Excelling in the Bizarre
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari

Only in Pakistan can we witness the ultimate in bizarre scenarios. There we have members of civil society fighting alongside lawyers and media persons to struggle for the restoration of the Constitution, the independence of the judiciary and basic rights of citizens. We have seen the police spare no violence or abuse in countering these protests and throwing the protestors into thanas and jails. With college and university students also undergoing a political reawakening, civil society is becoming ever more confident in its sense of relevancy just when the political elites seem to be losing all relevance with their particularistic divides -- and their presence is felt more by their absence! As the terrorists in the tribal belt and Swat seemingly continue to make tactical gains, the mainstream civil society seems to have moved center stage as targets of the law enforcers.
In all this, no one can take the theatre of the absurd away from the law enforcers whose brutality reached new heights of the bizarre when schoolchildren, who undertook a peaceful civil protest against the emergency-martial law, were beaten up and arrested by the Islamabad police. What an education in politics for the future generations of the country! Is this how we will teach them respect for the law enforcers? The irony is that the children agreed to break up their protest on the request of the police who then chose to attack them as they were winding up.
However, the law enforcers are not alone in conducting theatres of the absurd, though theirs is certainly the most violent and brutal. We have our very own BB, the darling of the West, conducting her own Kabuki theatre -- with its stylized and exaggerated techniques. Watching her drama on the day she was put under house arrest in Islamabad (some say she requested the same!) it was clear that she had brought a new glamour to the notion of 'noora kushti'. This was supported by the fact that her speech outside her house was relayed by all the official media channels so that no one would miss it in these days of the credible electronic media blackout. This drama was followed by her uninterrupted visits to the journalists' protest and a visit to the house of Chief Justice Chaudhry. As for her access to the Senate for her meeting with diplomats, no matter what the PPP explanation is put forward, it had official sanction.
Certainly BB is reaching new heights of the bizarre in her Kabuki drama with the government. The result is that while her Party's leadership has also by and large been spared -- Aitzaz being incarcerated in his capacity as the leader of the lawyers movement rather than a worker of the PPP -- with the poor workers and ordinary supporters of BB being targeted by the state. What a different scenario from the one being faced by other political leaders!
Friend Shafqat Mahmood has stated that if BB's long march is prevented, it will restore her credibility that she has now moved beyond her deal with the government; but I feel that that will simply be a continuation of the BB Kabuki theatre. The real proof will come when the NRO is withdrawn by the government and corruption cases are left to their judicial fate.
While we are seeing various levels of the bizarre being enacted in Pakistan, a very serious source of threat to the nation is the increasingly questionable role of the US. The British have sought to resort to an unbecoming imperial tone -- given the tiny British Isles along with the Malians, are all that remain of British Imperial might – but they really do not count in terms of power pressure on their own. But the US now directly threatens the security of Pakistan by declaring its intent, through a news story in The Washington Post, to "seize" our nuclear assets if they fall into the "wrong hands". Given that US nukes presently are in the trigger happy and dangerous hands of the born-again Christian fundamentalists that are the neo cons and their leader Bush; and given that Israel's unknown nuclear arsenal is in the hands of a brutal and violent extreme right regime; and given how the Hindu fundamentalists of the BJP had control of the Indian nuclear arsenal; how can the US have the gall to refer to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal going into "wrong hands". But as some of us have been saying for some time now, the US will always target our strategic assets one way or another because we are a Muslim state.
Meanwhile, the US has dropped all pretence of staying out of our internal affairs. The US consul-general in Lahore is now openly informing all the misguided social elite, who still insist on interacting with him that the Supreme Court had to be dealt with because it was giving some "wrong decisions". Has there ever been a more blatant intervention in our domestic affairs? Now why was he given permission to see Asma Jahangir when many Pakistanis are being denied the same? We have also had the US ambassador visit the Election Commission although can one imagine a Pakistani ambassador to the US publicly querying the role of George Bush in the 2000 US elections!
Perhaps the most bizarre happenings relate to the US desire to cobble a Musharraf-BB partnership without awaiting the results that a fair and free election will throw up. Under these circumstances it is not surprising to assume that what the US is actually seeking is not so much totally fair and free elections -- after all the trauma of the Hamas victory is still there -- as some sort of a national government headed by BB! Is that why it has said little about the forced stay of Nawaz Sharif in Saudi Arabia?
Finally, an almost comic scenario is developing as formation of interim governments becomes imminent. We have retired bureaucrats, civil and military, who all seem to undergo a democratic and nationalist rebirth after retirement and hold TV audiences hostage to their raging. There now seems to be an old folks club of caretaker candidates who descend on the capital whenever a caretaker or interim regime is in the offing. Why oh why do we always look to recycling old souls?
With all these shenanigans, it is not surprising to find Pakistan at the receiving end of ridicule and threats from the foreign media and governments respectively. While in the case of other countries, out of favor leaders tend to be targeted in their own capacities -- take the case of the US (official and media) targeting of Venezuela's Chavez or even Iran's Ahmedinejad -- in the case of Pakistan it is the country as a whole that is the target, especially by the US and its allies. So while leaders come and go, the image of the nation suffers long term. Something that is extremely bothersome is why our elites are ever ready, for their own interests, to paint dire consequences of "après moi le deluge"? In other words, if the status quo dissipates, the country will fall apart.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We Pakistanis have tremendous resilience as a nation, and our survival is not dependent on any one individual alone. After all not all of us have villas in Dubai or apartments and chateaus in Europe to run to so we must stay and fight for this beautiful nation. We must look to strengthen our institutions and systems, not individuals. As for those waiting for the imminent demise of nuclear Pakistan, they will have to wait an eternity.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)



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