Mar 14, 2009

Ruling Pakistan from the Red Zone!

It’s easy for the rulers to rule Pakistan from the Red Zone. But will it last? Will the rulers last? That’s the big question this Sunday. The question repeatedly hits me, as I live next to the Red Zone of Islamabad — a virtual ring side seat at the red zone. But, even though living right on this spot, and many solders of the rulers knowing me as a Journalist, and holder of No. 1 Domicile Certificate of Islamabad, because of one of its early inhibitors, I was refused access to the Red Zone. It was when I had taken my grand children for a drive to see the illuminations on Eid-Milad-un-Nabi. On refusal, when the children grumbled, and failed to see the illuminations for birthday of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) whom they lovingly describe ‘meetha, meetha Mohammad,’ I told them not too. Because this is how much the rulers care for the Holy Prophet’s Birthday, his followers, the citizens of Pakistan and even their own voters who, foolishly, let them sit on the Quaid’s chair as a result of February 18, 2008 elections. That vote for them was, once again, a grave mistake. But, now the nation is forced to enjoy the bitter fruits of that national folly. This particular tragedy has just begun to unfold. That’s if the Long Marchers are beaten to death, the March is broken, or is successful. This is a defining moment in Pakistan’s history, many say. But have the rulers, the claimants of being inheritors of Bhutto family or otherwise, learnt a lesson from the previous defining moments? The country was attacked and Eastern Pakistan was forcibly snatched from it by India at gun-point, incessant bombardment and a naval siege. What led to it? Personal recrimination between two leaders— West Pakistan’s ZAB and East’s Mujib was the root cause. Mujib was prevented from forming a government despite his overall majority in the Parliament in whole of Pakistan. The result was while personal arrogance, mindlessness to keep the country intact, and outright and unforgivable ‘zidd’ of the two leaders was engaged in the “Dance of Death,” the country was hacked with a big Indian axe—and was done away with. The “Dance of Death” was the title of a book my late friend Syed Shabbir Hussain Shah, the former Bureau Chief of Pakistan Times Islamabad-Rawalpindi, had written in the middle of the East-West Pakistan crisis unleashed, on this ignorant and helpless nation. Sure it was Dance of death then—-and now. This Sunday, once again, I hold even a big part of the nation responsible for such grave tragedies because they have voted again and again such leaders to power who did not deserve to sit on the Quaid’s chair, and lacked any vision of the glory of Islam or Pakistan — the high objectives for which Allah had given us this country. The rulers are oblivious of the fact that they pretend to be inheritors of ZAB whose politics was people. Whose politics was ‘Awam’ whose politics was meeting and speaking to people in the open—not in the secrecy of the Presidency, tucked in the Red Zone. When forced out of the Ayub cabinet as Foreign Minister in 1967, ZAB hit the streets, rallying people around him across the country. But huge crowds he attracted, and the largest number of people who rallied around him and gave their lives for him were, from where? Punjab? The same province and the people who are now being victimized and their mandate to PMLN crushed under the ruler’s feet. The reason: personal aggrandizement, the greed to rule Punjab whether they have the mandate or not. The grand vision: to humble and humiliate Sharif borthers, to keep them out of politics because they are a genuine and looming threat. Naive or generous, Sharif’s whole-heartedly supported Zardari for more than on year of his rule. Everyone knew this cooperation will end up in smoke. Their sincerity will be rewarded with “treachery” and “torture” as Sharifs now, belatedly, say. But, everyone, including their adversaries and well-wishers let them give their full support to Zardari and the new government, hoping against hope that the new democratic system will work—-and should be allowed to work. The reward Sharif’s receive: the conspiracies to kill the two brothers, as they now allege. God! What a pass have we come to? Once again?Mr. Nawaz Sharif, in an interview to The Guardian, alleged: “I have recently received certain information from my own sources about certain forces which are active against me.” “Threats to my life come from high ranking government officials, certain top-most people in the government, my sources say.” He declined to give further details. The matter is grave, although the Presidency’s spokesman dismissed Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s allegations of a plot to kill him as “political mileage.” “This is outlandish,” the spokesman said. Whatever the truth, coming days will prove who is right, and if sanity prevails in the Red Zone, why should such reports have emerged, and with whatever veracity? Gory matters?But, what is at stake? What Zardari’s former “Big Brother,” and today’s adversary deserving death, has to say about the stake? “I am even today, in favour of solving all the problems through the Parliament, but Zardari doesn’t want to allow the Parliament to make such decisions. Zardari has made the Parliament a powerless institution. The issues can be settled even today if Zardari announces to fulfil all the promises, he made with us and the nation.”“We did our best to bring Zardari Sahib back on track to work jointly, but he is altogether a changed man after becoming President. He has got the decision of my disqualification from the judges against whom the entire nation is protesting. And, why the Governor’s rule was imposed? There must be some good reason for it?” “Who brought about the confrontation? “We are not responsible for the confrontation. We did not take any such step as will cause deterioration of relations. I only want to know what change has come after the elections except that Zardari succeeded Musharraf,” Sharif laments. No on disagrees with demands raised by the entire Opposition and Mr. Sharif. They make just common sense. The demands: Pakistan should be administered according with the law and the Constitution. Good governance and ensuring equality of all before law. Unconstitutional acts of the past should be rectified. But, as of now, where do the rulers stand? What is Pakistan’s and the President’s image even among the friendly eyes? Look at what The Times, London says, the day after attack on Sri Lankan cricketers. It sums it all: “yesterday’s terrorist attacks do not mean that Pakistan is a failed state. But it has a failed President. Asif Zardari, a disastrous replacement for his assassinated wife, Benazir Bhutto, is compounding his country’s problems by his pursuit of personal survival at the expense of its Constitution, the rule of law, and agreement between the main political parties that they will work to shore up democracy. He is utterly inadequate to meet the threat that Pakistan is facing.” A grave comment. A very sobering thought, if we pause and ponder, by suspending, for a moment, the petty squabbles and preoccupation with postings and transfers of small little officials, stooges and hangers-on, that go on in the Presidency! What is Pakistan’s and its “elected leadership’s” image despite spin doctors magic and propping up fakes? Can such an image exist, crafted, or sustained when a number of people are brutalized by the police in run up, and into, the Long March? Women, including human rights activists and lawyers were the special prey for police huntsmen and huntswomen. Take brutalization of lawyer MS Tasleem Abbasi, untiring human rights activists MS Tahira Abdullah, and MS Mussarrat Hilaly — to name just three out of hundreds. I will never forget the wails of Tasleem Abbasi when she was brutalized, arrested and pushed into the police bus in Karachi. It happened in a city where Qaim Ali Shah, descendent of a family of ‘Pirs’and pious men from Sukkur, rules as its Chief Minister. These images of brutalization of women, and many men, lawyers and politicians, including the one being beaten up, and his clothes torn up by police, at Multan, freeze in minds of the people — for ever. The images were flashed across the globe by all foreign and Pakistani television networks. Is any shame left anywhere in the government? How will our Oxford –educated, fast blabbering, Foreign Minister and Petaro-trained President face the press when they go out on their frequent jamborees? Living under such an inhuman government, I fear for my countrymen—-and myself. And, yet I wonder what is at stake for the rulers to continue such brutality? Such government – enacted terror and lawlessness? Such grab of power? Mr. Nawaz Sharif alleges the NRO-created leadership cannot reverse this tide of terror on our own citizens. “NRO is holding up everything,” he insists. I have seen many erring governments in the past, trying to solve political issues, not through political means or the Parliament, but the baton-and-gun of the policemen. Problems stayed on the ground—that was a reality. And then, the flood and wrath of people washed such rulers away. As the storm mounts, thickens, and move towards Islamabad — the capital perpetually under siege— the latest statement from the Presidency has spoken. “Pakistan Peoples Party reiterates its offer to ‘political forces’ to negotiate with the government on implementing provisions of the Charter of Democracy and restoring normalcy.” PPP’s meeting “expressed the hope that the offer will be responded to positively by the political forces in the country.’ It decided to continue efforts to defuse the political tension through dialogue, reconciliation and respect for the Constitution, and in accordance with the democratic principles and commitments made in the charter,” said the Presidency-in-Red Zone. But, on the ground something much more aggressive, much more belligerent is happening. The police brutality is against the people, and now against women, mass arrests of political activists, crackdown on the press. Government’s panic reaction? These are sure sign of the rulers ebbing away, not surging. That’s what my old eyes have seen in the last six decades. Although its walls are high and its stones thick, is anyone, in the Red Zone listening?By M. Aftab

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