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Republic of the never-ending rivers

If any verse fits Pakistan’s condition permanently – could almost be its national slogan – it is Munir Niazi’s cry of despair: Ik aur darya ka saamna tha Munir mujhko, mein ek darya ke paar utra to mein ne dekha – there was another river to cross Munir, I discovered this when I had crossed the first river (forgive the atrocious translation).

A land where the mental geography is never smooth: cross one river, one mountain range, and another looms before your weary eyes.

Any fool could have been forgiven for thinking that after the bursting of the Qadri bubble – 111 Brigade failing to show up in response to his alarmist cries – the horizon had cleared and the path to the elections lay open, mental obstacles removed. But that fool would have been dead wrong. Physical problems are one thing. With luck they can be mastered. But who can exorcise the demons of the imagination? And our demons are of the mind, creations of a twisted psychology. It is not easy mastering them.

If in the Islamic Republic cars can run on water, no kidding, and Hurricane Sandy on the American East Coast can be considered by worthy scribes – indeed more muftis than scribes – as God’s own punishment for a blasphemous film made by an idiot on the West Coast, and if my friend Dr A Q Khan, he of the Islamic bomb, is setting himself up as the head of an organisation dedicated to saving the nation – again no kidding – then our mental problems are more serious than anyone would think.

From this consideration comes another disturbing thought: if we are really as close to the Almighty as our savants and sages claim that we are, it being an article of faith with us and them that the creation of Pakistan was a special act of Providence – and which misguided heathen will quarrel with this assertion? – shouldn’t we be afraid of this grim possibility that the way things are going a time may come, and perhaps sooner than we think, when the Lord of the Worlds may just become bored with our antics?

Of the wrath of God we are fully informed from a reading of the Scriptures. But what if it comes to pass that we invite the boredom of the Most High: can we even begin to fathom the far-reaching consequences?

I have known Gen Hamid Gul for a long time. We sometimes chat over the telephone, a circumstance, I hasten to add, which the Defence of Pakistan Council should not hold against him. I am grateful for the kind attention he sometimes shows me to help put me on the path of righteousness. I am more than willing to heed his counsels and, as we know, he is a very persuasive man, but there’s a slight problem. God willing, I think I have a few functioning years still left in me. So righteousness by all means, but just not yet.

Don’t we recall St Augustine’s famous prayer when he was a young man and in the throes of conversion: “Grant me (O Lord) chastity and continence, but not yet.” He who was to be the greatest of saints and, certainly in terms of Christian theology, the most influential…coming from him doesn’t this heartfelt plea bring a smile to even the meanest of lips? Sets one thinking, doesn’t it? If even the saints could be of this mind, a sinner surely can be forgiven his minor transgressions (Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution notwithstanding).

As it is we have a lacklustre National Assembly, this assembly, now mercifully drawing to its close, the dullest in the history of Pakistan. We have had assemblies functioning under the shadows of authoritarianism but, by God, they were lively affairs, with leaders of standing and stature and proceedings that could be captivating. May the Furies forgive me for saying so, because I have been a part of this circus myself, but for all the good that it may have done, or any colour that it may have added to national life, it would not have mattered in the least if it had never existed at all. An existence in vain: can any obituary be more terrifying than this?

The celebration of mediocrity… this motto could be inscribed on the assembly’s mythic coat of arms. And please don’t mention the 18th, 19th and 20th amendments. I hear of these paper triumphs and feel like reaching for my pistol. Goering, as we all know, felt like reaching for his pistol when he heard the word culture. The lawyers’ movement has done something similar to me. I hear the phrase the rule of law, especially from a lawyer, and feel like reaching for a flowerpot. Anyway, into the mists of time this assembly is about to depart. May history treat its memory kindly.

Apply Articles 62 and 63 for the vetting of candidates and we will have not a lacklustre assembly but a conclave of prigs and morons and the most striking collection of hypocrites in religious garb anywhere on the planet. Come to think of it, at least this will do something for the nation’s collective sense of humour. So why not try it, just for once? And I will quote St Augustine to my returning officer and see what he has to say about it.

A longish digression: I was saying that after Allama Qadri’s discomfiture – and after all the fiery speechmaking the retreat from Moscow was precisely that, a discomfiture – any dolt could be forgiven for thinking that the road to elections was now clear. But then this wouldn’t be Pakistan where the mills of God may take a break but the conspiracy mills never do. One river barely crossed and another comes into view, the commentariat and the political class now seized with the notion that despite everything, despite the bursting of the Archbishop’s bubble, there may be still schemes afoot to derail the elections and install a longish caretaker setup. For paranoia of this kind did even the great Hakim Luqman have a cure?

If anyone thinks that the PPP is serious in its negotiations with Dr Qadri he is living in a world of his own. In making a grand show of consulting the doctor, the PPP’s only purpose is to needle the PML-N and raise its concerns. And the PML-N duly obliges by being easily needled. All the talk of Articles 62 and 63 is for show not substance. After all, Zardari is as much interested in elections as Nawaz Sharif. So why should he be a party to anything amounting to sabotaging them? The doctor’s moment has passed, as may have passed the moment of his sponsors…if there were any…although if those sponsors were gunning for an excuse, there was none more perfect than the sit-in on Jinnah Avenue.

We are among the world’s leading conspiracy theorists. Why? Not just because our history furnishes ample grounds for this pastime but because we have nothing else to do. If you don’t talk politics in Islamabad or Lahore what on earth do you do? A dried up nation from within…that’s what we have become. I spend so much of my time in clubs and hotels, and my desolate village bungalow…lonely wanderings never ceasing, much like Munir Niazi’s endless crossing of the waters. What empty places we have managed to turn our clubs into, and even our hotels, the best of them. Into this yawning vacuum step the righteous of faith, and why not?

So why should it surprise us if the river-crossings of a nation messianic about its dreams if of nothing else never come to an end?

Email: winlust@yahoo.com

Ayaz Amir, "Republic of the never-ending rivers," The News. 2013-02-01.
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