Death wish of the Pakistani political class – By Ayaz Amir

Did our founding fathers have any idea of the kind of country they were creating? A country where conspiracies would never cease and stability would never come. Sixty-four years, going on sixty-five, and not one peaceful transition from one democratic government to another. Quite a record and we seem determined it should remain like this forever.

Mansoor Ijaz must be laughing up his sleeve, the most flattered man in the world. After all, it is no small thing to throw the one-and-only Fortress of Islam, the world’s sole Islamic nuclear power (as we keep reminding ourselves), into a mad spin by something bizarre you have set in motion. The composure of the Islamic Republic torpedoed by a memo: quite an achievement.

But a con job is only as good as its gullible target. And what easier target, what more willing assembly of fools, than Pakistan’s movers-and-shakers: a claque of media-men eager for adventure, politicos despairing of removing Zardari and finally sensing their opportunity, and generals with a gift for conspiracy, long wanting an excuse to target Asif Zardari, their bête noire, and hard put to find a handy instrument to achieve their goal until they stumble upon the godsend of Ijaz’s memo.

The Sheikh of our distress and his Abbottabad hideout are forgotten, other disasters from the past erased from the tablet of memory: all that rivets the minds of our leading ideological warriors is the memo delivered to Admiral Mike Mullen and, if imperfect evidence is to be believed, forgotten promptly by him.

But we should be under no illusion. The drama being played out has nothing to do with imperilled national security. For once Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is right. This is a conspiracy against democracy with some pretty unsavoury characters involved, including the smiling, oily senator alluded to obliquely by Gilani.

These characters, conspirators for the sake of conspiracy, know what they are up to. So they are not gullible, far from it. But they are taking the nation for a ride. And they have also managed to make an issue of Zardari’s illness.

Had this problem been confined to newspaper columns or TV chat-shows it would have been no great matter. But when an extended bench, also becomes involved by taking up the matter for hearing, then the whole thing takes on a more serious aspect, especially when the word bandied about the most loosely is treason. That, surely, is no laughing matter, even if we have devalued the meaning of most things.

Strange indeed are the ways of the Islamic Republic. In few other countries would such a farce be taken seriously. Here we are milking it for all it is worth because the holy troika behind it – media-men, a section of politicos and one or two key generals – has other fish to fry, ‘Get Zardari’ the name of their grand strategic manoeuvre.

In Thursday’s papers there was a thoughtful piece on the economy by former State Bank governor, Muhammad Yaqub. In it he said that before all else we should be looking to the state of the economy or Pakistan would be undone. He might as well have preached to deaf ears. The guardians of national security are seized with other matters.

The PML-N’s position is the strangest of all. On the one hand Nawaz Sharif talks of foiling conspiracies against democracy, on the other hand forgetting that if there is one Trojan horse that can breach the walls of democracy and bring the whole edifice down it is his petition about the memo in the Supreme Court. What exactly is the PML-N hoping to achieve? It would be fascinating to know the intellectual journey leading to the filing of this petition.

Every last cynic can at least be sure of one thing. Pulling the real strings are neither media-men nor politicos – whether of the N-League or any other denomination – but our holy guardians. Without their eager interest the fires of conspiracy we presently see illuminating the sky would scarcely be lit. The guardians have been saving the nation for the last 60 years, with what results we know. Let’s pray for that miracle, yet to be revealed, which puts an end to nation-saving. If we could see the last of this enterprise Pakistan would be a happier place.

One man’s future is no big thing. But at stake in what is presently going on is not just Zardari’s head or position but the course of future politics. Are we at all capable of managing the thing called democracy? Four years have gone by and only one remains before the election tocsin sounds. What’s got into the present band of nation-saviours who have created an encyclopaedia out of a piece of paper that they can’t wait for another year?

Gilani is right. You can’t isolate events in a quarantine ward and expect that they would not lead to other consequences. The PNA parties agitated against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in that fateful summer of 1977 but what they got, and what through them the nation got, was not freedom of any kind or the promised kingdom but 11 years of the worst tyranny Pakistan was to experience. Any change now would confirm military supremacy. The military has never acted as anyone’s instrument. When it has its way it sets its own agenda. It doesn’t queer the pitch for others.

We can’t afford any more adventures. The memo petition is not good politics. In fact it is a dangerous move which takes a political issue into an arena where it does not belong: the hallowed halls of the apex court.

What drives Pakistani politicians to undermine their own position? It is nonsense of the worst kind to maintain that this parliament has become a rubberstamp. Whose rubberstamp? To call Zardari or Gilani dictators is to insult the very word dictator. They are bumbling democrats, with more than their share of mistakes or omissions. But they are not autocrats. They couldn’t be autocrats even if that is what they wanted to be. And if parliament despite this is a rubberstamp, then the only thing to be said is that this is an act of voluntary abdication. No one has forced this role on parliament.

Why do we insist on feeding ourselves on shibboleths? Elementary things often escape our understanding. The transition from Musharraf to democracy was not easy. It was brought about not by the lawyers’ movement, much as we may like to glorify that event, but by a set of understandings between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto which the Americans (read Condi Rice and Richard Boucher) helped broker. The NRO was very much part of those understandings. Only with the NRO in place did Benazir Bhutto return to Pakistan. And only when she returned was Nawaz Sharif able to make his way home.

The hardest thing was to get Musharraf to shed his uniform. This only happened – mark the logic carefully – after their rightful lordships were deposed through the Nov 3 emergency. The exit of their lordships gave Musharraf the confidence to take off his uniform. Only then were free elections possible. And it was only the democracy born of those elections which created the conditions for the restoration of their lordships. This narrative, convoluted as it is, is forgotten when we substitute shibboleths and self-serving clichés for the truth.

There are no knights in shining armour. Most of the paladins around – generals, judges or politicians – have made compromises of one sort or another. To say that the NRO is worse than taking an oath under a dictator-inspired Provisional Constitutional Order is a matter of opinion. Haven’t all their lordships borne the burden of this oath? Shouldn’t this inculcate a measure of tolerance and patience?

If what is happening had the flavour of dark conspiracy something still might be said for it. But much of it is plain stupid and, like so much in our history, short-sighted. There is still time to arrest this march of folly. But only if, and this is a big if, we can rise above our limitations.


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