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June 6, 2008

The ecstasy of kicking the down and out


June 6, 2008

Few emotions in life are headier than the pleasure of punching or kicking someone who cannot hit back. Ask the violent husband who drags his wife around by the hair knowing that the wretched soul can only cry and beg for mercy. Ask the donkey-cart driver who beats his donkey mercilessly and the poor brute just takes it without even a tear in its suffering eyes.

Our Supreme Court, gallant defender of public liberties, was mute when General Yahya Khan was master of all he surveyed. When he fell from power the same court suddenly came alive and roared like a lion, declaring Gen Yayha, then under detention by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a usurper.

In proportion to its population Pakistan probably has the highest concentration of serving and retired generals, brigadiers and colonels anywhere on the planet. These worthies were nowhere to be seen or heard when General Pervez Musharraf was lord and master of Pakistan. They wouldn't appear on TV talk shows, they would say nothing 'on record'.

Now that Musharraf is down and out, an object of almost universal scorn, deserted even by those who swore eternal loyalty to him, societies of ex-servicemen have suddenly emerged from the national woodwork, demanding his impeachment and head.

Kargil happened nine years ago. My friend, whom I hold in esteem, Lt-Gen Jamshaid Gulzar Kayani, has chosen to speak about it now. Where wert thou, Gen Sahib, when thy voice was needed the most? Wisdom after the event, bravery after a battle is over: fine things still, but we could do with some bravery and wisdom when they could make a difference.

Nawaz Sharif wasn't briefed on Kargil, thunder some of our latter-day Liddel Harts. Do these buffoons even know what they are implying? That Nawaz Sharif did not know the difference between war and peace. Briefing or no briefing, when the Kargil conflict broke out, wasn't it pretty obvious that we were at war with India, even if it was a mini-war and no declaration of

war had been made?

That was the time to sack Musharraf and his bunch of Kargil-ites---the Chief of the General Staff, Aziz, the 10 corps commander, Mehmood, etc---who later on were the principal villains of the drama of Oct 12, '99.

Kargil did grave damage to the Kashmir cause. It also marked the starting point of the phrase "cross-border terrorism", the stick with which Pakistan was regularly beaten in subsequent years. Musharraf did take everyone for a ride over Kargil. No doubt about it. But he should have been taken to task then instead of being allowed to stay as army chief and even get the additional promotion of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Nawaz Sharif's attempt to get rid of Musharraf on Oct 12 was thus several months too late, when the moment of sacking him had passed and he had consolidated his position and the Kargil-ites who had given us Kargil, and who were nursing guilty consciences, had resolved to take action should the elected government move against them.

By all means Kargil should be investigated but we also need to know how this sorely-tried nation came to be gifted with Musharraf. After all he was not the senior-most general when Gen Jahangir Karamat stepped down as army chief. Which was the cabal of advisers who worked on Nawaz Sharif to get him to pick Musharraf, then commander of the Mangla corps, as chief of the army?

If Musharraf was such a disaster---and there is now a near-total consensus that his eight and a half years as absolute ruler were tough for Pakistan---doesn't that cabal which hoisted him within striking distance of power bear some responsibility for what has befallen the nation?

Calls for Musharraf's impeachment sound like a hollow slogan because he is now a toothless being, bereft of power and relevance. There are other dragons to slay, other battles to join but to these we pay no heed and to avoid thinking about them we seek refuge behind this easiest of all cries, a cry which costs no effort at all these days: impeach the guy.

Not that anyone is going to impeach him. This is one fable we can do without. The army wouldn't like it and you can't expect anything incendiary or radical from those who have just benefited from the greatest exercise in laundering and dry-cleaning the Republic---no stranger to marvels---has ever known. National Reconciliation Ordinance beneficiaries turning overnight into Bolshevik impeachers: stretches the imagination.

The people of Pakistan are being treated like they have always been treated: a collection of idiots. Those who have devised the 'constitutional package' currently being earnestly discussed and debated in the media are to be applauded for their sense of humour for no grimmer joke has ever been played on the nation.

At issue was the restoration of the deposed judges. What we are getting is an exercise in semantics and obfuscation so dense as to leave everyone dazed. Law Minister Farooq Naek can count this as his finest hour. He has outdone himself. And we thought Sharifuddin Pirzada, permanent counselor to military dictators, was subtle.

We are in a terrible bind. The people are angry, increasingly frustrated with the 'system'. Their yearning for change, for some kind of settling of accounts with the past---especially the past of the Musharraf years---came out into the open on Feb 18. They rejected Musharraf and his works. But their yearning for change is turning into disillusionment, faster than the political leadership can imagine.

The major reason for this growing sense of disenchantment is the dichotomy between desire and reality. While the people burned with a yearning for change the only options they had before them were relics and holdovers from the past, both the PPP and the PML-N in their present incarnations---and consider with what a heavy heart I say this---being representatives of the past than heralds of the future the soul of Pakistan has long ached for.

This, on reflection, may turn out to be Musharraf's most poisoned gift to the nation: the fact that the normal political process came to a halt under him, as a result of which the PPP and PML-N instead of receiving their knocks and reaching a higher stage of political evolution, remain as they were ten years ago.

Their style of functioning remains the same. They never had internal democracy, they don't have it now. Decisions come from above and they are taken by a close-knit circle attuned to the moods and wishes of the leadership. And leadership in our climate, as we know, is mostly a dynastic or family affair. How does this serve the cause of democracy?

We need a changeover but it won't come from the present paladins on the stage. They have too many skeletons in their cupboards and the past, and the echoes of the battles of the past, weigh too heavily upon their memories.

The ghosts of authoritarianism are lurking in the shadows. They have retreated but only a fool will think they have been conclusively defeated. As it is, they must be watching the performance---or is it the shenanigans?---of the political leadership carefully. The more the political leadership slips, the more it shies away from real issues and hides behind such games as the 'constitutional package' of the PPP's imagination, the more encouraged will be the forces of authoritarianism.

Champions of democracy are on test and the grace period they still enjoy will not last forever. Already the people---their backs broken by high prices---are stirring and beginning to seethe with discontent.

In other climes discontent can be a creative force leading to change and progress. Which accounts for the saying much in fashion during Mao's Cultural Revolution (and which I beg pardon for repeating endlessly) 'there is great disorder under the heavens and the situation is excellent'. But with our retarded political development, discontent can only lead to breakdown and anarchy.

So let the political class wake up and recognize its responsibilities. As I say, the mood of the people is angry but it will soon turn ugly. Away with your designer suits and striking ties: they look out of place in this country. There couldn't be a more striking contrast between the opulence and ostentation of power and the grim reality that most of our people have to face.

Remove this discord or at least lessen it. For the mills of God are grinding and if things go on like this the retribution at the hands of Fate which Musharraf is suffering may look like child's play to what the present political class may have to endure.

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