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Pleasures of political kill

Among those who were stunned by a bit of unexpected news travelling from Bahawalpur on the afternoon of Aug 17 in 1988, some might recall the emptiness that the sudden physical elimination of Gen Ziaul Haq filled them with.

Here was a man who had enslaved us for more than 11 years, now gone forever in a blaze, and the popular refrain held that he had more than earned his violent – just – ending. But still there were Pakistanis like this writer who were overcome with this strange feeling where they missed the dictator just as he had made his exit.

It was a difficult sentiment to explain. One working elaboration that was kind of accepted for convenience said that we would have been happier to have removed the general with our own little struggles against him which didn’t necessarily involve expletives thrown his way. Having been relieved in this way where our target was snatched from us so brutally left us in a daze.

Among other downsides of the Zia crashing out, we were denied an opportunity of him being a witness to a push that brought him down, alive, there to see the triumph of those who he has oppressed for so long, and maybe find himself held accountable for his acts. Yet there were other considerations and rules that necessitated some rationalising of the violence brewing inside the people because of the imposed military order.

The course the political idiom in Pakistan has taken the following years, it seems that it is now becoming difficult for Zia-period veterans to carry on the debate without actually wishing for a physical annihilation and not just political defeat of an unwanted political figure who has duly been acknowledged by senior politicians as an enemy.

Twenty years of experimenting in democracy and dictatorship after Gen Zia, the Pakistani people might have thought that they had finally found a method which allowed them to get rid of a military usurper of power without having to exterminate him. Still vivid in memory are the slogans Asif Zardari, on other occasions known for letting his party badly down, promised: the presence soon of a jayala in the presidency to replace Gen Pervez Musharraf. That jayala turned out to be Zardari Sahab himself, who was there celebrating this ultimate victory of democracy over army rule, if with nothing else, then plenty of ceremony.

This removal of Gen Musharraf, where he was technically still available for a bit of probe and accountability and there to see the popular will prevail over his own designs, was what Zardari Sahab or his party’s leader Benazir Bhutto had wished for. Herself an old victim of the vilest attacks in the name of politics, she found herself leading a kind of change overall in the political language of her country. This approach was not just visible in how Ms Bhutto conducted herself during the unavoidable engagements with Gen Musharraf, but also in her relationship during the period with her long-time political opponent Mian Nawaz Sharif, with whom she was expected to compete for power once the dictator of the time had been forced to pack up.

Perhaps it was just an illusion about the Pakistani political lingo shedding some of its violent, maul-and-annihilate-the-other overtones or maybe things would have progressed more peacefully if Ms Bhutto had survived the hatred of those who preferred outright physical removal of opponents over the more mundane choice of trying to beat them on political terms. In any case, the degeneration of the Pakistani political exchange into what we currently have suggests that those who signed the Charter of Democracy did not bargain for a challenger rising out of nowhere to question the two-party hegemony of political speech in the country.

The inventions the latest necessity has led to is proof enough of a surrender against the basic instincts we had somewhere in the middle realized we needed to curb as civilized people. It is so revealing to have people you have seen learning to rationalize the animal urges succumbing once again to the original habits. It is a resort to these old tendencies that provides substance to the excruciating whole of voices that encompasses Pakistan today.

It is but perplexing to see that people are finding it so tough to have some genuine reasons to oppose or support the phenomenon called Imran Khan. It is even more strange when those with deeper roots and longer training in the politics of the country accuse the PTI of provoking them. And even if this point about the Khan fans offering their opponents no choice but a confrontation is conceded to, it is most appalling how some of those who had once criticized parties such as the PML-N for using foul language and scandalous propaganda have fallen in the pit where all they can think are Imran Khan’s nikahs and his ‘illegitimate’ children.

All these years, Maryam Nawaz is today asked about the filth her father’s side had heaped upon the Bhuttos back then. She could alternatively been asked to create a solid curb-Imran plan without the nikahs and children thrown in. It should not be an impossible task. After all, the man so badly ruled the country just recently and appears so naive and stubborn in taking positions on so many issues. Patience and persistence pays.

Asha’ar Rehman, "Pleasures of political kill," The News. 2023-04-15.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political exchange , Democracy , Dictatorship , Imran Khan , Asif Zardari , Pakistan , PTI , PMLN