End of Peccavistan

Posted in politics by jrahman on December 30, 2007

While the aftermath of Ms Bhutto’s assassination is still playing out in Pakistan, a brother predicts this: they will burn a lot of shops , raze a lot of buildings, perhaps no election for now, but no revolution either, life will go on smoothly, as always Pakistanis are not the revolutionary type.  Perhaps that’s just as well.  Revolution is not what is needed in Pakistan.  But an election is an election that is preceded by the withdrawal of military from politics and followed by national reconciliation and responsible government by the people’s representatives.  This election won’t cure Pakistan’s manifest problems.  But if the elected representatives are left to govern a few full terms without military interventions, many of its wounds will heal.  And this is just as true for Bangladesh as it is for Pakistan.

Indeed, what will a revolution achieve in Pakistan?  It won’t lead to an all consuming fire as happens at the end of Rushdie’s novel Shame that is and isn’t about Pakistan.  At the end of the process that we’ll call revolution, there will be, another ‘irreplaceable’ leader or a would-be martyr or mustached generals or kohl-eyed generals or clean-shaven dog-loving general or (these words are taken from Chapati, in Bangladesh we could add besepctacled academic sounding generals).  Pakistan has had a number of such revolutions. 

It has, however, never had proper elections.  It has held elections.  Sometimes fair elections.  But then the loser obstinately refused to accept the result.  And at other times, the whole election process was rigged from the word go.  Zulfi Bhutto has the dubious distinction of managing both.  Leaving 1971 aside, it was Mr Bhutto’s attempt to rig the 1977 elections that brought the army back to power less than six years after it was defanged in Dhaka.  Street agitation and political stalemate followed by military intervention and a general promising election at the shortest possible time, does this sound familiar?

In the 1990s, when Ms Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif alternated in power, neither really had much power because it resided with the uniformed men.  And if rumours coming from Dhaka are to be believed, a similar set up is being cooked up in Dhaka now.  Sure Bhutto and Sharif governments were miserable failures.  But then, they knew that their term would end any day and the other side would throw everything at them.  They had little incentive to govern and much to conspire and plunder.

To be sure, unadulterated power to the winners of an election is not the solution.  That is exactly what the Bangladeshi democracy gave its election winners.  One result was that the losers were completely shut out of everything.  The other result was that the winners tried to do everything in their power to win the next time.  Khaleda Zia’s 2007 has been like Zulfi Bhutto’s 1977.  We don’t want her 2009 to be like his 1979.

In both Bangladesh and Pakistan, we need unconditional military withdrawal from politics to be followed by genuine elections.  Genuine elections require the losers accepting the verdict.  And then we need to live through the implications of those verdicts.  The elected politicians won’t deliver us the moon.  They will disappoint in many respects.  But given enough time, they will devise a way to peacefully coexist.  And in the meantime, life will go on.  And slowly, we’ll slouch towards the day when the people will truly have liberty.   

We’ll slouch towards that promised morning, not exactly the stuff that makes one’s blood boil is it?  Perhaps so, but then we don’t need boiling blood as much as we need cooler heads.  And cooler heads would tell one about the 800-pound gorilla in the room.  Cooler heads would ask us to devise a way to get the army out of politics.  If the generals refuse to step down, how do we make them to do so?  The answer to this question will decide how soon we can start picking up the pieces.  But the generals will need to go, there is no getting around this.  Writers and critics, opinionmakers, and American foreign policy makers, or just a blog reader, whoever you are, if you want better days for Pakistan and Bangladesh, getting the generals out should be your priority in 2008.  This is the only way to end Peccavistan in our countries.

Let me leave you with two videos.  This shows Pakistan’s struggles, with the Iqbal Bano rendition of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Hum dekhenge

This shows the spontaneous student uprising in Bangladesh during August.

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