Thursday May 23, 2024

A page from past and present for posterity

By Aamir Ghauri
July 27, 2018

One wonders if the taste, smell or effect of power is any different from the turpentine mustiness of pine trees that dot Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad - although in reduced numbers - or the unintended stupor that envelops the city every spring with the mushroom growth of marijuana or cannabis plants all over the place. Work, efficiency and delivery are not that this capital city is known for.

Most of Pakistan’s ruling elite – political, financial, martial or bureaucratic – originates from the poorer parts of the country. Harsh familial circumstances and humble origin ordinarily force the minions of the state into permanent hibernation away from their kith and kin and the countryside. Islamabad may be hotter than most nations where democracy has firmly taken root but it is definitely milder and greener enough for those in power corridors to quickly forget their own beginnings.

On July 25, Pakistan went to vote to elect its new governors. Barring a few violent incidents, the polling process was completed pretty peacefully. The result, however, was amazingly shocking for all – the participants, the pollsters, the pundits and the people. Some would say behind the scene planning was impeccable but that is another moot subject for another time and another place. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf emerged as the largest national party at Centre. It solidified its hold on Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. It is well placed to dislodge Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in Punjab. It is now the second largest party and the Opposition in Sindh & could well be a part of a coalition government in Balochistan.

But that is where the rosy picture could end for the man who has patiently played a very long innings. Just as he waited for over two decades to lift the Cricket World Cup in 1992 after starting his cricketing career in 1971, Imran roamed in Pakistan’s political wilderness for exactly the same length of time. His victory speech on 26th was dramatically different from his campaign salvos. He came across measured, stable, diplomatic and well mannered. His promises border idealism. Governance, however, might be the opposite.

Pakistan hopes to be a functioning democracy. And, democracy we were taught is a system of governance in which people would somehow play a part to make sure it is distinguished from aristocracy, monarchy or oligarchy. It was meant as an intelligent break from history where people would be commissioned to die happily for their rulers thinking their death was meant for a greater cause. In return they were given a right to choose their rulers – the political franchise.

Seven decades is a long time to rewrite history books in order to ensure the readers start believing fiction as fact. Barring a few incontrovertible details that are preserved in international libraries, the national history is written with fake finesse wherein the forefathers are described as holy men out to create a God’s country rather than a mortal attempt to carve out a nation state from the body politic of a subcontinent.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah is not unique because he fought herculean challengers in order to create a nation state. For this task has already been suitably performed by Garibaldi, Bismarck or Kamal Pasha in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. What our Father of the Nation achieved for us is a double feat. He fashioned a nation out of Indian Muslims and then won a state for that nation. Our present-day politicians were to deliver on a much-reduced task – to run a state for which somehow rules and regulations have been agreed upon after years of sacrifices.

Imran has been an intriguing political character. His coming into politics was not his personal volition. Someone else sold the idea to him. His 21-year-long struggle against the leading names of Pakistan’s modern politics is a story of his self-belief, stamina and stubbornness. Somehow, he grew to hate those he once mixed with. And now, when he is given a momentous task to lead Pakistan on the international stage – not as a player but as a politician – his challenge would be to pull Pakistan out of a pit where institutional and societal breakdown is endemic.

Pakistan within and without is not in good shape. Provincial harmony is as frail as Pakistan’s international relations. We are standing alone in an inter-dependent, inter-connected world. What he has said in his victory speech has been said before. May be not with the same honesty of purpose and intent. But soon he would know how different is running a government from criticising one.

He has detested Parliament in which he would now command the treasury benches. His previous journeys from Banigala to Democracy Square – otherwise referred to as D-Chowk – were only a handful in the last five years. But the baboos, the media, the followers, the foes and the public at large now would watch his drives. Promises to reshape foreign policy would need backing from powerful stakeholders who normally disapprove civilian overlordship. Ambitions to convert state buildings into educational institutions sound appealing in rhetorical speeches. They would need constitutional majority for such conversion. Delivery on promises would need much more than mere immature pronouncements.

Others so far have underwritten his successes. Ten other players made the victory happen in 1992. Millions of Pakistanis have persistently donated funds for his cancer hospitals and university. A state won’t be run on charity. Economy is in a shambles. Pakistan is no Norway with a few million humans and billions in reserves. Imran has worked hard to win this mess. Now, he will have to run it. Those who lost against him won’t be merciful because he himself has chosen to be ruthless to them. It is their chance now to pull him down, to cut him to size, to make him fail.

The politics of confrontation that he so cherished could come back to haunt him. Politics is a cruel business and he has fair share of haters. They won’t listen to his “honest” requests that politics of confrontation should cease now – cooperation through consultation would enhance the chances of democracy flourish in the country rather than coercive confrontation.

Islamabad was built by a dictator for democrats. Those who desire to come to D-Chowk for a career must remember that Islamabad could still run from Rawalpindi if they fail to deliver. Debate and discuss as delegates but do deliver for those who sent you here. Don’t forget that those who lost this election were once the darlings of powers that be.

Pakistan’s democratic experience resembles a walk on the path along Islamabad’s Ataturk Avenue. The walkway is dotted with robust trees grown right in the middle of the path. Some are straight. Others lean menacingly on to the track. An intelligent walker would either circumvent to avoid a collision or bow in submission in order to walk pass. The promise is that once the pathway merges with the walkway along the majestic Margalla Road, the strong and sturdy pines that could harm a walker previously if not handled diligently would provide a much needed shield from the vehicular traffic on the main road. Choice lies with walker – tread intelligently or dreadfully.