Pakistan’s politics and history: ignorance and denial

History hardly remembers the hangman, but the person hanged, beheaded for a righteous cause is remembered forever

Dr Muhammad Ali Ehsan March 17, 2024
The author is postdoctoral scholar at the International Affairs Department of Kazan Federal University (KFU) Russia


George C Marshall served as the Chief of Staff of the US Army under President FD Rosevelt and Harry Truman and then as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense under President Truman. But he is more famous for his ‘Marshall Plan’ which was used by the US to provide unprecedented economic and military aid to foreign nations to contain communism. I came across a suggestion he gave during an address at Princeton in February 1947, saying that he doubted “whether a man can think with full wisdom and with conviction regarding certain of the basic international issues today who has not viewed in his mind the period of the Peloponnesian War and fall of Athens.” This encouraged me to read work of some renowned scholars and text of ancient times and when I finished doing that, I realised that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Many centuries separate us from the time the Peloponnesian wars were fought — between 431 and 405 BC. Yet, I could dig out so much that we can relate to what was happening then and what is happening now. In the context of Pakistan’s politics many things are relatable.

All Greek cities experienced revolutions except for one — Sparta — the stability of which all other cities envied. The reason for that was that Sparta was the only city the constitution of which never changed for centuries. The big Spartan concern was not who ruled the city but how those who wanted to rule could make it to the government. Wise, qualified and competent people made it to the government because only a functional constitution enabled them to do so. This I term as Lesson One: if we can’t defend, protect and shield our constitution from unconstitutional forces, we will never achieve political stability.

Then there are desires that are ordinary and there are desires that are perfect and ideal. A perfect and an ideal desire is one which not just a person in a position of influence and authority desires but because it is so valuable, useful, beneficial and advantageous that everyone else wants to desire it. Socrates was accused of impiety and corrupting the youth. His fault was that he stood up as initiator and driver of social change through the process of dialect. The unconstitutional forces preferred and found it much easy to silence him by means of hemlock rather than cure the ills of what he was complaining. He was over 70 and had never appeared before a court of law before he was indicted on charges of treason. This Greek philosopher from Athens lived during the times of the Peloponnesian wars and even today everyone knows who Socrates is and what he desired but hardly anyone has heard the names of Anytus, Meletus or Lykon who were his prosecutors and who accused him of introducing new divinities and teaching the youth about it. Lesson Two from ancient history is that public approval and public appreciation are more significant and long lasting than formal indictment, prosecution and punishment on trumped-up charges. History hardly remembers the hangman, but the person hanged, beheaded for a righteous cause is remembered forever.

Macedonia was about 500 km from Athens and a man by the name of Alexander the Great ventured out from the city and in 10-year time i.e. from 334 to 324 BC conquered Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, Samarkand, Bactria and Punjab. To his credit he defeated the greatest empire of the time — the Persian Empire. He visited the famous scholar of the time, Diogenes, popularly known as Diogenes the cynic and as he approached him, he found him digging in the dirt. When Alexander asked him what he was doing the scholar answered, “I am looking through the bones of the dead and I find no difference between the bones of the slaves and your father, the king.” Lesson Three from ancient history is the lesson of humility. All men are mortal and a king or a ruler is best remembered if he is a liberator, a deliverer, a rescuer or a preserver. A tyrant king is also remembered but he is remembered for all the wrong reasons.

King Henry VIII appointed Thomas More as his chancellor but being a devout defender of Catholic Church, Thomas More continued to argue against Protestantism as he feared that Luther’s reformation would weaken the church. He was tried by the king, convicted of high treason and beheaded. We all remember Thomas More for writing in 1516 his famous book Utopia in which he attempted to suggest ways to improve European society. People seeking flawlessness and perfectionism use the phrase utopian and Thomas More is remembered everyday more than the king that executed him. Lesson Four from history is that some men are destined to become famous not only when they are living but also after they are dead, and dying for a cause is more liberating than living as a consequence of a compromise that shatters the very values you stood up for and propagated.

The Lesson Five that I want to quote from history is for the autocracy and the rulers that enjoy absolute power — the adherers of one-sided Machiavelli’s doctrine. Machiavelli is more famous for writing The Prince, but his more detailed and long work was published in the form of his book, The Discourses. If you have read The Prince and not The Discourses, it is as if you have read Allama Iqbal’s Shikwa and not Jawab-e-Shikwa. In The Prince, Machiavelli suggests that a ruler will perish if he is always good, so he must be as cunning as a fox and as fierce as a lion. He also suggests that a prince should keep faith as long as it pays to do so. So on occasions, he can be absolutely faithless. In The Discourses, one whole chapter seems to be written by Montesquieu and not Machiavelli as the chapter explicitly explains the doctrine of checks and balances. Machiavelli himself writes in the beginning of The Prince that he will not speak of liberalism and republic in this book as he has dealt with them elsewhere. The Lesson Five from history is that a leader needs to outgrow his individual biases, perspectives and interpretations and that can only happen if their intellectual curiosity doesn’t stop at The Prince but they are ready to read and explore The Discourses as well. Stubborn and one-dimensional leaders must revision their biases and mental fixations and doing this is only possible if they allow their intellectual curiosity to create room for acceptance of varied opinions and assumptions which may come not from one but many sources.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 17th, 2024.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ