The good old days

We may be better off today with a functioning democracy, an independent judiciary and a reasonably free media.

Kamal Siddiqi March 09, 2014
The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

One gets tired of the nostalgia. There are many amongst us who talk about how good things were in the years gone by. How the quality of life was better. The air was purer. The environment was more free. Pakistan was a much better place. It seems we have been going downhill ever since.

For some reason, we even measure progress in uncertain ways. Ayub Khan is remembered for his ‘decade of development’. Few recall the seeds that his government had sown, which eventually led to the dismemberment of Pakistan.

We fondly remember the first martial law and how things became cheaper and shopkeepers were penalised for blackmarketing. What we don’t recall is what price we have since paid for successive military dictatorships.

A progressive society, for some, is measured in the number of bars and nightclubs that operated in cities. One news website ran a series on pictures of ‘those days’, which invariably had photos of cabarets and dance parties. That, for many, was an open society.

Few failed to mention the thousands who were unlawfully detained by the authorities, tortured and in many instances, simply put to death in that time period. Today’s generation does not know the likes of Hasan Nasir, the secretary general of the Communist Party of Pakistan, among many who were tortured and killed by Ayub and his cronies.

Many quote the great Ardeshir Cowasjee, columnist and philanthropist, who possibly observed that each successive government in Pakistan will be progressively worse.

One would do well to remember Governor General Malik Ghulam Muhammad, who dismissed an elected government within two months of being appointed by the same in his sheer lust for power. Eventually, he was removed by those who were even more ambitious than him.

In his excellent book, Stop Press, by journalist Inam Aziz, ably translated by fellow journalist Khalid Hasan, mention is made of Ghulam Muhammad, whom industrialists had named Muhafiz-e-Millat. Few people knew that the man had suffered a stroke and his words were unintelligible. It was left to his Swedish nurse, Miss Borel, to make sense of what he said. In effect, Ms Borel ran the country.

Not to be outdone, the Karachi Municipality gave Ghulam Muhammad a reception after industrialists had given him the title. Inam Aziz recalls that he went to cover the event and when the Governor General got up to speak ‘all we heard sounds were like Thoo Thoo Khoo Khoo’, with his two ADCs wiping his sherwani as he was dribbling. This was a man who back-stabbed his own prime minister and ordered an anti-Communist operation in East Pakistan. The so called Muhafiz-e-Millat. In all fairness, our leaders of today rate much better. Although the love for titles continues to haunt us.

Our elders talk about how PTV dramas were the rage of the subcontinent. And how we had responsible television programming, not like it is today. How in the early years the voice of Shakil Ahmed on Radio Pakistan could make anyone believe anything. And how the 9’0 clock Khabarnama (also called Zia-nama) was the source for ‘authentic’ news.

But it takes little effort to open one’s eyes. I recall attending a seminar at the Sir Adamjee Institute in Karachi some years back. The head of the institute, the resourceful commander Najeeb Anjum (ex-PN) had got his students to assemble the front pages of the Daily Jang of the week that led up to December 16. Till that day, each front page talked about how we were winning the war. And then a story of surrender on the front page of the paper of December 17. How we were fooled. I prefer the chaos of today’s media to the sedate journalism of the ‘good old days’.

It’s time we opened our eyes to the present. We cannot keep living in the past where Pierre Cardin designed the uniforms of our air hostesses and where camel driver Bashir Ahmed met US Vice-President Lyndon B Johnson and on his invitation, toured the US.

We have to thank our stars for living in a country where there is a functioning democracy, with all its faults. We also have an independent judiciary and a reasonably free media. We may be better off today.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2014.

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Pakistani Progressive Patriot | 6 years ago | Reply | Recommend

To further build on the comparison that the author started, let's take other critical criteria that is important to the citizens. Were women given unprecedented rights/representation in the assemblies during Musharraf rule? Yes. Were the minorities given unprecedented rights/representation during Musharraf rule? Yes, and sadly the so-called democratic rulers not only made no such attemps in the past, but actually tried to roll back those changes since Musharraf left. In this "democratic" era the minorities have been systematically massacred. As for the "independent" judiciary give me a single example of how it has benefitted the common man. The only cases decided were of high profile that did nothing for the common man, while the common man's cases have piled up even higher. The "independent" judicary didn't even disqualify corrupt politicians from occupying the assemblies once again - so much for that independence. All in all, hollow slogans of democracy and independence of the judiciary mean nothing unless you can quantify the benefits to the citizens that they are obligated to provide. None that we have seen so far. The only one that has proven to be beneficial to the citizens is the free media - ironically a gift by Musharraf to democracy and not by the custodians of democracy.

Pakistani Progressive Patriot | 6 years ago | Reply | Recommend

Nostalgia is always better, be it Pakistan, USA, or UK. In that I agree with the author. However, to state Pakistan is better off now - the author must be day dreaming. Were Pakistani citizens safer during the Musharraf rule? Yes, they were. Was education progressing better in Musharraf time? Yes it was with 3 times today's budget being spent on education. Was healthcare better in Musharraf's time? Yes it was, again with 3 times more being spent on healthcare than during last 6 years. Was corruption on big decline? Yes it was, and rising again in the so-called democratic rule. Were people's represented in the assemblies in Musharraf rule? Yes, they were. In fact this very "free" media is the birth-child of the Musharraf era, something the democratic governments never delivered. Finally, rather than sitting in offices distorting how we are better off now, just go to the streets and ask the common man if we are better off now. The answer will surprise the writer - but not me.

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