Wednesday, 14 November 2007

We Are Mindless...

While discussing the political situation in the country the other day, a cousin of mine turned to that other great Pakistani obsession: cricket. Trying to describe her feelings, she quoted the ex-captain of the national team, Inzamam-ul-Haq, who, when once asked if he had minded batting first in the match replied in broken english in his usual dopey manner, “No… we are mindless.”

My cousin had earlier been arguing that she had refused to participate in any protests and supported the Emergency, because Musharraf, despite all his faults, was still better than Benazir. It’s a very common argument, and a powerful one. I have to confess at being struck by a strong feeling of despondency and hopelessness in the last few days. Even if, somehow, against all odds, the Emergency would be lifted and Musharraf should bow out gracefully, what did we have to look forward to? Would it be a return to the bad old days of the 90s, with its rampant corruption, ethnic violence and drowning economy? Is Pakistan really doomed to be stuck in a cycle of one disastrous regime after the other, differing only in the particulars of the grotesques in high office. What good would a return to democratic rule do? What is it that we should be striving for? One can’t help but feel stricken by a sinking feeling, a paralysis of indecision, because its hard to conceive of a future that offers much hope. How should one feel about these matters? Truly, one feels mindless.

For most people, those who struggle to make a living at subsistence wages, these political matters seem far removed from their immediate reality. What matters most is the fact that the cost of everyday staples such as flour, milk and sugar have risen dramatically in the last couple of years, a rise that has far exceeded any rise in wages. Their biggest concern is how to make ends meet. Its instructive that in the recent “sugar mill” scandal, where it was found that a small cartel of sugar mill owners were hoarding sugar in order to artificially drive up prices (by over 100%), the cartel included several ministers in the current pro-Musharraf government, it included Chaudhry Shujaat of the PML(Q), Shahbaz Sharif of the PML(N) and Asif Zardari of the PPP. So what does the average person care whether Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif come to power? All belong to the same class of uber-rich who are not averse to exploiting and cheating the common man whenever they can, and all, when in power, will exert every effort to continue doing so.

I think one answer to this line of questioning is that, right now, one has to push for the independence of the judiciary and the media – the two institutions that have been most blatantly undermined by the current Emergency. When Musharraf claims that his rule will create the conditions for “true democracy” in Pakistan, he seems to believe that this involves forcing everyone to go along with whatever he believes should be done. This rather absurd and limited understanding of “true democracy” will take us nowhere. One would have imagined that it was precisely in strengthening the judiciary and establishing an independent media (the second of which, up till recently, looked like becoming the crowning glory of Musharraf's achievements), that the conditions for a “true democracy” were being put in place. No particular leader or party will "save" Pakistan by coming into power. Rather, it is only when it will become exceedingly difficult for those in power to operate by whim, that matters will improve.

The sugar mill case is instructive in this regard. An investigation by the NAB (National Accountability Bureau) into allegations of price-fixing was killed by the government, with the excuse that the investigation itself was driving up prices. After an outcry in the media, the Supreme Court took suo moto notice of the case and ordered that the NAB should complete the investigation and present its report to the Court. This was duly done and the identities of those who were part of the cartel revealed, to the embarrassment of the government. Attempts to prosecute those involved, of course, floundered in the wake of the Emergency. So when Musharraf talks about the embarrassment of law enforcement officials summouned to the Supreme Court, and the unsound business environment being created by its suo moto notices, we know what kinds of cases were on his mind.

The point here is, given that our next government, no matter what its exact composition, or the quality of its democratic crededentials, is not going to be a ‘clean’ one, it is vital that there be a free and independent media, and an ‘activist’ Supreme Court to act as checks and balances on its actions. In this regard, the current civil society movement also has an essential role to play. Whether or not its goals are achieved in the current crisis, its very existence is a victory of sorts, and a harbringer for better things to come. It is essential to create awareness, to coordinate, organize and educate ourselves for the many, many battles we are going to have to face in the coming days. It is essential that we no longer be mindless, but make up our minds that there is a future we can hope for, and, though it may be a long journey, one we must work towards.


Nauman said...

Nice write up. I agree that whatever the constitution of our next government may be but a free media and an assertive judiciary in the last few years have been our biggest achievement. It will put in place a system of checks and balances to curb rampant corruption among politicians. Trouble with our politicians is that they mostly belong to the feudal or industrialist class and their mindset is different from our educated middle class. It’s because their goals are different. Their only motive seems to be lust for power and they don’t want power to attain some desirable goal like betterment of the nation but power for the sake of power.

Especially BB has a very feudal mindset and instead of making PPP a truly democratic party she has turned it into some sort of a monarchy. Brilliant people like Atizaz Ahsan are not given a position in the party which they deserve. Instead she prefers people like Amin Fahim, Rahman Malik and Sherry Rahman. Compared to PPP, PML (N) at least has a team of some good politicians like Chaudhry Nisar, Zafar Jhagra etc.

Finally along with a free media and an independent judiciary we also need political parties who are truly democratic in sense that they hold intra-party elections and the candidates campaign for fund raising instead of spending money from their own pocket. Just like Republican and Democratic party of USA. This way we can hope that people from educated middle class can also participate in elections and hopefully they wouldn’t be as corrupt as the present Graduate Assembly :)

Misanthrope said...

Good comment and some good points there. I agree with you about the PPP. BB's megalomania is disturbing and the fact that she has had herself declared 'leader for life' of her party suggests that there will not be any major improvement there for a while. Its instructive that while BB shuttles around from photo-op to photo-op, Atizaz Ahsan is still in solitary confinement. It is said that after his recent visit to the states where he was invited to speak about the judicial crisis, BB didn't like him getting the limelight and has been giving him the cold shoulder ever since. Sad.