Never in my life did I think that I would have a kind word to say about a figure in religious garb. But then our bankrupt politics can make even a priest look good. How times changeth.
“I would love England,” said the writer Horace Walpole, “but for the people in it.” I would love Pakistani democracy but for the Rustams in it. What is the face of Pakistani democracy: the baronies of Nawabshah and Raiwind. The enemy is not at the gates. The enemy – terrorism and the feeble response to it – is within. And all we have going for us are these two faces of democracy.
And behind them their bright offspring, waiting to step into their shoes: their very names an invitation to depression. Military redeemers have been the death of us, no quibbling about this, this truth as self-evident as the sun above. But God in heaven, are these the only alternatives our fiery imaginations can offer? Five more years of this and the ghost of General Franco would look a kindlier option.
The First World War lasted four years, the second six. In six years the old order stood smashed and a new world had been born. What couldn’t have been achieved in Pakistan in the last five years? The country could have been turned around; Punjab could have become a shining example for others. But five years gone down the drain and all we have to show for them is empty, worthless talk of constitutional reform, 18th Amendment this, and 19th Amendment that, as if constitutional amendments can fill empty bellies and bring down the cost of living.
But we live on clichés and the most resounding of them in these troubled times is the old chestnut of democratic continuity: from within the womb of democracy will emerge its own salvation. There is no law against wishful thinking. The leaders out in front are all too familiar quantities, having been around for as long as anyone can remember. On military coat-tails the one entered politics almost 30 years ago and the other was Mr Ten Percent before most youngsters of today were born. Yet, in the name of democratic continuity armchair democrats still hope for miracles from worn-out faces.
Anything would be better than this farce, for a farce, and a grim one at that, it has become. For the hundredth time let me press into service that Maoist call to arms: “There is great disorder under the heavens and the situation is excellent.” Only yesterday the status quo appeared unassailable. All that we could hope for was the recycling of the old faces. Now suddenly, from the most unlikely quarter, emerges a challenge – forget for a moment its merits and demerits – and the champions of the status quo just don’t know what to do.
Why should this be surprising? The challenge of YouTube is too much for them. They haven’t a clue how to respond to the Taliban offer of spurious talks. And we expect creativity from them in other things.
2013…unlucky 13. For one of the planet’s most confused republics it may just turn out to be lucky. But it all depends…on the gods of chance. Will the Reverend Dr Tahirul Qadri be able to pull off his little adventure? We can only speculate. Trust his followers, however, to fill Constitution Avenue…of this there should be little doubt. We have seen their organisational capacity. And his followers are hard at work. I have checked this up in Chakwal…distributing leaflets, arranging transport, collecting funds. Dry rations, what soldiers carry into battle, they will be taking to Islamabad. If there is a multitude, then, to echo the Bard (Julius Caesar), let mischief take what course it will.Paralysis of will, bankruptcy of thought…after 65 years this is the mess we have around us. And the optimists among us still hope that from this shambles some kind of promised kingdom will arise.
Pakistan is not India. It can never be India. We were born in different circumstances, under different stars. Our destiny must be our own, with no Indian milestones to guide us, whether our journey leads to redemption, about which my doubts grow as the years pass, or the gates of hell.
But the key question on which hang all other questions: what about the guardians of ideology? (Hang geography, a tough job defending it. Let us be content with ideology.) For without their backing the assault on the constitution being mounted by Dr Tahirul Qadri and his zealots – and an assault it is – will amount to nothing.
Pakistani long marches are not Chinese long marches. Let us be rid of this delusion once and for all. Their chances of success rest upon the support of the big battalions. Let the bonzes of the judiciary think what they will. Their restoration would have remained a pipe dream if the big battalions had not intervened. Qadri on his own and his bubble is in danger; Qadri with miraculous backing and it is a different story altogether.
So what are the big battalions thinking? We have some inkling of their state of mind. The army is fighting a lonely war on some of the toughest terrain on earth, with no spirit of Dunkirk and no solid backing of the nation. The nation’s psyche is split. It can’t get YouTube right (sorry for the repetition). How does one expect it to get the Taliban right? Talk of the war the army is fighting and more ifs and buts emerge than are to be found in a dictionary…and this while the political class demonstrates every capacity except that of leadership.
Related question, arising from the first: is this angst serious enough to drive the army command into backing Qadri and using him as an excuse to delay elections and set up a longish ‘interim’ arrangement? We don’t know. I think no one knows. The army could encourage the professor or at the eleventh hour it could get cold feet and do nothing.
The democracy question needs to be explored. Once upon a time we said elections were the panacea we needed. If only we held them our problems would disappear. This was before 1970. We know what came of those elections. In Gen Zia’s time we said that if only dictatorship disappeared, the rivers of plenitude would flow. For our pains we got the democratic interlude of the 1990s.
Stories of corruption and written-off loans apart, the worst indictment of that period is that our democratic champions could do nothing about the monkey games that army commanders, chief amongst them Gen Aslam Beg, played with the nation’s destiny by transporting the Afghan jihad to occupied Kashmir. They turned a blind eye to what by any yardstick was a mad undertaking. The fruits of that harvest we are plucking now and the generals of that period, when democrats were nominally in charge, play golf while some of them give the nation a regular pain in the neck by spouting their wisdom on television.
And an attempt was made to sack Musharraf in October 1999 when he should have been sacked in April-May 1999 for that other piece of madness called Kargil. And we are now hoping that when the wheel turns bringing forth a new dispensation, ambitious generals would be reined in and the era of spectacular governance will begin, when we find it impossible to regulate road traffic or get rid of the plastic shopping bag, as insidious a threat to the future of the republic as the rise of the Taliban. In hope eternal we continue to live.
But the ides of January approacheth. Cusp of change or once more the bitter cup of disappointment? The great mercy is that we have not long to wait.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgAyaz Amir, "Any disorder better than this paralysis," The News. 2013-01-04.