Feb 23, 2009

The rage in my heart

With General Musharraf’s exit, we thought we had reached the summit. Alas! The ascent of one ridge simply revealed the next daunting challenge. Mr Jinnah could not have foreseen the tragic decline of Pakistan when he passed his flaming torch into the hands of his successors or how venal those hands could be. Sixty years after Mr Jinnah gave us a great country, little men mired in corruption, captured political power and destroyed his legacy.I have been frightened for my country only a few times in my life. In 1948, when Mr Jinnah died. I never saw so many people crying, so visibly shaken by sadness. In 1971, it was the secession of East Pakistan. And, horror of horror, Dec 27, 2007, when Benazir was assassinated and later Zardari was elected as President of Pakistan. This last moment is the scariest of all. The tragic assassination of Benazir still haunts me. I first met her at 70 Clifton when she was about 12 years old. “Meet Pinky,” Mr Bhutto said to me in introducing her. His words still ring in my ears. Benazir wore a golden Sindhi cap and had a Siamese cat in her arms. Little did I know that her life, so full of promise, would be cut short by an unknown assassin. Tragically, her death is fast becoming a non-event. It seems no one is interested in unravelling the mystery surrounding her assassination or unmasking the perpetrator of this dastardly crime. Why? Should the high and mighty, with blood on their hands, get off when ordinary people committing petty crimes are sent to prison? As Robert Jackson, the chief prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg trials, warned: “Law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power.”The great French thinker Montesquieu said in the 18th century: “The tyranny of a Prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.” An irresponsible, inept, corrupt, government is the inevitable consequence of an indifferent electorate. Politics will never be cleaner in this country, unless and until citizens are willing to give of themselves to the land to which they owe everything. Today apathy is the real enemy. Silence is its accomplice. “The thing necessary for the triumph of evil,” Edmund Burke said, “is for good people to do nothing.” Today Pakistan is a shadow of what it used to be. Sixty years after independence, Pakistan is torn between its past and present and dangerously at war with itself. A general languor has seized the nation. “Democracy” in Pakistan is a mask behind which a pestilence flourishes unchallenged. It has a disjointed, dysfunctional, lopsided, hybrid, artificial, political system – a non-sovereign rubberstamp parliament, and a weak and ineffective prime minister, appointed by a powerful president. Once we were the envy of the developing world. That is now the stuff of nostalgia. We seem exhausted, rudderless, disoriented. Our great dreams have given way to a corrosive apprehension, fear, uncertainty and frustration. The corrupt among us are doing breathtakingly well but the large mass is struggling hard just to keep its head above the water. Today most youngsters graduate directly from college into joblessness.Sixty years after independence, are we really free? Are the people masters in their own house? Are our sovereignty and independence untrammelled? Today, say “Pakistan,” and what comes to mind? Military coups, sham democracy an “elected,” all-powerful president, a non-sovereign parliament, a figurehead prime minister and a spineless judiciary. For a demonstration of why the mere act of holding election is not an adequate path to democracy, look no further than Pakistan. A ritual conducted in the name of democracy but without a democratic process or a democratic outcome devalues real democracy. Such elections only solidify authoritarian rule, they are worse than counter-productive. Sometimes great dangers throw up great leaders. At the darkest hour, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry appeared on the scene like a deus ex machina and changed the course of history. He lit a flame that became a symbol which focused the nation’s indomitable will. Today he presents himself before the nation as a glowing beacon against the forces of darkness. There is no picture in our history more sublime than this of the chief justice, facing all alone, a military dictator, serene and unafraid, refusing to resign, interposing the shield of law in the defence of the Supreme Court. No event of our chequered constitutional history will be better remembered than General Musharraf’s ill-fated decision to send a reference against the chief justice on preposterous, almost laughable grounds. But when Chief Justice Iftikhar refused to resign, and decided to defend himself, he ignited a flame that engulfed the country. With that simple act of courage, he changed the course of history. The die was cast. A Rubicon crossed. Suddenly, “that uneasily dormant beast of public protest” – Musharraf’s nightmare, his greatest challenge – burst forth. The most primary motive for this seismic event was, of course, the fury of ordinary Pakistanis at the suspension and humiliation of the chief justice. Iftikhar Chaudhry will be remembered in history as the chief justice who brought the people together, gave them hope and cemented the Federation. Today he suffers so that the nation might live. He has become the focal point of a degree of support unprecedented for a non-elected official. It was as if the people felt the national peril instinctively and created a centre around which the national purpose could rally. When the historic rally on Jinnah Avenue led by the “Black Coats” ended abruptly and inexplicably in the early hours of June 13, I experienced a strange kind of flatness and depression. When suddenly the whole struggle stopped and people dispersed in all directions, a feeling of emptiness, loneliness, furious frustration and dissatisfaction over results attacked me and swamped me. Today we have another chance. “When bad men combine, the good must associate,” Burke’s famous words in his “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontent,” “else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” We too are living in a time when bad man have combined and when the good – defenders of the Constitution, independence of judiciary, rule of law, must get together and leave no doubt about the cause they all share. I still believe that people are sovereign. Inept, corrupt, political leaders can be replaced and will be replaced. Their foolish policies can be changed and will be changed. People have learned from their mistakes and misfortunes. A new leader and a new era are on the way, we will continue to fight, and to speak and to hope. A Pakistan governed by Law is waiting to emerge. We must never give up. We must never quit. We must never hide from history. There is a new wave of change all around us. If we set our compass true, we will reach our destination. That is for sure. Change can’t come without you, my countrymen, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice. So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder to reclaim the Pakistan dream. My fellow Pakistanis: we are a country in decline, not terminal, not irreversible but in decline. Our political system, dominated as it is by a handful of power-hungry, corrupt rulers, seems incapable of producing long-range answers to our problems. We must change it. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up that spirit of the people. Yes, we can.The writer is a retired federal secretary. by Roedad Khan

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