Saturday, December 12, 2009


Ours is a rotting state of affairs and rotting fruit is no good unless it falls to the ground, to be trampled under foot and provide space for fresh buds to emerge from the naked branch.

Ayaz Amir

There’s a storm gathering and when it breaks the central pillars of the temple we call the government of Pakistan will crack, throwing out some incumbents and heralding a period of uncertainty and disorder from which something good, after all our years of despair, may yet emerge.
The NRO of black memory is just the thin edge of the wedge. The hearing of the NRO case in the Supreme Court has already taken an interesting turn — an interpretation which the Presidency is sure to dispute because from its point of view the turn is anything but interesting.
And as the case proceeds more and more vistas are coming into view. Fresh horizons are breaking forth and where it all comes to rest — and, respecting the SC’s directions, I shall be the last person to comment on a sub-judice matter — we don’t know. But the opening salvoes indicate where, if we are lucky, things might be headed.
We are already in a state of disorder but it is still not enough to merit the Maoist injunction (or was it a desire?) that when there is great disorder under the heavens the situation is excellent. Ours is a rotting state of affairs and rotting fruit is no good unless it falls to the ground, to be trampled under foot and provide space for fresh buds to emerge from the naked branch — if the rites of spring, when the time arrives, are to be properly celebrated.
I stand converted (for what my conversion is worth). Democracy is not an abstract virtue to be embraced in any form or shape it may assume. Weimar democracy in Germany led to the rise of Hitler. Neville Chamberlain’s democracy led to the surrender at Munich and encouraged Hitler to test the will of the western powers. French democracy on the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War contributed immensely to the dissipation of French national morale.
Hitler was eventually overcome not by the democracies alone, his armies encountering their most decisive defeats in the endless wastes of totalitarian Russia.
If the face of Pakistani democracy reflects the shine of Swiss bank accounts, and villas in Spain and rural houses in England, then there is something seriously wrong with both that democracy and our destiny. Let’s face it: this democracy is breeding disillusionment and killing national hope.
Our army gave a good account of itself in Swat. Our officers and men are fighting valiantly in the harsh, nay cruel, terrain of South Waziristan. But where is the political direction of this war? Who is providing the inspired leadership and direction without which the army’s efforts, and the huge sacrifices being rendered, will come to naught?
The idea that someone accused of stashing away laundered millions abroad can provide any kind of leadership is laughable, testing the limits of absurdity. So unless some of the pillars of Islamabad — whose founding as our capital marks the time from where our misfortunes began — begin to shake, and something like a dramatic exit starts shaping up, we are lost.
Innocents like me wondered where the push would come from. Centcom Commander, Gen Petraeus, has declared before a congressional panel that there seemed to be no sign of the Pakistan army having any desire to imperil civilian rule.
The traditional push leading to the ouster of civilian rule has always come from the direction of Rawalpindi. This time the aim is not civilian rule as a whole but just one aspect of it in the shape of the tallest and supposedly strongest pillar of government. But Triple One Brigade, for much of our history our highest constitutional authority, is not moving anywhere. The ordnance likely to come into play (as already indicated) is deployed on a different ridge.
Not that — and let me hasten to add this — there is any design, any calculated aim, behind this deployment and the fireworks likely to ensue. The new dynamic whose first outlines are already visible to eyes which can see is being beaten into shape by circumstances.
Storms gather not because of any conspiracies. They gather because they must, because so the weather gods have decreed. In the NRO case one thing is leading to another. Much of it is haphazard, fortuitous. But great changes when they occur often have fortuitous circumstances behind them.
Another cruel thing to note: this democracy whose coming was greeted with so much hope and enthusiasm just two years ago has lost steam and direction in just this short period. It is waddling along but it is sick at heart and its place, on current form, is on a hospital bed — to be given a transfusion of blood and vitamins before it can rise again and be of any use to man/woman or beast.
We have seen the bankruptcy of military rule on four successive occasions. Musharraf was the ultimate doctor who cured us of any delusions we may have had regarding the efficacy of the military solution to our troubles. We are now seeing the bankruptcy of democracy. It is not a pleasant sight but perhaps it is useful in the sense that it is concentrating Pakistani minds to think of things which democracy must deliver if its altar is to be honoured and worshipped.
Our major problems are two: governmental ineffectiveness (which we can also call corruption) and the increasingly noticeable lack of direction as regards our war against the Taliban. For both these problems our current democracy has failed to come up with any answers.
Government at the centre is in a state of paralysis. National Assembly and Senate are debating societies and not very good ones at that either. The prime minister’s tailor (or designer suit provider) seems to be the most effective member of his team, deserving the Nishan-e-Imtiaz for always turning him out smartly. If clothes alone could make a man we would have a Churchill for a prime minister. Enough said.
And where is our Taliban war headed? The resort to arms in Swat was inescapable, the growing audacity of the Swat Taliban leaving the army no other choice. In South Waziristan the army so far has been very successful, going into that harsh region and capturing tough positions more quickly than anyone had expected. But if this operation is not to end in stalemate and eventual fatigue it should not an open-ended, spreading to the entire tribal belt. One Vietnam is enough, in Afghanistan. Circumstances should not be created where a mini-Vietnam is recreated on this side of the Afghan border.
So on the shoulders of the military success achieved thus far some sort of political victory has to be built, or we will keep on fighting with no end in sight. And our cities, as has been happening in recent weeks, will continue to be the target of terrorist strikes. This war is spreading. We need to contain it.
Defeatism? No, rather a call to realism. We cannot afford to be tied to America’s apron strings the way we are at present. We have to fight this war on our own, within our borders, without being seen as an American appendage. It is time to loosen, not tighten, the American connection.
Afghanistan should be none of our headache. Our generals who dedicated themselves to the doctrine of strategic depth deserve a long stay in a re-education camp. What are the internal processes in the army which lead to the production of such geniuses? The Americans and the Taliban, and Al Qaeda, should be left to their own devices. But such a course of action will only command credibility if we show zero-tolerance to our home-grown Taliban.
A farewell to Zia-style jihad: we have suffered enough because of the illusions it bred and the follies it led us into. The time to rethink and reinvent Pakistan has come. And it is arising from the throes of our present troubles, from this great disorder and confusion which surround us. Hope amid the ruins: that’s more like it, but only if courage and wisdom are our companions.


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