. Agreed that Nawaz Sharif has shown his complete disregard for principles – from IJI and Changa Manga to Saifur Rehman and Chaudhry Nisar – but this practice must end somewhere.

Moreover, what somebody did in the past is no measure of that person’s stand at present. Our new actions are likely to cancel out our past deeds. The final verdict depends on final acts. What ZA Bhutto did in his early years with the usurper, General Ayub Khan, was cancelled out by his movement against the dictator. In 1970, Bhutto stood as an icon of democracy but his iconic stature was marred in 1971 when he conspired with another dictator, General Yahya Khan, to deprive Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of his right to be the prime minister of Pakistan.

But again, Bhutto’s all undemocratic and authoritarian steps were washed away by his final stand at the gallows. He is not remembered for his violations of democratic principle, but he is loved and cherished by the people – thanks to his courageous challenge to the establishment during his last years. Similarly, what mistakes Benazir Bhutto made in the 1990s are no more relevant after her sacrifices for democracy. Although that period of Benazir is of concern to historians, her last battle against Musharraf really helped her won people’s respect. Similarly, what Nawaz Sharif did in his earlier years is of value to historians, but for people his current standing is more important.

And now something about Dr Fehmida Mirza’s email. She highlighted her main concern in the following words, “people have forgotten my role as first women (sic) speaker in the history of Pakistan, Muslim world and in our region in 2008. Who worked independently in building institution and strengthening [p]arliament”. To some extent her complaint is correct; she was the first woman speaker not only in Pakistan but also in the Muslim world. She had a positive role in restoring the respect for the house and she did work almost independently.

Unfortunately, she has not been given the credit that she deserves; her own party almost forgot her, perhaps due to the theatrics of her husband Zulfiqar Mirza. Sometime the efforts of men and women who work hard to achieve respect and stature in society are undone by their spouses. To some extent that applies to Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari too. In the 1990s, Benazir was maligned for the real or perceived excesses her husband was committing. But she was too strong to be overshadowed by her husband so she decided to keep him at bay – at least publically – during her last years.

For Fehmida Mirza, her husband proved to be a bane rather a boon; and she could not untangle herself from him. The negative role which Zulfiqar Mirza played in the politics of Sindh in general and particularly in Karachi, tarnished Fehmida Mirza’s own efforts for democracy in the country. In her email, she highlights some of the steps she took as the speaker of the National Assembly such as constituting “the committee for the 18th Amendment (despite reservations of leadership) and [it] was passed unanimously”.

She emphasised that “several such steps which set the tone of the tolerant parliament was (sic) taken [the] formation of the Women Parliamentary Caucus is another achievement which led to the passage of more than [a] dozen women related bills”. It is true that Fehmida Mirza was the one who initially constituted the committee for the 18th Amendment, and she has not been given due credit for it; perhaps because most of the practical and theoretical work was done and led by Senator Raza Rabbani within a very diversified committee.

She ends her email by lamenting the fact that, “my leadership for the party is also not hidden from anyone” but “today how I have been sidelined by the party leadership. People have very short memory especially when it comes to women”.

I assure you Dr Fehmida Mirza, your efforts are not forgotten. At least those, who have a keen mind, will remember you.


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

Email: [email protected]

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