I’ve been meaning to post this for a week now, never got around to it.
The End of Another Fairytale
What a nation, born amidst one fairytale — that this was going to be a country dedicated to the greater glory of Islam — and thriving forever on other fairytales.
One of the most beguiling fairytales of all springs from that timeless Faiz poem: “Hum dekhain gey” (we shall see), which draws an ecstatic picture of crowns being kicked around and rolling in the dust and a new, just order of things coming into being thereafter.
For fifty years if not more Pakistan’s armchair revolutionists (and there are more armchair Lenins in this country than any other place on earth) have swayed to the beat of this song, sung beyond perfection by the equally timeless Iqbal Bano.
That’s about it. We listen to this Faiz poem and move our bodies to its rhythm and then, our tribute to revolution having been paid, go right back to sleep, or whatever we may or may not have been doing.
When the history of the Pakistan revolution is written it will begin and end with this one song. Another fairytale was spun on Feb 18 when in the innocence which never quite leaves Pakistan’s forever-arguing classes, we thought that we stood on the threshold of another revolution or, if not a revolution, at least a transition from one chapter of history to another, from the old to the new.
Already within the space of just two months that illusion (and it was an illusion, let’s not kid ourselves) is fast wearing thin as we slowly begin to discover that the past far from having disappeared is still with us. Indeed, dictating the pace of national events is not the present or the future but very much the past.
The National Reconciliation Ordinance (no piece of trickery ever had such a virtuous or innocent-sounding name) is a concession to the past. Giving Mr Asif Zardari a clean bill of health, it rescues him from his past.
But wanting desperately to close our eyes to unwelcome facts we did not think through the consequences of the NRO. We failed to realize that the NRO and the restoration of the pre-Nov 3 judiciary were two incompatible propositions, two swords that could not rest in the same scabbard.
Either the NRO could stand or we could have the deposed judiciary back. The two could exist separately, not together. Mr Zardari being the beneficiary of Gen Pervez Musharraf’s largesse in the shape of the NRO, it is but natural for him to choose the benefits of the NRO over the uncertainty that will surely accrue to him if the deposed judiciary is restored to its rightful place.
No one has ever accused Mr Zardari of not looking out for himself. Why should he stop looking out for himself now when courtesy the Dogar Supreme Court the biggest jackpot of his career has just been delivered to him?
After Feb 18 the nation collectively went into a trance, hoping for miracles and refusing to draw the connection between the NRO and the likely course of Zardari’s politics. We all know that there is no such thing as a free lunch but because our illusions were on the line we insisted on believing that the NRO was a free lunch ticket from Gen Musharraf and supreme judicial pontiff Dogar to Asif Zardari, involving no quid pro quo.
Now the chips are falling into place and we are aghast, smelling treachery and about to cry betrayal when if we had been slightly more awake we would have been more alive to the situation.
For Zardari, Musharraf and Dogar have delivered. Now it is his turn to deliver. How do My Lord Iftikhar Chaudhry and the deposed judges fit into this scheme of things? Zardari is just being himself. It is just that the N League and the lawyers’ community and the strange creature whose strength the drawing room classes choose to exaggerate, civil society, who are turning out to be chumps (the polite word for idiots), mistaking illusion for reality.
I should have mentioned this earlier. The very first steps of the present coalition arrangement were marked by an ill omen. At the first parliamentary meeting of the coalition parties (and this was before the election of the prime minister) the ‘talawat’ (recitation from the Quran) was performed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman. I heard someone saying (or was it myself sotto voce?) that something beginning like this how was it likely to end?
Anyhow, it is now clear that the Bhurban Accord was a hoax played on the Pakistani people. At least one of the signatories (and let me not be the one to breach coalition proprieties by naming names) had a different interpretation of it from the word go.
When that signatory says that the accord was not a Hadith (a pronouncement of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)) truer words were never spoken. While on smooth and smiling lips played a certain set of words deep down there lurked some other truth. Had we not been so desperate to close our eyes to reality we would have grasped this dichotomy earlier. But we chose not to because we wanted to believe.
We wanted to believe that the illusion dancing before our eyes was indeed an oasis where houris and other creatures of the wildest imagination awaited our pleasure. We wanted to believe that a brave new world was out there and it only required our touching for it to spring into existence.
Oh, how desperate we were to believe. Now that we are getting a supreme lesson in ‘realism’ (the new name for hypocrisy) from those who we thought were about to lead us to the promised land we can only sing with the immortal Rafi “iss dil key tukray hazar huay, koi yahan gira, koi wahan gira”.
Faiz led us to believe that the day would come when crowns would roll in the dust. For sixty years this has not happened and for the next sixty years is not likely to. Time and again it is our illusions and the fairytales we have spun for ourselves which have been ground into the dust under our own feet. The denouement being played out in Dubai is entirely in accord with this history.
We could have been a great nation. Yes, this could have been a great enterprise. Were we born under an evil sky? Or was our talent for spinning fairytales and then coming to passionately believe in those very tales too great for our own good?
Or perhaps right from the start it was our destiny to be led by small-minded leaders. This has been the tragedy of many a nation before us: brought to ruin or at least denied greatness by those chosen by destiny to lead their caravans. We furnish proof every day of falling in the same category.
Look at the farce being played out in Dubai and look at the opulent setting in which it is being played out. Our leaders have created safe havens for themselves in some of the choicest settings across the globe. To which Dubai or Spain or East Side Manhattan will the hungry masses of Pakistan run?
In the persons of My Lords Chaudhry, Ramday, etc., we saw not saints or prophets but merely the glimmer of a dream that at least for once we would be able to rectify a wrong done to the nation and that the very act of rectification would purify us, cleanse us of some of our worst sins, and make us fit for a better future. On our journey to the promised land this was to be the crossing of the first milestone.
But by demonstrating (not for the first time) that expediency and self-interest count for more than promises made and trysts with destiny pledged, we are once again proving, to ourselves and the heavens, that we are not meant for great things, that it is our lot to wallow in the cesspool of very limited ambitions. The people, given half the chance, have always rendered the correct decision. It is their leaders who have consistently let them down. We see the same phenomenon happening again.