Feb 27, 2009

Back to square one

It was inevitable. All the signs were there right from the beginning. It was clear from day one that Pakistan’s new rulers would behave just like the General who had accumulated all power in his hands and who had used that concentrated power to lead the nation into a cul-de-sac. Despite the naivety of the Sharif brothers, there was no hope that the agreements and promises being made in the initial days of grabbing power would ever be kept. The goal was clear: achieve control of all the pillars of state. And now to complete that control, the little piece of pie with which Sharif brothers were happy has been snatched away.In addition to the self-serving claims of the rulers, it must also be taken into account that during the last days of the General’s misrule, certain forces had conspired to retain future direction of Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan quagmire and it is to these forces that one must turn for a clearer analysis of why state power was so quickly re-concentrated in one hand. But that is blaming others. What one needs to do for now is to look at the state of our own polity. We are a fractured nation, led by equally fractured and broken men who only know how to pitch one against the other in order to enjoy unbridled power. True, there are big actors in this unfolding drama, but the main fact remains the impotency and lack of courage of those who do not believe that the people of Pakistan have the will and the potential to break this web of darkness that has been built around them ever since that dark night of October 1999 when the General struck back and stopped Mr Nawaz Sharif in the very act of completing his own control over the state. That was the latest episode, of course, not counting the previous versions of this dark tragedy. Yet, one would have hoped that years of exile have made the Sharif brothers wiser, but their consistent lack of courage has proven that wisdom does not come merely because of exile or age, but with true reflections and sincere efforts to re-learn what one has not learned or forgotten: politics of principles may not yield big gains, but in the long run it is the only way to lead a nation. The disqualification of Sharif brothers and the Governor’s rule in the Punjab may or may not be the beginning of the end of Zardari-led government, but it is certainly the beginning of a new phase of turmoil in Pakistan. This may also be the beginning of a new phase of hope. The lawyers’ movement now has a bigger battle at hand. Whatever may be the outcome of the current struggle, one thing is clear: it is not the fate of this nation to perpetually remain in a state of crisis. There is no reason to believe that some dark forces have the power to take away the last iota of hope from the people of Pakistan. This is neither the verdict of history nor an inevitable writ. What can be changed with wisdom and clear leadership is still possible. What is needed is a basic restructuring of all the rules of the game. That restructuring cannot come without adhering to the principle of non-negotiable independence of the judiciary and the executive, with an iron-clad arrangement curtailing the power of the generals. Unfortunately, Sharif brothers’ lack of confidence in themselves and in their ability to move masses has not allowed this principle to flourish during the last one year. They do not think that the people of Pakistan can change certain ground realities. While it is true that in Pakistan no one can now pull masses out on the streets the way ZAB did or the way Mujibur Rahman or Bhashani did in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but there is still a glow of hope in the heart of this nation and a sincere and committed leadership can have considerable power behind it to fight a just cause.What is needed at the moment is a grand alliance of all those elements in the public domain who want to regain a certain degree of balance in the spheres of influence and power of the various pillars of state. Together with the lawyers’ movement, which has remained focused for so long, these elements can still stop the current accumulation of power in one hand. This alliance needs to work out a detailed roadmap of what it would take to stop this craving for power. There is no short cut to this struggle. It will not be achieved with one sit-in, but what is at stake is so great that it is surely worthy of whatever it takes to get us out of this cul-de-sac.In the heyday of Sharif brothers’ glory, there used to be a slogan: qadam barhao Nawaz Sharif; ham tumharey sath hain (step forward Nawaz Sharif, we are with you); there needs to be a new version of this slogan: step forward forces of balance and equity, we are all together in this struggle.

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