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Friday, April 25, 2008

Pakistan: ‘We shall see’
By S Khan
We shall see/Certainly we too shall see/The promised day /Written in eternal ink/When the looming mountains of tyranny and oppression/ Evanesce like fluff/And beneath our feet we the oppressed/Feel the earth tremble and throb. The interplay of lyricism and revolutionary passion characterising his work is one reason why Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984) is widely recognised as one of the twentieth century’s greatest Urdu poets. His fearless indictment of injustice and oppression provides a standing rebuke to the various dictators who have periodically usurped power in Pakistan. During the past year, as the country faced a deep-seated political crisis triggered by an army general’s refusal to cede power, one poem in particular, ‘We Shall See’ (Hum dekheyn gey), has assumed the status of a signature tune. From its initial recital in the lawyers’ demonstrations last spring, the poem has become a fixture on banners, placards, newspaper headlines, media shows, and election rallies. Its revolutionary evocation of the defeat of tyranny has captured the public’s demand for change in a non-revolutionary context, a demand reflected in the stunning defeat meted out to President Musharraf’s political allies in the February elections. Seeking decisive trans-sector reform to undo the legacy of dictatorial rule, the public voted for a return to real politics, not the humbug that issued from an unholy triangle comprising a power-hungry General, his civilian acolytes who displayed a rare shamelessness as yes-men for his absolute rule, and his grandiloquent foreign godfathers. Like the idol-breakers in Faiz’ poem, the people wanted away with the false gods of the Musharraf era, whose gifts to the people of Pakistan are daily evidenced in the form of severe energy shortages, gaping trade and fiscal deficits, double-digit inflation, high unemployment and serious shortfalls in the supply of wheat. Lacking a revolutionary leader, the people have channeled their revolutionary impulses into a return to constitutionalism - a parliament that wields real power, political parties who remain accountable to the people, a judiciary headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhury whom Musharraf dispatched twice during 2007, and an army that distinguishes itself through professionalism. If the election results ushered in the tumbling of false gods, these were succeeded by other events, which if not revolutionary, were momentous enough to shake the temple’s walls. On March 19, a Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) parliamentarian, Dr Fahmida Mirza, received a landslide majority in her election as the National Assembly’s Speaker, making her the first female incumbent of the post in Pakistan - a country supposedly headed for talibanisation - as in the Muslim world. On March 25, Syed Yusuf Reza Gillani, a PPP loyalist, was sworn in as Prime Minister. The descendant of a family active in Muslim politics since the 1920s, Gillani is respected for having resisted Musharraf’s attempts to detach him from the party, and suffering imprisonment consequently. In his inaugural address to Parliament, Gillani ordered the immediate freeing of the judges unlawfully held under house arrest by Musharraf, the restoration of student and trades unions, and a lifting of Musharraf-inspired media restrictions. Soon afterwards, the embattled Chief Justice, a national hero, appeared with his family on their residence balcony amid cheers and rose petal sprays from throngs of well-wishers. On March 31, the first batch of Cabinet ministers was sworn in with a near even distribution of posts between the leading coalition partners, the PPP and Muslim League-N. Nonetheless, while these ground-breaking developments have lifted the public’s weary spirits, misgivings remain as to the newly elected coalition government’s capacity to deliver. Question marks surround the survival of the coalition, especially one comprising former arch-rivals. Fears abound over the fledgling Government’s inundation in the sea of troubles bequeathed it by eight years of Musharraf’s rule. Most problematically, disquiet persists that the Government may succumb to relentless efforts aimed at subverting the February verdict, and returning the country to status quo ante. In Pakistan, these retrograde tendencies are openly identified as the joint efforts of the ancien regime centering upon Musharraf on the one hand, and a Washington based neo-con cabal on the other, which continues to assert something akin to a birthright upon the country’s political fortunes. Regarding the ancien regime, Pakistanis concur that the scale of Musharraf’s allies’ defeat took him by surprise. Like other dictators given to believing their rhetoric, the President openly dismissed opinion polls documenting his unpopularity. Accustomed to seeing himself as infallible, the President, they maintain, remains confident that the ‘establishment’ with its manifold resources will succeed in destabilising the emerging polity sufficiently to make its functioning untenable. They interpret the President’s delay in convening the National Assembly and more so the provincial assemblies, as stalling tactics conducive to sewing distrust among coalition members. More sinister are the recent outbreaks of disorder including the assault on a former minister, the torching of legal chambers in Karachi, the upsurge of protest in Multan, the PM’s home town, the spurt of intra-tribal violence in the tribal belt. Unsurprisingly, senior party leaders in the ruling coalition have repeatedly warned the public of conspiracies being hatched to undermine the Government. For the neo-cons, the electoral upset is apparently the success of Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League. Not only has Sharif been vocal in his critique of Pakistan’s tutelage to US policy, he has been equally unrelenting in his support for the deposed judges, viewed disapprovingly by the neo-cons for their potential annulment of Musharraf’s presidency, and their activism on behalf of missing persons. Accordingly, Pakistanis allege, the neo-cons are working tirelessly to forge a coalition sans Sharif. The indecent haste marking State Department officials’ visits to Pakistan, their blitz-like journeying around the country, the shuttling of the US Ambassador between Government offices, and beyond Pakistan to the Edgware offices of the exiled MQM Leader, Altaf Hussain, have taken Pakistanis’ anti-Americanism to new highs. Indeed, more favourably disposed American officials visiting Pakistan are said to be taken aback by its intensity; however, they are candid enough to warn their interlocutors in Islamabad that nothing better will issue from President Bush, even though a strategic rethink regarding Pakistan is underway not only in Democrat but also in Republican ranks. However, post-election Pakistan is an altered place. The public does not share the neo-cons’ and the ancien regime’s agenda. In a recent Gallup poll, 81% voted for the return of the Chief Justice while 73% voted for Musharraf’s ouster. The ruling coalition has reiterated its stand on restoring the judges via a parliamentary resolution in the coming fortnight. The public expect it to deliver, knowing that the knives are out. S Khan is a Researcher

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