“While the settler or the policeman has the right the livelong day to strike the native, to insult him and to make him crawl to them, you will see the native reaching for his knife at the slightest hostile or aggressive glance cast on him by another native; for the last resort of the native is to defend his personality vis-a-vis his brother,” Frantz Fanon writes in The Wretched of the Earth. Fanon bears reading over and over again in our milieu for multiple reasons. The immediate reason being the discussion over the future interim prime minister (PM). Mr Moeen Qureshi and Mohammed Mian Soomro, etc. were appointed without much hassle, since the nominations came from ‘gentleman officers’. Yet, when the ‘natives’, for the first time, are to undertake this task, all hell is about to break loose. Never mind that there is a constitutional amendment which lays out the process very clearly. Apparently, adhering to the constitutional procedure is now ‘muk mukka’ (or whatever the new preferred term is). The fact that there is debate on the issue of interim PM is promising. The quality and the level of discourse, on the other hand, are disheartening.
The ever-changing lists appearing in the media have one constant; they overwhelmingly consist of retired judges and, of course, speculations of a retired general or two. What is this fascination with retired judges, be it to head investigating commissions or Public Service Commissions, now PM? I have said this before, there is scant, perhaps no evidence to suggest that retired judges as a group have more (or for that matter less) integrity or ability than the rest of the stock. Nobody should be disqualified from being considered on that ground, yet it does not qualify anyone any more than being a bureaucrat or a professor does. There is perhaps a glimmer of hope in all of this — Asma Jahangir.
The significance of the fact that her name is strongly being considered cannot be overstated. I have no intention or position of putting up a defence for her or speak on her behalf. She does that herself, and does it very eloquently. She does not need it, anyway. Furthermore, it might be safe to assume that she does not give a damn about this office or any other for that matter; never has. Yet, the panic and hysteria that her name has set in the ranks of the usual suspects is part amusing and part depressing. There may be many reasons for that; first being no doubt that she is a woman. We in the Islamic Republic have always been frightened of brave women. Remember, Shaheed BB was a ‘security risk’. Secondly, Ms Jahangir has always been braver than the chest thumping, jihad-chanting guardians of our ideological frontiers; even on issues they consider their monopoly. Who has been more vocal and articulate on Gaza settlements or on the atrocities in Gujarat, India? She does not need an apologetic listing of what she has done on the domestic front either; people will have to go out of their way not to notice it. And they will go out of their way, actually lie out of their teeth, they already are. Primarily, she has never been on the wrong side of history and hence never felt the need to ‘regret’ siding with a dictator, which is more than you could say about almost all of her detractors. Perhaps, it is their guilt and shame which motivates them to mount these vile attacks. However, that will be too kind an explanation; it is their maliciousness and bigotry. All it takes is the name of a courageous woman to be proposed to reveal how deep the rot is. To reveal that many ‘senior’ journalists and ‘leading’ politicians are basically Zaid Hamids in less fancy attires sprouting the same hollow clichés of ‘Ideology of Pakistan’, etc.
Particularly dispiriting is Mr Imran Khan’s objection. To be fair, Mr Khan has objected on the grounds of her apparent political leaning (although there is some confusion whether she is pro-PPP or PML-N, cannot possibly be both) and not on the ‘ghairat brigade’ points. To my mind, Ms Jahangir has always been equally ruthless on all parties and her position as balanced as it gets, while being pro-democracy. However, for the sake of argument, if Mr Khan’s contention that he does not like her and vice versa is accepted, it might be useful to quote an episode of our history. Justice Safdar Shah was the Chief Justice of Peshawar High Court when Shaheed ZAB was PM. ZAB perhaps thought of him to be too ‘independent’ and arranged for him to retire prematurely and unfairly through the Fifth Amendment. When Ziaul Haq took over, he appointed Justice Shah to the Supreme Court to hear ZAB’s trial. It is characteristic of small men like Zia to view the world through the lens of their own petty mindedness. Zia failed to grasp that some people have principles of decency and justice, which can trump personal likings and disliking in the face of a test. To Zia’s crooked intuition, it was obvious that Justice Shah would now wreak vengeance on Mr Bhutto. Yet, Justice Shah, showing exemplary courage and grace dissented to the majority judgment and voted for acquittal. Observing at one point about the proceedings and his brother judges’ conduct, “It was enough to make the Highest Court of the Country look ridiculous.” Justice Shah was later not only forced to step down from the bench by Zia’s intrigues but hounded out of the country. It is unlikely that Justice Shah’s opinion of Mr Bhutto was positive at that point; it was just that his commitment to fairness was greater. The point of this recollection is that it will be a sad day when we all lower our standards to those of Zia.
We do not know if Ms Jahangir’s name will be agreed upon. We do not know if she will accept the office or not. Yet, it is a breath of fresh air, even if as a reference point. The permanent aspirants and retired judges and generals should be given a rest. Whoever he/she is to be, the paramount consideration is their commitment to democracy and ability to resist pressure. Friends, confidantes and personal favourites have a poor record since they generally are willing to befriend ‘our friends’ as well, especially when all they have to do is to apologise years later and have the slate wiped clean again. We have had enough of that.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2013.
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