This country’s endless suffering has frequently become a convenient launching pad for all kinds of rogues and charlatans, posing as long-awaited messiahs, enticing the innocent with assurances of leading them to the Promised Land.
Let us recall that following the approval of a constitution after years of endless squabbling and just after the much-awaited general elections had been announced, the army chief, who had been scheming for years, decided to seize power. The reason advanced was ‘incompetency and corruption’ of politicians. Incidentally, this was to become the constant refrain of those who chose to emulate him. Admittedly, the first military regime gave us the semblance of stability and the impression of development, but the 10-year-long despotic rule deepened social inequalities, while adding to the sense of deprivation in the smaller provinces and convincing those in the eastern wing that there was no future for them in the authoritarian state, whose ruler held them in contempt.
His successor lacked even the pretence of any interest in the country’s welfare, deciding during one of his drunken stupors to resolve the political problem confronting him in the eastern wing by ordering his soldiers to go on a rampage. The scars of those wounds continue to bleed in both its perpetrators and victims.
While the country was still recovering from the ravages of this adventure, another saviour appeared on the stage, ostensibly to end political differences between the elected government and opposition parties. That this military intervention took place soon after the two sides had succeeded in concluding their tortuous negotiations — as confirmed by credible participants — is proof of the perfidy of those who engineered an end to parliamentary democracy, once again.
The promised 90-day intervention became a decade-long nightmare, which left the body and soul deeply scarred. The bitter religious differences, the ethnic divide, the gun/drug culture and entanglement in regional superpower conflicts constitute a legacy that continues to haunt us today. When the heavens finally intervened, the peoples’ relief was palpable and their resolve to restore parliamentary democracy irresistible.
But it was to be only a short respite for the tormented souls of this country. The still fragile plant of democracy was viciously pulled out to ensure that it would eventually wither away. The democratic system was ridiculed and politicians trashed, even exiled, to usher in another long spell of authoritarian rule for this messiah of ‘enlightened moderation’. Significantly, though not surprisingly, all these authoritarian rulers were welcomed by the world’s self-appointed guardians of democracy and actively assisted in perpetuating their stranglehold over the country.
After a short spell of democratic rule, the country is faced with another crisis. The government’s performance has been miserable; its governance rightly criticised for being inefficient and corrupt. There is a fear of gradual collapse of state institutions, leading many to ascribe our failures to the inadequacies of the system. In this state of national confusion, new uncertainties have begun to emerge, with whispers of conspiracies being hatched and unholy alliances being knit together, all in the name of ‘saving the state’. But the suggested elixir, instead of giving us new life, may prove life-threatening for the federation.
A self-appointed religious authority descending down on us from his foreign perch is deeply worrying. Has he had a divine revelation or is he an instrument for others, as he was when he was an enthusiastic promoter of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf? This country has been through too many experiments by too many self-promoters. We have had four military messiahs, with both the power and pretensions to set the country on the right path. And yet, they left it politically weaker and intellectually poorer. Pakistan, as constituted, can only survive as a federal, parliamentary democracy. The need is to make it more effective and more responsive, but within the system. No more messiahs, please!
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2013.
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