Sunday, November 04, 2007

My Predicament

Friday afternoon—coffee time, someone comments on “verbal” weapons of the week in the face of more powerful adversaries, I joke about the standard Pakistani quips about the Pakistani military, salute all that moves, white wash all that is stationary. “Loot all that moves did you say”? questions someone down the table over the lunch room din. “Oh this trumps everything” we shriek “Loot, salute all that moves”. Pervez Hoodhbhoy’s quips “Some countries have an army, in our case teh army has a country”. Flashback a couple of decades ago, it is a dholki and a group of school girls are preparing for the evening “friendly competition” of quips and barbs set to tune. Trying to think of a way to get back at the brother-in-law we spoof the then popular laudatory song (for the Pakistani military)...”Pakistani fauj key jawan hain hum” ...we get more and more worked up “rishwat khaney keliye tayaar hain hum”...”korhey marney keliye tayyar hain hum” Pakistani fauj key jawan hain hum...sensitivity is lost on twelve year olds growing up under Zia.

I can honestly declare that I have spent more than half of my lifetime whinging about the men in khaki haven’t I? This as I grew up reading Stephen Cohen’s words “A Pakistani who cannot share equally in the obligations and rewards associated with such a central institution as the military is not truly a citizen in the full sense of the word”. So how could a half citizen (courtesy Zia’s cozy alliance with the beards) and a civilian to boot aspire to be a good Pakistani? And because of the fact that the President during my formative years ruined entertainment for me by declaring to his critics (who protested the predominance of religious programmes on Pakistan Television) very vehemently that ‘a moulvi is stuck on television and will remain stuck’. The military professes ‘to giveth’ (individual freedoms and choices when it comes to what we can watch on TV—has anyone noticed that since the recent crisis facing Musharraf the “blanket ban” on trash across the border has been lifted—let the citizens have “cake” when they cant have the bread of daily freedoms) and not when the army partook in some of the ‘taketh’ (of said choices on TV, our human rights and religious freedoms et al). So which one of us is not one of ‘Zia’s children’ as they call my generation? It is also you and it is definitely me. It is the gentleman who is bringing in Shariah in Peshawar, then Islamabad and now Swat. It is as I said before the student who memorizes the Quran, not because of securing a better hereafter but to assure that much-coveted seat in a medical university in Pakistan. It is the woman who breaks a traffic light and then refuses to roll down the car’s window when the traffic cop taps on the window explaining that she refuses to speak to a namehram. These ‘children’ are the administrators of mosques who refuse paramedics to tend to dying women until and unless their male chaperones give their permission to do so. It is also the President in more recent times who tells us that he is the best person for the job as who else in Pakistan has been given the honor to call to Allah from the Khan-e-Kaaba. Somehow today we all happen to be Zia’s progeny, reaping the lovely fruits he planted for us.

And some months ago it was Maulvi Sarwar? Who did you say? Amazing how short-termed our memories are as we wrestle with a daily plethora of crisis. Last year someone in the print media had expressed the opinion that it was symptomatic of the malaise that has struck Gujranwala—and to this I would add it is suggestive of developments across many other such towns across Pakistan. It is not only Maulvi Sarwar who had his finger on the trigger as he took aim at Zill-e-Huma. All of us were party to the reprehensible actions that took place that afternoon. And by no means we can blame what happened as an aftermath of the Talebanization of the past few years. Or in fact hold responsible the ghost of General Zia that looms over our shoulders and/or his progeny that live and flourish amongst us and in their supreme wisdom take to placing foundation stones in the capital.

Then just one Eid ago a group of harassed family members had no choice but to march to Pakistan’s khaki heartland to deliver a protest, however the city’s administration swung brutally into action to crush such imprudent thoughts of challenging who really rules Pakistan. Though last December was marked by Musharraf’s attempts towards “enlightened moderation” a half hearted bill of passage for the Women’s Protection Bill and then a nod towards civility with female cadets present at the change of guard at the Quaid’s tomb come December 25th. A Sikh cadet pops up to show that finally an enlightened and moderate state is in place and the ghost of Zia has passed but alas at heart our state and our nation is still the feudal monster that it was and we do not like our ‘little people’. So as beleaguered relatives gathered to register their resentment of another Eid approaching with no news or in fact acknowledgement of their beloved family members being abducted by the security agencies (for the life of me I cannot use the words ‘picked up’ as our beloved citizens are ripe pumpkins for the picking as the agency wallah comes a harvesting), they were humiliated on the streets of Pindi for even dreaming that they lived in a democratic state where citizens can walk up to an officer and submit a letter bearing their grievances. All pretensions of respecting womenfolk are just that, an exercise of self-posturing—as the heartrending photographs in the newspapers next day have shown. Pakistan’s girl child pleads with her hands folded, beseeching a policeman to let go of a brother. Spare me the tired expressions of living Quaid’s dream; my life is a nightmare of reading of women and minors fainting by the road side as policemen cane their loved ones. So you may have your charade of parading characters on our television screens uttering platitudes that we respect our women, of contingents of ‘smart’ or otherwise women laying wreaths and changing guard at the Quaid’s tomb, but there is no fooling the world—the Pakistani state does not respect women.
But now I am going through a moral conundrum as we view Pakistani military jawans kept hostage by militants in a “retributive” turn of events—they too I realize are confused, while others in Waziristan might not have been so lucky, in Swat captured troops are released, but they too mumble their quandary “we cant say bad, for they too are our Muslim brothers”. I for one have to keep my waspish tongue in check as I observe the fury unleashed on the face of the Pakistani military now, Tarbela Ghazi yesterday, Sargodha today. Sadly the saviours of our soul as the Mard-e- Moman and Mard-e-Haq took upon himself and his comrades over the past years, those who promise to usher in an Islamic revolution on the seas and oceans, “with growing confidence and growing strength in the air ..whatever the cost may be, on the beaches… on the landing grounds…in the fields and in the streets, in the hills” (apologies to Mr Churchill as I play around with his words) have now been struck by the same viper that they fed with our blood and tears.

My heart grieves as I write these words, I know I cannot chastise the military for a while as they too (albeit the innocent non commissioned officers, the foot soldiers and cadets to date) suffer the choices of the elite.

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