Mar 18, 2009

The rage of Caliban

Oscar Wilde compared nineteenth-century England's dislike of realism to the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a mirror. The PPP-led ruling coalition in Pakistan is no less averse to confronting the truth that its image has been disfigured by its atrocious track record, compounded by its repeatedly broken pledges to restore the pre-Nov 3 judiciary and rescind the 17th Amendment. The fallout has been political turmoil.Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and the other deposed judges have now been reinstated because President Asif Ali Zardari had no other option in the face of the upsurge in support for the lawyers' long march. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's statement that the government had been waiting for the retirement of Justice Dogar does not even suffice as a fig leaf to hide the shame of a party that professes democracy but suppressed the demand for the independence of the judiciary. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto once compared India's democratic "pretentions" to the boast of "a senile man showing off his false teeth." The comparison was obviously inappropriate and questionable but the recent mass arrests in Pakistan of lawyers, human rights activists and opposition politicians was certainly reminiscent of the terror unleashed by the Brown Shirts of Hitler and the Black Shirts of Mussolini. The police had little hesitation in carrying out midnight and predawn raids on the homes of unarmed civilians, including women, such as the civil society activist Tahira Abdullah and Musarrat Hilali, the vice chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan for the NWFP whose leg was fractured in an attack. However, they timidly surrender when confronted with force, as is evident from the defection of more than 600 police personnel in Swat since the Taliban insurgency began two years ago.The speed with which the government moved to clamp down on the organisers of the lawyers' long march compares starkly to its inaction during the March 3 attack in Lahore on the Sri Lankan cricket team. The terrorists sauntered away from the scene of the crime, although the Punjab government had been forewarned about it several weeks earlier by the CID in remarkably accurate logistical detail. The governor of the province, Salman Taseer, was more preoccupied with consolidating his rule through horse-, or more appropriately, ass-trading, than in pre-empting a terrorist outrage.It was only later that two alleged terrorists were taken into custody from Rahimyar Khan while another was apprehended in Karachi while attempting to escape clad in a burqa, like the infamous cleric Abdul Ghazi Aziz of the Lal Masjid episode in July 2007. It is strange that extremists who, despite their contempt for women, have little hesitation in adorning female apparel to hide from justice.Pakistan continues to be in crisis, but the insatiable thirst for power seems to have blinded its leaders, government and opposition alike, to the perils that confront the country. Poland's Lech Walesa once said that "power is only important as an instrument of service to the powerless." But in Pakistan it is wielded only to serve the powerful. Both President Zardari and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif pose as champions of freedom and democracy. The former incessantly repeats that democracy is the best revenge but has concentrated political power in the presidency. The latter won a massive mandate in the February 1997 elections but sought to perpetuate his rule under the title of Amir-ul-Momineen. The nationwide jubilation on the restoration of the chief justice, the lifting of Section 144 in various cities, and the release of those arrested in the recent crackdown is undoubtedly justified. However, this has to be tempered by the realisation that political equilibrium is unlikely to be attained till the 17th Amendment is rescinded. The required two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and the Senate can be achieved if there is genuine political reconciliation. Though none of the parties in Parliament have unblemished records, it is pointless to rake up the past because they all have a stake in restoring the parliamentary form of government.The political experience of the country in recent months has been a strikingly real-life enactment of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, in which Tweedledum and Tweedledee resolve to fight it out but take to their heels when they see a monstrous crow swooping down on them. One wonders whether their Pakistani equivalents, President Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, genuinely believe that they need to bury the hatchet in order to deal with the threat posed to the country by terrorism and economic meltdown, which only result in anarchy, derail the democratic process and invite military intervention

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