Monday, September 27, 2010

Fat chance By Nadeem F. Paracha

The day Yousuf Raza Gilani took oath as prime minister, I got a call from a journalist friend, who said: “I know you must be really happy, but a year from now this nation will be whining for another uniformed messiah!”

Of course, I knew that. But somehow this time round I did feel that maybe, just maybe, things might turn out to be a tad different. But, alas, such is not the case. Chants for a uniformed saviour are getting louder by the hour. And I am convinced these are not radiating from the masses. They are coming from animated armchair patriots.

In their desperate hand waving, the reactive fools have totally missed out on certain vital facts. The changing scenario of international politics apart, even the rapidly changing political and judicial dynamics of Pakistan (mostly achieved in the last two years) have tightened the back doors from where military usurpers usually come in.

To begin with, exactly how would a Bonapartist manage to override a regenerated judiciary whose sole existence is founded on the chucking out of a wayward military dictator? Secondly, much of the constitution today is such that it would take a Herculean task for a new dictator to retard it the way his uniformed predecessors did. Thirdly, the main opposition party (the PML-N) is in no mood to accommodate any such manoeuvres, or behave in the manner opposition parties did on the eve of Ziaul Haq’s take-over in 1977.

All this means that another military take-over can only preside over an unprecedented disaster. Every military coup in this country has actually taken the country ever so close to balkanisation. Ayub and Yahya's dictatorships generated the very circumstances that saw the country's eastern wing break away. Zia’s dictatorship presided over an explosion of ethnic and sectarian movements. By the time of his death, even sections from central Punjab were voicing slogans like ‘Jaag Punjabi jaag’.

Dictatorships enforce an artificial ‘unity’ founded on a hasty concoction of nationalism mainly based on a singular, state-constructed variation of faith and patriotism. Cultures and traditions of the many ethnicities, religions and Muslim sects that populate this country are consciously undermined and repressed, if not downright insulted and socially disenfranchised.

In other words, dictatorships in Pakistan have always sat pretty on ethnic and sectarian volcanoes that rumble away, threatening to set off that one final explosion. Like it or not, democracy (no matter how dysfunctional or incompetent), with its inherent respect for ethnic, religious and sectarian plurality and whatever semblance of voice and power it gives to the figurative common man, is still our finest bet.

Another military coup may very well mean the end of Pakistan as we know it. The impact might not be immediate, but this country then is more likely to break. So keeping this in mind, I believe it is those who, in the name of order and patriotism are wailing away for a military messiah, are committing treason no less. Not even a leader with a mad cult following can be taken seriously on any such suggestion that will put the nation on the path of collective suicide.

Now that reminds me of a much sillier form of such delusional wisdom appearing from some quarters. The French Revolution. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I can understand a freckled teenaged middle-class gung-ho suggesting such a revolution in Pakistan, but when I see grown up men say this, I do wonder if they are really in their senses. The French were one (ethnic) nation. So were the Iranians, the Chinese and the Cubans. We are not. We are not even a single Muslim nation, if you know what I mean.

Our nationhood should mean a democratic appreciation of the fact that we are a country dotted with various ethnicities and sects. That's what a real, tolerant Pakistani should stand for. Otherwise, if a revolution (just like a coup) is attempted under the banner of a single ideology in this country, it will only result in utter carnage brought on by civil war and the consequent and ugly balkanisation of the republic.

Speaking from my own experience as a former Marxist student ‘revolutionary’, the whole concept of a revolution (especially in a diverse and complex country like Pakistan), is nothing more than a youthful, naive, middle-class fantasy. But what happens when well-known middle-aged men like Imran Khan and Altaf Hussain start talking about it? Never mind Imran, he's turned political naivete into a media-savvy art form, but what about an experienced leader like Altaf Hussain?

He has started reminding me of Mao Tse Tung, when he began uttering his gibberish about a ‘Cultural Revolution’ in 1966-67. Well, he might have done it out of boredom (one of the perils of the figurehead syndrome?), but he almost destroyed the revolution he himself helped create, pushing China back at least ten years!

A healthy continuous democracy is the real revolution. But only if you would notice.

No comments: