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April 2, 2018

The Nadiya story


April 2, 2018

It is alright if you have not heard of Nadiya Savchenko. Ukraine is a country located at a bird-fly distance of 2,356 miles from here and in a region almost totally removed from our geographic orientation maps. Moreover, it is a place pulled apart by global and regional rivalries. We have enough problems nearer home than to worry about happenings in this east European outpost touching the Black Sea.

But the recent turbulence in Nadiya’s life is a powerful metaphor to explain a few things in the pure land of ours. As a Ukrainian heli-pilot she fell to Russian-backed forces in east Ukraine in 2014. She was sentenced to 22 years in prison but came back to her country under a prisoner exchange programme. She was titled a heroine, a history-making warrior, the pride and joy of Ukraine. Such was her fame that she was elected to parliament in absentia. She symbolised national honour, nationalism and resistance to the expanding Russian influence.

For someone like Nadiya, the future political path should have been a cakewalk, full of cherries and roses. Not quite. She is in prison. Not in Russia. Not in the rebel-held parts of the country but in the very land that lifted her to the seventh heaven only months ago. Her crime? Accusations that she was planning a coup and had hatched a plot to murder the pro-West President Petro Poroshenko.

More accurate and fair assessments of her current plight say she had become too much of a threat to the political lot in power so they shoved her into jail to neutralise her growing influence. From dizzying heights to the low of a dungeon, she is an example of the fluctuating fortunes that almost every politician in Pakistan has faced. The fascinating Nadiya story is so familiar to us that she could well have been a political figure here – a demi-god redefined as a blood-drinking demon.

The more famous one to experience the Nadiya fate was of course Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. When he was in power he was hailed as a champion who had restored the lost glory of a truncated Pakistan and had rehabilitated national esteem. His star achievements were expanding a precious nuclear programme and getting a full constitution approved (the first consensus-based and operational document). He had his faults – some of them incurable –but none so fatal as to send him to the gallows – and yet that’s exactly what happened. The very system that nurtured him, carved him in the role of a hero turned him into an anti-hero and there he was hanging from the other end of the rope in less than a decade. He was not even given a decent burial worthy of a man who had ruled with such fame and popularity.

Before Bhutto, Fatima Jinnah, the formidable sister of the founding father of the country, had gone through the same mill of hero-worship and demonisation. Being the right-hand of the Quaid and a constant witness to all his ambitions, achievements and disappointments, Ms Fatima had to be the most towering political personalities of her times, revered for her steadfastness and cherished for participating in the momentous struggle to get the Muslims of the Subcontinent a homeland. But when she stood against Ayub Khan and his Convention Muslim League, her name was defiled in public. You have to read some of the propaganda material and newspaper reports of those times to know how destructive the commentary on her was.

Ms Fatima was portrayed as the worst thing that could have happened to the country to the extent of being declared a national threat. And then she died; murdered, some say. Since then she has been partially restored to her well-deserved stature but obviously it is a little late for her. She wasn’t the only one from her era whose contributions were not enough of an armour to save her from being savaged. Most political leaders of the Pakistan Movement from different regions suffered similar ends. One by one they were all described as enemies of the state and cornered or jailed or destroyed as iconic figures.

There have been others who have seen these vagaries in their life. Consider A Q Khan. He once looked bigger than the state itself, commanding awe, authority, profile, resources and immunity like no one in the whole of the Subcontinent had in recent memory. But then the same man was made to appear on TV to read an apology to the nation; he was then also house arrested. His image now veers between a shining star and a stigma but he largely remains a disgraced figure for the state and the world. We were told by Musharraf, then in power, that Dr Khan was a cheat and a thief.

Another one of the same kind was Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who, according to official tales of glory told at that time, was famous for being the most trusted patriot the country had produced – someone who could sacrifice any number of prime ministers and assemblies to simply save the ‘state’. But then once he had outlived his utility he was discarded to the dustbin of history in a manner that finds few parallels. He died a quiet death, shrivelled and shrunk, reduced and shredded.

No less striking is the example of Benazir Bhutto who started off as a demonic figure contrasted sharply with the Sharifs, who were then quoted as an example of ‘good Pakistanis’, god-fearing, mosque-going, alms-giving, honest businessmen who said yes to everything and no to nothing. Benazir and her mother were, according to official narratives, Pakistan’s worst enemies, Indian agents, connivers against the country’s sacred interests and best suited for the fate that Bhutto got. It was during General Musharraf’s martial rule that her image was laundered and she was considered worthy of a formal pact under which she could return home. By then the Sharifs were had become enemy number 1 of the state and had committed, according to official handouts and press releases, the most heinous transgressions that anyone could ever imagine. They were so bad that even Asif Ali Zardari and Altaf Hussain were a more acceptable political bet then these guys. And this was quite a standard to be judged by.

On a side, Asif Ali Zardari too has had his see-saw of good and bad and good again. He came to the presidency and soon became as insufferable as Nawaz Sharif is today. Exiled and hounded, he waited in the wings for the Sharifs to be officially designated as national disasters. Sure enough that happened and the magnificent Zardari came back. Now he is trusted enough to be able to win the Senate and good enough to be forgiven all that he was accused of during his presidency – and he was accused of pretty much everything (with official evidence of course!)

The 2013 polls brought some relief to the Sharifs in terms of image but now they are back to Musharraf-day infamy. The sweet darlings of yore are the stinking devils of today. They were once the most authentic and certified super patriots who could do nothing wrong. Today, they are the ones who have sold the country for a pittance. It is obvious that their heydays are over and hell on earth awaits them. Since the crown of being true Pakistanis is off their heads, the fate they stare at is: off-with-their-heads (in the political sense).

No prizes for guessing who’s next in line for the crown: Imran Khan. It is true that on account of his hollow hubris and awful asininity, Khan has already slipped down considerably on the matrix of trust but still is rated way above the Sharifs. It is but inevitable that he too will go the same way as those before him – it’s just that he knows not or perhaps cares not since his aim is to somehow make to the PM House. What happens later is not his concern.

So the Nadiya story continues to unfold, not just in Ukraine but in Pakistan as well, aided and abetted by the dispensers of justice and built and promoted by the media. It is a tale of two countries where characters’ fates are in the hands of writers, who can position them (to adapt the Dickensian phrase) in the best of times or condemn them to the worst of times.

The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @TalatHussain12

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