Folly, not clash of institutions

By Ayaz Amir for The News, appeared on Friday Jan 29, 2010

Clash of institutions has a grand ring to it, suggestive of Cromwell's Roundheads battling the monarchy; or the children of the French Revolution slaughtering the French nobility; or Lenin's Bolsheviks storming the Winter Palace. 


Would that this were the state of affairs in Pakistan. We could then expect something creative, a higher synthesis, to emerge from all this disorder. But we are not that lucky. This is less clash of institutions than elephants on parade: large egos on the march, the vanity of mediocrity on display — dressed up, as Pakistani mediocrity mostly is, in the colours of national salvation. 


If Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is refusing to put a pistol to his head, if he is refusing to become another Farooq Leghari, and if the National Assembly (including the PML-N) is with him on the matter of not committing collective suicide, media samurais — of whom there are not a few and who deserve the title of Ustad-e-Fidayeen better than any Taliban — are dismayed, and almost on the verge of hysteria, because the triumph of prudence is the last thing they wish to celebrate. 


For six months and more these laptop warriors have been spreading confusion and alarm, conning a public which they take to be gullible into thinking that political change is around the corner. But their deadlines having not been met, not once but repeatedly, it is not surprising if there is an air of increasing desperation about their battle-cries, which they expect the public to take as serious analysis. If their frantic outpourings are serious analysis, comic relief acquires a different meaning. 


Two slogans have proved the most enduring in our history: Islam and corruption. Every humbug in authority, especially when besieged and short of real answers to our many problems, has raised the banner of Islam, none more loudly than Gen Ziaul Haq, who would be prince if ever there was a kingdom dedicated wholesale to the worship of hypocrisy. The more of a mess we have made of our Constitution the greater the reliance on Islamic references — not for acting upon them, perish the thought, as for the sacred rites of lip-service and window-dressing. 


To much the same use has been put the slogan of corruption. In every military coup, from Ayub to Musharraf, in every civilian coup, whether carried out by Ghulam Ishaq Khan or Farooq Leghari, the eradication of corruption has figured as the foremost priority. Ironic, then, is it not, that after every forced transition, every turn of the screw, the one thing to explode was corruption? So much for the good intentions, and so much for the heaven they led to. 


At present too the idea of change — that change is necessary if Pakistan is to survive — has been hyped up relentlessly around the theme of corruption. Foremost in this campaign, although keeping themselves well hidden in the shadows, have been the self-appointed guardians of our ideological frontiers. They may have been less than adept at guarding our geographical frontiers — the ones visible on a map — but the ramparts of ideology, in their own definition of this term, they continue to guard jealously.


. . . .  it is salutary to remember that the judges did not restore democracy. It was democracy which restored them. 


The laptop warriors may be doing their own thing, for in their ranks are to be found the odd knight of good faith genuinely taken in by all the talk about corruption, but the wrecking game they are embarked upon fits in neatly with the agenda of the ideological warriors who are just not comfortable with a civilian dispensation. 


Angels from heaven can descend tomorrow and minister to the needs of the Islamic Republic, but the ideological warriors and the definers of strategic depth — one and the same thing — won't be satisfied. Why do they suffer the Constitution? Why do they endure civilian trappings? If they are so impatient with democracy they should make Myanmar their model and once and for all have done with the charade of democracy. 


It is a measure of the success of the forces out to alter the political landscape that in just two years since the revival of democracy, they have managed to instil into the minds of the middle class — which for all its presumed sophistication is the first to fall for such gambits — that Pakistan's number one problem is corruption. If this bull is caught by the horns salvation is at hand. If not, the Republic faces ruin and destruction. 


The lawyers' movement did much good in that it helped weaken the foundations of dictatorship, although I must hasten to add that by itself it wasn't strong enough to defeat that dictatorship. That outcome had to await the fruition of the political process as signified by the holding of elections and the assumption of office by a political government. Even so, the lawyers' movement was an inspiring sight while it lasted. To a nation caught in the throes of depression it gave a glimpse of what resolve and sustained commitment could achieve. 


But there have been some negative effects too. One is the outbreak of a species of arrogance amongst lawyers finding vent in violent and yahoo behaviour. The frequency of such outbursts is serving to dim the shine of the lawyers' movement, the heroes of yesterday allowing themselves to be seen in a poor light. The second is the rise of a strange kind of innocence which seems to be divorced from any understanding of Pakistan's tempestuous past. 


This innocence finds expression in the belief that the movement and the subsequent restoration of the judges were turning points in our history. In this somewhat exalted view of things, the restored judges have been cast in heroic colours, indeed likened to prophets of a new dawn in which justice and the rule of law will always prevail. It was no doubt in a like spirit of exaltation that Justice Jawwad Khawaja in his added note to the detailed judgement of My Lord the Chief Justice in the NRO case stated that the last three years in their momentousness "… can be accorded the same historical significance as the events of 1947… and those of 1971…" 


Jinnah was the hero of 1947 and Yahya the anti-hero of 1971. While Musharraf can be made to run a close parallel to Yahya, whom should we take as the Jinnah of the last three years? In any event, this rendering of history can be faulted on another count. On our side of the divide, Jinnah was the sole architect of 1947. Lawyers and judges have not been the sole shapers of the outcome of the last three years. They played a part and often a heroic part in those events but not the sole part. 


And it is salutary to remember that the judges did not restore democracy. It was democracy which restored them. As we go on about a new dawn this sequence of events should not be forgotten. 


Furthermore, as laptop warriors foam at the mouth and serve up their beliefs and desires as news and analysis, faith that a new dawn is really at hand will be immeasurably strengthened if the guardians of justice take up two pressing challenges: (1) apologise in the clearest of terms, with a due sense of contrition, for the oath taken by them at the altar of Musharraf's PCO in 2000, and if some amongst their present lordships validated Musharraf's coup in the Zafar Ali Shah judgment, an apology for that too; and (2) take up instantly Air Marshal Asghar Khan's petition about the Mehran Bank scandal and the money distributed by the ISI in the 1990 elections. 


If there is any hesitation on both or either of these counts — and there can be very understandable reasons for exercising caution — would it be too much to ask that discretion be the better part of valour in other things as well? 


The inadequacy of the political class may be great and may be enough to drive one to despair. But if there is one lesson of our history it is that there is no alternative to democracy. It is within its fold and bosom that we must seek its reform and correction, and the salvation of the Pakistani nation.