Sunday, May 20, 2007

Paradise Lost

The past two weeks I have been trying to find some conceptual framework, some ‘grand theory’ which could offer me an explanation not proffered so far, an angle unexplored, to unpack the current dilemma facing us all. Which ‘basic premise’ remains ‘unextended’ amongst the myriad of hypotheses that have set out to examine what went wrong with Musharraf. One afternoon flicking through the channels I even heard the journo/political commentator Nusrat Javeed offering the grand ‘Eastern beloved’ theory for the Pakistani public relationship with their President. Just as in days of yore our great poets would lament at the intermediaries who wouldn’t deliver their missive to their beloved. A beloved the lovelorn poet had led himself into believing was not as snooty and cold-hearted towards him as everyone assumed her to be. In truth the beloved would have willingly reciprocated his love, but if only. Hamara mehboob tau bura nahee hai, was the plaintive cry. That pattern was replicated in the humble populace relationship with the benign king of old, who was a really decent and kindly old chap come to think of it; he only had evil vazirs (ministers) who conspired sinister campaigns and whispered incantations in the king’s ears against you. So, as Mr Javeed explained, some of us continue to believe that the good President Musharraf is just a misguided guy and it’s the coterie around him that leads him into embarking on the kind of misadventures that he has been suspect to undertaking. I am sure Mr Javeed was trying to hint that we should get out of such mind games and stop making excuses for the gentleman in question. If he had been following daytime TV and Oprah and/or was consuming popular American culture I am sure at some stage he would broken into the golden words immortalized by the show, “He is not that into you, girl!” So dear readers, in the interests of your sanity, it is about time we take off those rosy glasses (that is if some of you still have them on where Musharraf is concerned) and tell ourselves that the man in uniform really doesn’t love us that much.

I have been searching that old bookshelf to find other such ‘gems’ from spaces that I have not visited for some time now to get some answers. I am trying to look into some understanding into what makes President Musharraf prone to enter into (and lead us into) the kind of catastrophes that Pakistan is facing. And the answer came from the American feminist (circa 1970s) Adrienne Rich. I believe Musharraf has a classic case of ‘matrophobia’. The fear of becoming his mother (General Ziaul Haq) has turned him into the monster he is. This October will mark eight years of the well meaning commando in khaki appearing on our television screens in that infamous press conference at Karachi airport. And tell me, for all his talk of bringing in ‘true democracy’ and ‘enlightened moderation’, how have the eight years of Musharraf been different from the ‘eleven years of tyranny’ (aamriyat key giyarah saal)? ...flawed time keeping was just one of the personality traits that the two shared. Perhaps it becomes characteristic of any Pakistani army general when they decide to step into the halls of the Presidency. Personal deadlines like 90 days or 11 years become immaterial. Of course our current Chief of Army Staff has done away with the calendar and defines time as right and wrong, black and white. “When the timing is right, then only then I will take off my uniform.” So what are calendars and watches when it comes to our beloved, eh? President Musharraf for all his doublespeak of being a military dictator but with a difference is a despot who has run roughshod over our lives.

This is Martial Law lite, Musharraf’s supporters assured detractors such as me in the autumn of 1999. Same great taste/quick results but minus the cavities/caveats of personal freedom! But for all his fears of turning into a Zia, our good President has condemned our ill fated nation into reliving the disastrous 80s. Karachi burning, a disastrous Afghan policy, Zia had only expressed his Great Dream of how ‘he would like every organization or institution (in Pakistan) to be transformed into a Deeni Madrassah’ (President Zia’s address to the then Majlis Shoora, October 1982 — leading me into my second hypothesis, surely we should revisit the Ides of March into exploring a possible Ides of October?!), Musharraf has fulfilled that dream of transforming each feature of Pakistani society into one large Deeni Madrassah (religious seminary).

When I labeled my generation as ‘Zia’s children’, I thought the malaise was restricted to my age group alone – that somehow the generations following us were free of the warped minds that were our burden. But perhaps I spoke too soon, as young minds today grow as fearful and suspicious of anything different, of plurality, of anything that challenges their idea that there can be only one guide, ‘a one truth fits all’ guide to religious interpretation. That there is only one ethnicity, theirs alone, which is ‘the right one’ and the good one and there is no need to interact with others. This year President Musharraf, who happens to be the Chief of Army Staff Musharraf, and is also introduced as Pervez Musharraf, Chancellor of Quaid-e-Azam University, successfully put the last nails in the coffin of that University (QAU). The university was the last bastion of free thinking when it came to public universities in the country – when those who could escaped to the world of private universities that have mushroomed in the past five years, QAU still groaned along trying to provide a progressive environment to students from all over Pakistan. When Razia Sultana, a teacher in the History Department, was chastised so violently regarding her choice of head covering, we all knew that the idyllic QAU of yore was just that, a pleasant memory of “a moment in time, a point in space”. And then last Monday President Musharraf’s twisted games left us bereft of one of QAU’s favorite sons, Syed Hammad Raza. Hammad was a friend, a mentor to so many of us. Clichéd as it may sound, but Hammad was the good Pakistani, that Jinnah (the namesake of our alma mater QAU) spoke about in his address to the Constituent Assembly. He was above caste, above sectarian affiliation, above his ethnicity. The anger that his murder invoked in all of us reminded me of other incidents when we would be consumed with fury regarding some political development and Hammad would counsel my friends in the way he did. It was Hammad who taught me that following a path of ‘purifying’ one’s culture from the Other would turn us schizophrenic and to acknowledge the plurality of voices that formed our common past. He was the voice of rationality, of justice, of fairness in action – the very same reasons that perhaps the twisted minds that took his life abhorred. He had a brilliant mind, he had as Pankaj Mishra wrote elsewhere, “The charisma of people we can’t place easily, people who come out of no known background, and who dazzle us by the unexpectedness of their talents.” Farewell dear friend, you will be sorely missed.

Today there is no difference between you, Mr. President, Mr. Chancellor and the one who preceded you. The transformation of your coterie into Mr Hyde is complete. In taking Hammad’s life you have bereft Pakistani society of the same enlightened moderation that you had made your ‘cause celbere’

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