Mar 14, 2009

Bitter tears

Rarely can apology have seemed more hollow than that tendered repeatedly by information minister Sherry Rehman to the civil society activist Tahira Abdullah. Both women were appearing on a popular daytime television talk-show. One of them had slept sound in her bed the night before; the other had suffered the indignity of being roused from her sleep in the small hours, her door battered by the police, and then carted off into detention, albeit briefly. Ms Abdullah was weeping. Not the phony tears of the cinema, but the real tears that come with the realization that those values which she believed in – justice, peace, equality – had been trampled at her own front door by the very party which she believed was going to uphold and protect those values. She wept not at the indignity which she bore with the stoicism that most of our civil-society activists have, but at the loss of her faith in a political structure that, in her own brief detention, had shown itself morally and intellectually bankrupt, purblind to all but the narrow goals related to the retention of power and, ultimately, unworthy of her support. No ministerial apology was going to heal that wound, and though Ms Abdullah shed her tears in front of an audience in the tens of thousands, there will have been many who felt their cheeks wetted in the privacy of their own homes as they wept in concert with her.

We are witnessing the unfolding of a tragedy of epic proportions. This was a wounded state long before the current batch of politicians got their hands on it. Some of those wounds have, to be scrupulously fair, begun to be addressed. We cannot hold the power crisis under the nose of the present government – that was a cuckoo hatched long before they arrived; we can however wave its subsequent mismanagement in front of their noses. The power crisis will, eventually, abate. Nor can we blame them for the fiscal disaster that they discovered when they opened the desk in Shaukat Aziz' office. That in turn will also sort itself out over time and we will move to a merely dysfunctional rather than an almost bankrupt – position. Water likewise, as well as a slew of other toxic difficulties that would challenge any new government. No, those inherited troubles we do not lay at their door (though we do lay a charge of poor housekeeping over the last year).

What lies at the door of the party of governance as well as the opposition - indeed at the door of our entire political establishment – is the responsibility for the appalling mess that they have dragged themselves, and by extension the rest of us, into. This is not the fault of some hidden hand, some meddling external power, this is their own mess and they seem determined that we all have to wallow in it with them. They could have done it different…they chose to do it the same way they always have in the past. We may all weep bitter tears; but a handkerchief steeped in Essence of Section 144 is unlikely to dry them.

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