A Walk down Memory Lane
By Zeenath Jahan
I returned to Pakistan before the elections after almost two years in the USA and found that everything in my country had changed for the worse.
Peshawar seemed so much dirtier and so very crowded as though the population had doubled in two years and were all on the road driving Suzukis with no regard to traffic rules. On my arrival in Islamabad I found that the change was more marked and widespread, though not as bad as in Peshawar. Inflation is rampant in spite of the previous Government's propaganda of a booming economy. As for the security situation, the less said the better.
Unfortunately the change I sensed and saw was not only physical but there seemed to be an indefinable, yet palpable angry frustration and hopelessness wherever you turned and everyone seemed on edge. It was as though ‘Hope’ was all that was left for Pakistanis, and there was precious little of that too!
It was ‘election season’ in Pakistan and the USA when I arrived, but the ugly, massive billboards visible wherever you went in Pakistan were missing in the USA, even though the cynicism was very similar. I suppose politicians are politicians the world over and the common man has become wise to their shenanigans. Everything changes but nothing really changes.
Of course Pakistan was frequently in the news in the USA; unfortunately, the images and discussions were never flattering; and I cringed every time. I must correct myself here since President Musharraf always handled the press belligerently when they wanted him to ‘do more’ and I must admit that it made me feel a little better.
Coming to President Musharraf’s self-created problems in Pakistan, I suppose I am one of the minority who are satisfied with most of the work he has done over the last few years. Unfortunately, like all previous dictators from Ayub Khan down, he has succumbed to the belief that he IS the state and believes he is irreplaceable. He is not. None of them were! In his search for eternal power in Pakistan he has over reached himself by meddling with the judiciary headed by Chaudry Iftikhar, an activist judge who took ‘suo motto’ notice of any misgovernment that came to his attention. Musharraf further sullied his record by his attempt at muzzling the press that he himself had given a voice to in his heyday. Once anyone has tasted freedom, there is no other option for them and it is impossible to take back freedom from the press, the vehicles of information are in their hands and they have the power to make things really sticky for any government. It is with this in mind that BB and NS in their wisdom never even thought of doing for the press what Musharraf did. Over the years we had been treated to interminable stories of the feats of this minister or the other on PTV during their two tenures as head of the Executive and they of course must have thought that was perfectly right.
No martial law is ever good for any country since it always takes the country back to point ‘A’. Each Martial Law Administrator believes he knows best what is good for the country and therefore tears down institutions to start from scratch, first by fiddling with the Constitution of Pakistan (to protect themselves from being proceeded against as traitors) and then go on to mess up every other institution. In the pervasively corrupt atmosphere of Pakistani politics every army intervention has been welcomed by the populace and sycophants who know how to grease their way to power without a mandate from the people. Demonstrators chanting "Cheenee chor" brought down Ayub Khan, the tearing apart of Pakistan brought down Yahya Khan and God in his infinite mercy took care of Zia ul Haq; it is time now for Musharraf to decide how he will go. Since the first Martial Law, the politicians have been as bad dictators (while in power) as the military with one small difference: they were blatant about their corruption and families became fabulously rich in a short span of time.
Today BB is no more, Pakistan went though a collective hysteria after she was cruelly murdered, there doesn’t seem to be any 'Zanjeer' to hold the federating units together and Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari plan to return to what they know best - looting the Pakistan treasury. Although, in all honesty I must add that each time I have heard him, Asif Zardari comes across as the only far sighted statesman in the present higgledy piggledy mess of Pakistani politics; but I will only believe he means what he says when I see what he does. Pakistani politicians are long on words and short on action, as quick to promise the moon as to forget their last statement.
I am sometimes amazed at what short memories people have. In two terms as Prime Minister, in spite of a ‘thumping majority' in the National Assembly, no one thought it necessary to make the judiciary independent of the executive or to free the press (Najam Sethi may have something to say about that)!
In fact, minions of the latter day defender of Justice and Democracy was the protege of the worst dictator in Pakistan's history (NS, for those with amnesia) stormed the Supreme Court of Pakistan when he was Prime Minister of Pakistan. Yet he did think it necessary to take back powers of the Prime Minister usurped by his erstwhile benefactor, the late unlamented General Zia ul haq. Lucky for Pakistan his dreams of becoming ‘Ameer ul Momineen’ were shattered by the martial law imposed by an army who refused to accept their constitutional role as guardians of the country after having ruled it for most of its existence. As the newly anointed champion of the Judiciary, NS and the rest of the country seem to be suffering from collective amnesia as no one seems to care that NS’s people got off Scot free, in spite of being filmed while attacking the Supreme Court of Pakistan! At that time I had written: “I hang my head in shame today, the Supreme Court of Pakistan was stormed by the Government of Pakistan; and no one said a word in protest. There were no street demonstrations and we were all complicit by our silence in this shameful deed. Evil only survives when we allow it to survive and prosper.” (Unfortunately we allowed it to survive and it has prospered!)
Although I do believe that Pervaiz Musharraf has done much good, he has done equal amount of harm to the country. Even though his regime is littered with broken promises to the nation, we must recognize both the good and the bad of his tenure even though he must now recognize the writing on the wall and for the first time in Pakistan’s history, bow out of center stage. Today he has become an impediment, even though what may follow him could very well be much worse as I see no Leader amongst the political ‘leaders’. I do not see anything positive emanating from the recent elections as they are the same old people bent upon doing the same old stuff, in other words, enriching themselves at our expense.
In keeping with their past record of confrontational politics, the wily Sharifs are leaving the field open by refusing cabinet posts in the Federal Government; conventional wisdom suggests that this move is being made in order to confront the PPPP government when they feel strong enough to do so. For the time being NS will merely give the PPPP his 'support' to make the national government. The PPPP is the only party with an appreciable presence in all four provinces, but today it does not have the unifying presence of BB at its head. With her charm and charisma BB could make us believe she was a democratic leader; she could make us shut our eyes at the inherent discrepancy of being a champion of democracy while running an undemocratic political party. When your own house is not in order, how can you project order on to the outside world? Then with BB’s 'will', by handing down of the PPP to her husband as his ‘inheritance’ (which of course he handed to their son in turn) her democratic credentials were deeply sullied. NS makes no bones about being democratic, all I have actually heard him say is how he wants to pay back Musharraf in the same coin by exiling him. I am sure he must have said some nice things too, but I don’t trust the man.
Politicians join or leave any particular Muslim League depending which one is in power. NS’s wing of the Muslim League is mainly centered in the Punjab and is therefore merely a provincial party today. The ‘other’ Muslim Leagues, past and present have been the hand maidens of every Martial Law, from the ‘Council’ League of Ayub Khan to the ‘Junejo’ League of Zia ul Haq to the ‘Nawaz’ League after he ransacked the PML House in his political free-for-all mayhem during his political ‘coup’ after Junejo passed away and lastly, the ‘Quaid i Azam’ League that was revived by General (r) Musharraf that has none of the Quaid’s principles. Just as their names suggest, these 'parties' are based on the personality of their leaders. 'Nawaz' League cannot have internal elections because if anyone else is elected President it will not be 'Nawaz' League any more!
The present day champion of the people, the knight in shining armor for the judiciary, the man who speaks only of his ‘principled stand’ has a past that would put the worst rogue to shame. He was in the PPP before the Ittefaq Foundries were nationalized and his ‘principles’ were shaken to the core when they touched upon his pocket; then he joined the ‘Tehrik e Istiklal’ until Zia gave him an option, “Join the (Junejo) Muslim League or relinquish your post as Chief Minister of the Punjab". This is the same man who in his two stints as Prime Minister had no inclination of either freeing the press or of making the Judiciary independent of the Executive. As Prime Minister his people stormed the Supreme Court of Pakistan when it 'dared' call him to account and today he champions the cause celebre of Judges who took their oath of office under the 1999 PCO.
I could go on and on, reminding everyone with amnesia of the past doings and misdoings of various political parties and leaders and the shortcomings of us as citizens of Pakistan, but there is not enough ink or paper to put them all down. Forgive me if I am cynical and pessimistic about the future of Pakistan, forgive me if I am not taken in by the high sounding statements issued by the winners (and losers) of Election 2008, I simply see 'more of the same' for the future.
I have seen much in my 60+ years in Pakistan. I remember 1947, the fervor and patriotism that flooded the country touched me as a three year old child and I shouted ‘Pakistan Zindabad, Muslim League Zindabad’ and then hid so that the Congress wouldn’t arrest me; I remember the dizzying changes in Prime Ministers which worried me as I knew I would have to study it all in history class; I remember when corruption entered the electoral process during the ‘Basic Democracy’ period of Ayub Khan; I remember the sorrow of the civil war in East Pakistan; I remember the time when I first heard ZAB and Maulana Kausar Niazi speak on TV and was fired with hope and optimism for a better future for my country; I remember the terror of Zia ul Haq’s martial law where the call, ‘Jeeyai Bhutto’ was punished in the harshest manner; I remember the stunned shock and horror of the hanging of our Prime Minister by the Judiciary in bed with the Martial Law Administrator; I remember the revulsion I felt when the Government of Pakistan stormed the Supreme Court of Pakistan and no one said a word in protest; I remember that each military coups was welcomed by a populace sick and tired of the corruption, bickering and power politics of the politicians of the day. I have lived under imposed and elected civilian governments and the frequent Martials Law and I have come to the only logical conclusion possible: not one of the people who governed Pakistan have cared about Pakistan or the downtrodden citizens, each only cared about making himself fabulously rich. Now that we have the same old people back in the seat of power how can I hope for anything better?
(Zeenath Jahan is the daughter of late Mohammad Yousuf Khan Khattak and granddaughter of late Khan Bahadur Kuli Khan Khattak. She resides in the US and has been writing off and on. Her writings could be found on her personal website http://zeejah.tripod.com/ or www.chowk.com)