There has been many a false dawn in our history. The most recent was on Election Day 2008, when Pakistan emerged after the harrowing aftermath of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination with democracy returning seemingly in full bloom. The public had swarmed in support of her party. Reservations about Zardari’s past were overlooked. Forebodings for the future and how a party which revolved around her personality and leadership could cope without her were dismissed out of hand.
For them, the fact that Benazir had given her life for the privilege of leading them sufficed. Courage was a price that life extracts for this privilege and she had paid that price. They owed her; and by voting her party back to power the masses had done what she would have wanted of them. They had squared the account and that was all that mattered on Election Day 2008.
In the three years since, the pain of Benazir’s absence has, if anything, intensified as a rudderless and visionless party, assailed from all sides by failure, mostly on account of self-inflicted injuries, ekes out its existence. A demoralised and dispirited populace is grieving, not because the government failed, but because of its inability to give success a chance.
The awful prospect that the future is made of the same stuff as the past now weighs them down. However, this is not a reading of the situation shared by all. Diehard party loyalists reject despondency and, instead, urge the public not to lose heart. They seem to be saying that there is nothing wrong with this government that a miracle cannot cure. Alas, for those who do not believe in miracles, that’s no consolation. Meanwhile, what they see and abhor is a once proud party on its knees soliciting, nay importuning, votes, and willing to do and say anything to survive in office. In democracies, large parties often act as bullies and small parties like prostitutes, only here the opposite is true. Men in power can be had cheap for any opinion, for any purpose, as long as power remains in their grasp. President Zardari is in the driving seat of politics in Pakistan and so long as he stays there he seems to care a hoot in which direction he is headed even if he is headed full pitch for the rocks. Again, there are many with a very different assessment of Zardari’s performance. While they fault his judgments in governance, in political maneuvering, they claim he is unrivalled. Their version deserves a hearing.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2011.
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