Anniversaries serve a purpose – they remind of what was. We Pakistanis have just marked Independence day arrived at 73 years ago. And then, almost exactly a fortnight later, in accordance with the Hijri calendar, the whole Muslim world as Muharram commences, honours—as it has through centuries—with the profoundest reverence the martyrs of Karbala: Despite their lineage they were martyred by people who ‘shared’ their faith, but betrayed it and conflicted for temporal gain in personal ambition to wrest political power. What gives an otherwise common enough conflict sublimity is the martyrs: their personal identities and steadfastness to the right course. Resonating along with commemoration of their historic courageous stand is the love all Muslims feel for ‘Al-i-Rasool right across and through the bitter sectarian divide(s) the aggressors at Karbala unwittingly originated . . . And so back to Pakistan at 73 and its declared Muslim identity: Divided, exclusive, inclusive, mangled, antagonistic, devout, fanatical, misunderstood, exploitative, exploited . . . Could we dare this August 14 look into the mirror without flinching?
A CONFIDENCE deficit is afloat. Will it reach the floor of the House?
With an increasing frequency the media’s elect and select fret out loud over the content and style of current governance, and what to do given variously perceived hazards to national security those in charge seem unware of. Actually the parliamentary system and our constitution – despite curtain calls or Muqarrirs of Zia’s Eighth Amendment – is quite clear as to the protocols of a vote of no confidence. But, since President Alvi can’t do a President Leghari on the PM; and the opposition is constrained and severely handicapped and has egg on its face over the no confidence motion moved against the Senate chairman, there is cause for debate as to whether the rescue service for democratic letdowns lies in a major systemic shakeup rather than parliamentary vacillations:
What sage and smooth analysts argue: is the point of recycling leaders and parties that have been tried and been found wanting twice, even thrice, over? Even the brand new party whose leader had been jostling to win the PM cup for twenty-two years and finally reached the finishing line remains, despite the passage of twenty-two months, at a loss in victory.
THE PTI and its support system are drawing us into dangerous waters. Why? Is it conscious or unwitting? With regard to the PTI leader who is also Pakistan’s prime minister one can say it’s an outcome of mulishness; conceit and arrogant contempt. He may not be able to help himself. But why then should others be helping him persist if it is not possible to tutor him?
What exactly has the PTI government done to right the mess in governance since taking charge of federal office and the responsibilities of government? Quarrel anew– when taking time off re-runs of old raves and rants. It regularly tells us what it intends to do in various spheres; but provides even less than a broad outline. And it possibly holds a Pakistan Government time-frequency record in instituting commissions and ordering reports and inquiries. The more relevant offences and infringements may regrettably date to its own mandated tenure; but to get to the root as it were, a comprehensive scope can stretch to explore things that took place years ago. Common sense might say their ill-effects have long since been absorbed, digested, or by now decomposed: What is there left to disinter? But there is a viable logical counter-argument that a conscientious inquirer should omit nothing and start from the beginning. Thus, any inquiry’s progress becomes open to both prolongation or acceleration, though all offenders will assuredly be brought to book without fear or favour—Ignore the malice towards none bit.
THE cricket metaphor in political comment is by now so over-stretched as to have become even more applicable to the ruling party. Heaven and Pemra forbid that one has match-fixing; ball-tampering; tergiversating umpires or a well-prepared pitch in mind. Doctoring is for Shaukat Khanum and spectators realise home-ground is home-ground and competitors are opponents if not encroachers: Wipe ‘em out! However, it does happen that a match becomes a foregone conclusion and spectator interest sinks.
It is humbling to think our government of the day derives its political mystique from an endearing playboy captain who won the cricket World Cup for Pakistan about thirty years ago. Is it reassuring or alarming that it took that long for the cup of national gratitude to overflow? Or can it indicate that once the cup over-floweth there is demand for another vessel? After all there are many sports: We were once Olympians at hockey, and had as good as a dynastic monopoly on squash. Admittedly, those champions were not Oxbridge or Ivy league, or even, come to think of it, madressa alumni. Still, there is consolation for advocates of non-cricketing political gaming that the PML(N) does have hockey linkages: think Gulu Butt and Supreme Court compounds. And, for good measure, it has indigenous free-style wrestling champions in the family. For that other out-fielded grassroots mainstream party, the PPP; the only gaming metaphor that comes to mind is depressingly cerebral: Chess. How to read the fact that ZAB didn’t need sporting skills to make it to Oxford and political distinction, and for his heirs Benazir and Bilawal, Oxbridge was as good as a birthright. Politics it would appear is not the only thing that is dynastic: brain and brawn are too. Together (though not virtually) they make an unbeatable combination. But then they are seldom long enough on the same page.
Recently, in the course of a nationwide ‘telethon’ we heard the PM’s views on the media, an illustrious maulana’s views on the media; and after due pause some media responses thereto on the media; sometimes we even hear viewers’ views on the media: when and how it proffers the platform. Ah there’s the rub! The electronic media’s message and the messenger—irrespective of the guiding principle—are selective and selected. In all fairness is there any way it can be otherwise? Ultimately, the viewer’s choice—his selection—is limited to switching channels or switching off. Not so the State: it can control, project, promote, expunge, exclude, omit, invent, compel.
VIRAL fear is experienced by young and old alike globally – but not uniformly. Viral pandemic, it is certified, Covid-19 is also a search engine on the stratifications of globalization. The impact is manifold and varied culturally and economically, and we may only learn empirically if there are any impermeable layers. There is interaction and adaptation; yet there may be responses and outcomes that will never be felt in common and so a separate-ness be reaffirmed.
‘Karachi, no one owns this city’, is yet another of the doleful explanatory clichés about the metropolis. Yet Karachi might be better off if it was left alone for a bit – at present it continues to be what it has long been: a battleground for civic and political ownership. Despite the pitiable state it has been reduced to by its varied custodians it remains a prize — demographically and thence politically — and always geo-strategically — as a port.
IF one begins by saying the civil politician is as much to blame for military influence in politics as any army general, one can then stop mincing words and — having implicitly ceded that army boots do march upon civil political space — embark on a less coy discussion of this aspect of Pakistan’s democratic march with reference to the pulsating present not just the detonated past. What have the civil and military learnt from abounding exemplified lessons of history and how do they use that knowledge? Bear in mind that the canvas common to both is the space Pakistan’s people inhabit. They should be calling the shots – but not in cross-fire. Which is all that civil politics as played presently by professional politicians seems to be doing: Is there a Cheshire cat grin on military faces?
Justice Munir early on provided the doctrine of necessity as just recourse for dissolving assemblies, legislative or otherwise. General Ayub, the trailblazer of military political interventionism who as C-in-C helped President Iskander Mirza shelve Pakistan’s very first much belated but non-durable constitution of 1956 in 1958, wasn’t much bothered about cosmetic constitutional camouflage. But such is the law of popular political gravity, he came to see wisdom in promulgating a civil presidential system with a customised rule-book. They called it the 1962 Constitution. When parliamentary nostalgia and popular discontent reached a critical mass, Bhutto, founding the PPP, rode the civil storm; but the instrument for a return to regard for the will of the people was an intra-martial agreement. The army, commanded by General Yayha, structured with a legal framework order, voluntarily oversaw a return to civil electoral politicking, with elections duly held as promised in December 1970 which are still undisputedly deemed historically pristine and translucent. They also turned out to be popularly unacceptable and the eastern wing parted from the western wing.
We have so many regulatory bodies, inquiry commissions, supervisors and monitors, that the only reason we don’t keep nervously looking over our shoulders is that we are also on the watch for what could lie ahead. The ambience is of unfocused anxiety. The analogy of a police state doesn’t come to mind, for the police force too is under scrutiny. However, PEMRA may soon have TV channels genially tell us ‘Big Brother is watching YOU’ for PEMRA is certainly watching them. If they are naughty or complain there could be recourse to a tribunal and the exercise – for this is civil dictation not military – may not be, like General Zia’s 90-day electoral guarantee, liable to indefinite postponement.