Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is Pakistan running in circles?

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank. 02-08-07

Is Pakistan running in circles?

Finally General Parvez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto are closing in on a political understanding. Though the cynics call it a deal with a dictator BBs supporters consider it an understanding with the government for free and fair elections. While the concerned parties are mostly tight lipped about it we have to rely on rumors, which tell us that BB would be returning after 10 years just like in 1986, and sharing power, just like in 1988. All this is being done to humiliate her and other politicians a bit later just like in 1990 and 1999. Nothing seems to have changed except time. We are running in circles without any destination in mind or sight.

This deal or understanding would enable BB to return safely and contest elections without any fear of corruption charges in local and international courts. After getting sanitized, she might assume a big office but very limited power with many checks. Sounds a bit familiar. Appears to be a repeat of 1986 when BB was allowed to return by the then general Zia ul Haq. Our establishment is still stigmatizing politicians and punishing them ruthlessly only to accept them later under different pressures.

Fling enough of dirt so that some would stick appears to be establishment’s policy for dealing with its competitors of power. Benazir's PPP has been accused of nearly every allegation one can imagine. It was considered responsible for dismemberment of the country in 1971. Later it was blamed for terrorism against the country and conniving with the Indians. Despite this barrage of serious allegations she was allowed to return in 1986 and become PM in 1988 only to be ridiculed and humiliated. Hidden forces did all this but now it is clear that state machinery was working full time against it. PPP government was labeled a team of under 15, Mr. 10%, kidnapper and extortionist. In addition she was also blamed for giving list of Sikh insurgents to Indians who killed them putting down the insurgency. During this blame tirade Pakistan’s involvement in India’s troubles was acknowledged with pride which had grave consequences later. In short BB and her party were labeled security risk and ostracized. All this was done by our establishment in national interests but now suddenly national interests are changing and BB is being accepted.

This is not the first time we as a nation are running in circles. We experienced this with Ghulam Mohammad, Ayub Khan, Yahya, Zia and now Musharraf. The story is always that the politicians are destroying the country and the generals are forced to take over to save the country. They are always portrayed as unwilling people who assume these noble responsibilities for the sake of the country. Every argument in favor of democracy is rejected due to the lack of education and understanding of our people. In other words our people are not considered good or fit enough to have democracy by our own establishment. Ridiculous plans like basic democracies or real democracy are introduced essentially designed to divert attention. All this is done because our establishment considers our people unfit to decide for themselves and itself very wise and patriotic behaving like an over dominating father figure taking all decisions. They think they are wiser than 180 million Pakistanis. What made our establishment get such a flattering view of itself is unknown as is the reason for it to belittle the public.

All these self proclaimed deliverers routinely get in trouble themselves and bring the nation in serious mess before they back track and ask for help from the politicians. This extreme form of conceitedness of our establishment has repeatedly landed us in trouble. We have not been able to break this vicious cycle yet neither have we been able to hold accountable the people who get us in trouble.

Pakistan’s perpetual journey of circles has harmed us a lot. To begin with it has made us a laughing stock in the society of civilized law abiding nations. Then it got us into wars of other nations in which we paid most of the price for others to win. We inherited drugs, extremism and terrorism. It got so bad that all bad news can somehow be traced to Pakistan, many times wrongly but sometimes rightly also. We nearly became a pariah state appearing high in the failed state indexes, a state about which governments routinely warn people against traveling to. Now we are reaping the most dreadful fruit of this habit of ours, as we are in a near state of civil war with terrorists striking the writ of the state everywhere. We lost the six decades since independence running in circles while poor countries got rich, weak got strong but all aspects of our society regressed.

After being humiliated to different degrees in Pakistan from 1990 till 1999, BB went abroad regularly visiting America. During this time she was ridiculed as begging Americans for power thus depicting her as a power hungry politician with questionable patriotism. Now when the country has again been put in trouble effectively she is being enticed back with all her actual or imaginary weaknesses. This development confirms the effectiveness of American role in Pakistani politics with power to outdo the strongest of hurdles. The other part of practical lesson people might learn is even more dangerous; it is that 180 million people do not matter. What matters is US and a few generals who are more subservient to Americans rather than the Pakistani electorate. This message effectively getting into the minds of our future generations further reduces our chances of improving in future.

What is BB trying to achieve is debatable. Either she is getting Musharraf’s help for coming in power or sacrificing her party and its public support trying to help out Musharraf is anyone’s guess. Response of the civil society against settlements with generals has been ignored despite latest unbelievable stimulation and achievements in the Chief Justice issue. This is a major omission with the potential to make any settlement fail or backfire. Whatever the reality, it will come out in the lime light soon without leaving any ambiguity. One thing is for sure; if BB gets the kind of power she got in 1988 she wouldn’t be able to achieve anything except a long list of reasons for her imminent failure. She might be allowed to repeat the biggest achievement of her 1988-1990 government, which was increasing the defense budget by 50%, something no general could dare. Although I hope she does not repeat such steps she seems to be destined by her latest undertakings. Past experiences are the best guide for future predictions which suggests that she will repeat the mistakes.

To get our right place in the society of nations we must get out of this journey of circles as it is taking us nowhere. For this we must stop looking for Messiahs and start taking responsibilities in our own hands to solve our problems. To achieve this we must never let anyone take us for a ride usurping our basic rights. All the politicians must be allowed to return and contest. It should be the people of Pakistan who decide who comes to power and who is rejected and not a handful of government servants. It must be acknowledged that the wisdom of millions is far better than that of any individual and millions should decide the future of the country collectively. Time is important and we must utilize it to get ahead instead of getting bogged down and running in useless circles. We must come out of running in circles for the sake of our nation and future generations or we might be getting what people or nations running in circles get which can be appalling. Our self proclaimed deliverers and the establishment has repeatedly landed us in trouble for which we paid very dearly, now the wisdom of the people must be tried. It will not come easy, as the people will have to snatch their rights. But we have to succeed in this battle, as failure is not an option.

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