Monday January 30, 2023

Expecting miracles from jackasses

A strange nation we are, expecting wisdom from morons, radicalism from born opportunists, and virtue

By Ayaz Amir
May 30, 2008
A strange nation we are, expecting wisdom from morons, radicalism from born opportunists, and virtue from knaves whose principal claim to fame is daylight national robbery.

What do we take the national scene to be, the result of a Nepalese revolution or a Chinese long march? Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan after a deal brokered by the Yanks in whose prowess she had invested all her hopes. Nawaz Sharif's return to the country came about as a result of Saudi royal intervention. Hard to detect the glimmers of any Che Guevarism in either of these Roman triumphs.

Musharraf took off his uniform not because a million men and women, torches in hand, had besieged Army House but because the Yanks were twisting his elbow and support for him within the army command was waning. The lawyers' movement played a vital part in weakening him but lawyers take on too much upon themselves when they portray themselves as the heralds of the changes that have swept Pakistan.

All the leaders of the movement – from Aitzaz Ahsan to Munir A Malik to Ali Ahmed Kurd – are my friends. They are possessed of admirable qualities but modesty or humility, alas, is not the most conspicuous among them. They expect the world to change but themselves refuse to change, still stuck in the heady feelings generated by their movement last year. If the tide flows it also ebbs. Critical points come and pass. Their movement has lost its momentum and something more than Aitzaz's driving skills – his uncanny ability to arrive at every destination at least ten hours late – is needed to regain it.

The people made their views known on Feb 18 but only because they were given an opportunity to do so. If they had not been given that opportunity does anyone think that they would have taken to the streets and stormed the citadels of power? In which make-believe world do we live? Our capacity for being pushed around is virtually inexhaustible and our political class, far from

honing the tools of political resistance, has arrived at the last stages of moral and intellectual bankruptcy.

If the Feb elections had been shelved, Pakistan would have dug a deeper hole for itself but the masses would not have stirred. A nation that could endure Ayub Khan for eleven years, that knight of darkness – Ziaul Haq – for another eleven, and a certified mediocre like Musharraf, a disaster in both war and peace, for eight and a half years, can put up with anything. Still the fact remains that whether the Yanks played around with the props on our political stage or the Saudi Royals had a hand in altering some of the background tapestry, elections were held, Musharraf and his pack of political jackals were roundly humiliated, and political parties reviled and abused, and kept out in the cold all these years, swept to a dramatic victory.

So the people were not remiss in expecting great things to happen. What they have received instead is another extended lesson in the workings of political bankruptcy, the political parties in whom the people had reposed their trust proving epic failures at political management. Instead of dealing with real issues and trying to figure out how to get the country out of the hole in which it is stuck they are chasing shadows, evening out old scores and charging at toothless dragons that have lost the power to spout any fire from their raging nostrils.

Zardari, to his credit, is being the man that he always was: interested in power and money. Courtesy of the deal struck with Musharraf (through the Yanks) he has just won himself the biggest reprieve in Pakistani history, all cases against him – and it was not easy counting them – having been wound up. The people of Pakistan may yet be awaiting their miracle but he has received his.

My Lord Dogar, presently adorning the highest chair in the Supreme Court, is the agent of this miracle. And the people of Pakistan, chumps as ever, expect Zardari to put Dogar in the doghouse while My Lord Iftikhar Chaudhry, symbol and hero of the lawyer-cum-judicial movement, sweeps into the Supreme Court. This won't happen in the real world as long as Zardari is around. So what he is doing is smiling all the time and spouting some of the worst clichés about institution-building that the people of Pakistan have had to put up with for a long time.

The people of Pakistan – ordinary people, that is, because some have had a ball – have had to put up with much all these years. But having to endure lectures on politics from Mr Zardari takes the prize. Those in the charmed circle of the PPP elect – that is, in Zardari's good graces and therefore enjoying office or importance – go about with trained smiles on their faces. Sherry, I said, was becoming a competent minister. She is also turning into a sophisticated version of the dreaded Mohammad Ali Durrani.

But imagine the plight of those not in this charmed circle. They have to take in all that they are subjected to without wincing or saying anything in return. Our political parties, all of them, produce no rebels. They turn out courtiers instinctively aware that discretion is the better part of valour.

So the nation is being fed a series of fibs as extended as the thousand and one tales of the Arabian Nights: all about constitutional packaging, etc. Zardari misses not a step when reciting this litany. Farooq Naek, the law minister, as he goes through the same paces looks a deeply unhappy man. Things are whirling out of control and the economy is sinking and the rupee taking a further dip every day but the political charade being played out in Islamabad goes on, each day bringing a fresh twist to it.

And what is that other great party of the people, the PML-N, doing? Heaping fresh imprecations on Musharraf's head when Musharraf is no longer the problem. Far from being a den of conspiracy, the erstwhile Army House where he is still holed up has now a house of sorrow, another lesson in what happens when the pomp and glory of power have fled. Yet the PML-N keeps harping on Musharraf as if with him gone or better still impeached, the bright morning Pakistan has long awaited will have finally arrived.

It is a sign of the state the PML-N is in that without giving the matter a second thought it overreacts to the appointment of a political nonentity like my old friend Salmaan Taseer (never mind if he is a smart finance man) as Punjab governor, turning Salmaan at least for 48 hours into a looming presence on the political landscape. Beware the time when Musharraf is finally no more because the time for excuses then will have run out. Whom them to blame for the nation's shortcomings or the ineptitude of the political class?

The PML-N also runs the risk of being perceived as a single-issue party. It has boxed itself so much into a corner over the judges' issue that it has drastically curtailed its room for manoeuvre. We will restore the judges, the party and its leaders thunder at every opportunity, when it lies not in their power to do so. The key to the restoration of the judges is in Zardari's pocket and he has other games to play and other accounts to settle.

The PML-N consoles itself with the thought that its graph is rising while the PPP's is plunging. That may be so but of what use a rising graph when it is hard to predict what is going to happen in the next five months, let alone the next five years. How long will the present pantomime last? Suppose it doesn't, will we head into an election or another night of the…I need not spell out the word. Zardari may be playing a negative game of his own but the PML-N's interest lies in seeing to it that the present experiment, centred on Pakistan's first attempt at coalition-building, lasts.

But for that it will have to break free from the shackles of the judges' issue. Perhaps it would if it got some help from the legal fraternity or even My Lord Chaudhry. But the legal community has run out of ideas while My Lord Chaudhry no longer seems capable of thinking outside the box. He has proved himself a great man in many respects but the gift that marks a Mandela from an ordinary mortal seems not to lie in his grasp. Someone with true greatness in his soul would have said by now 'all right I am ready to step aside provided Musharraf goes too, Dogar also goes, and the Nov 2 judiciary is restored' thus sacrificing self for a higher cause.

Iqbal, awakener of our souls, where has thy memory fled, where all thy songs exhorting us to emulate the flight of the eagle? At stake is the country's future, calling for vision and some measure of greatness. What we are getting is a dance by dummies and men of straw.