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Opinion

August 5, 2018

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Inevitable lessons

My previous column, ‘The art of capturing the mandate’ (July 28), which enumerated seven tactics of stealing the electoral mandate in Pakistan, received an unprecedented response from readers. Apart from being widely shared on social media, the article also generated emails that added to the list of tools, while many also condemned the basic premise of the article.

Some readers, such as Khalil Tetley and Ajmal Malik, loved my advice to “relax and enjoy”, and did just that. Some others, such as Siraj Khan, called it a ‘tools for fools’ story, meaning that if the state has been using these tools against the people then they deserved it. This sheer arrogance of calling people and their representatives ‘fools’ shows the disdain some people have for democracy.

Somebody who claimed to have travelled over 70 countries wrote that, “the first five years of Ayub and Musharraf are generally considered [the] best overall.” He reached this conclusion after “discussing this subject with non-Pakistanis who are familiar with Pakistan[,] including former ambassadors to Pakistan.”

This is an interesting – though not unique – observation, as many people, both in an out of Pakistan, harbour this misconception about Gen Ayub Khan and, to a lesser degree, about Gen Musharraf’s eras. First, let’s discuss the first five years of Gen Ayub. The good general captured absolute power in Pakistan in 1958. But if his own words are to be believed, he had been planning to take over right from the time he was made commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Army in 1951. He outlined these initial thoughts in his book ‘Friends Not Masters’ – that some people say was written by his right-hand man, Altaf Gauhar.

In the 1950s, Gen Ayub felt ill at ease with the political shenanigans of the leaders he detested. He became restless and uncomfortable at not being able to do much to correct the morass Pakistan was in. In his opinion, democracy was not suitable for countries like Pakistan. This is a common streak of thought among people who lack any semblance of political and social understanding. They think that Pakistanis are too credulous and tend to believe anything that clever politicians tell them. Moreover, unless the people are educated, democracy is meaningless.

When his day finally came, in October 1958, Gen Ayub Khan was more than ready to topple the first president of Pakistan, Iskandar Mirza, who was sent packing across the sea. It is true that it was Maj-Gen Iskandar Mirza who imposed a martial law, abrogated the 1956 constitution and appointed Gen Ayub as the chief martial law administrator. But it was Gen Ayub who wielded actual powers and called the shots. The assemblies were dissolved by Iskandar Mirza, but the politicians were hounded by Gen Ayub.

The scheduled elections were cancelled by Iskandar Mirza, but the entire election mechanism was highjacked by Ayub Khan, who mastered the art of capturing mandates and passed on the baton. Those who praise his ‘first five years’ should remember that those were the years that set the tone for the ultimate dismemberment of a united Pakistan.

Those were the years when numerous laws were passed by the ‘supreme law-giver’, who thought of himself in the most self-righteous manner. Those who love the ‘strong-man theory’ should not forget that strong-arming techniques may prove successful in capturing the mandate, but they damage and mutilate the body and soul of politics as well as democracy.

It was during the years of Gen Ayub Khan’s one-man rule that some of the greatest names of the freedom movement were banished, demeaned, humiliated and incarcerated. The names are too many to cite here. The void that was created by the landslide evacuation from the political field was never filled. It was like chopping off a forest that had some damaged trees –but did not call for the felling of all trees – except those who were ready to bend and bow to the great general.

Coming to Musharraf and his first five years (1999-2004). The less said, the better. If, according to some non-Pakistanis and US ambassadors to Pakistan, those were the ‘best overall’ years, we need to reconsider the word ‘best’ and its context. For the US, both Ayub and Musharraf were, indeed, the best in their first five years. Who else could have offered the airbases in Badaber near Peshawar, and in Jacobabad, among so many other concessions that the US got at the cost of Pakistan and its people?

In addition to ‘Friends Not Masters’, one must also read ‘In the Line of Fire’ by Pervez Musharraf – purportedly written by Altaf Gauhar’s son. You will get to know details – that too straight from the horse’s mouth – which will embarrass even the worst traitors who sell the dignity of their country to gain personal power and privileges.

Another reader, Arshad Kamal, had this to say: “One argument in favour of some ‘election engineering’ will be based on the level of voters. Because of illiteracy and poverty (voters can be influenced over a plate of biryani or qeema nan), tribal and biradari [are] primary consideration(s) to vote. In that situation, how [will] parliament gets (sic) genuine law makers (sic)? Therefore, some election engineering is justified.”

This argument is self-defeating in the sense that election engineering is a crime, and it is precisely this capturing of the mandate that we discussed in the previous article. Justifying a crime on whatever pretexts is a crime in itself. Violating a law, such as abrogating a constitution, is a punishable crime; and justifying this crime has led all and sundry to violate laws. If a state, which is considered the supreme defender of the law, itself violates the law, how can it prevent common people from violating it? And this is precisely what has happened in Pakistan.

The constitution is the supreme law of a country. If you violate that constitution, every minor law is bound to be violated and you can’t blame it on the people. It’s like saying that a father who lies, smokes and drinks is encouraging his children to do the same. The state is like the father who keeps his children illiterate and poor and then blames them for getting ‘influenced over a plate’ of whatever. When you kill democratic political parties, you encourage the politics of tribes and biradaris (kinship). This is what most dictators do – and then they blame it on the people.

The comment that: “in this situation how [will] parliament get genuine lawmakers? Therefore, some election engineering is justified” is both naive and deadly at the same time. Parliament gets genuine lawmakers by inculcating a democratic culture and not by uprooting it repeatedly. The word ‘genuine’ itself smacks of a superiority complex: ‘genuine patriots’, ‘genuine Muslims’, ‘genuine Pakistanis’, ‘genuine officers’ and ‘genuine judges and generals’. And then there are ‘fake’ ones, so to say. In this scheme of things, all those who toe the line are genuine, and those who refuse to do so are fake.

The fakes ones who correct themselves are redeemed and become genuine overnight. Most followers and true practitioners of an ideology, religion or sect claim to be genuine, while those who raise questions, challenge an ideology or devise a new religious path are declared fake. This is the lesson of history – in which you can’t relax and enjoy, even if it is inevitable.

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

Email: [email protected]

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