Beyond ‘defining moments’

Nations do have defining moments. We have had too many of them

Shamshad Ahmad January 16, 2015
The writer is a former foreign secretary

Announcing the 20-point ‘plan of action’ approved at a marathon APC session in the aftermath of the Peshawar tragedy, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described it as a “defining moment” in the fight against terrorism. One could see on his face the same “sense of relief” that one saw on the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s face on March 26, 1971 when on his return from East Pakistan where military action had started a day earlier, he told the media, “By the grace of God, Pakistan has at last been saved.” Those of us who were witness to that moment cannot but hear the sounds of awry alarm bells with every new ‘defining moment’ in our wretched history.

Nations do have defining moments. We have had too many of them. The first in our history was the one that perhaps, most people wouldn’t even know or remember. It was on that fateful day of September 11, 1948 when the Father of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, spent the last hours of his life lying helplessly in an ill-fated ambulance, which broke down due to ‘engine trouble’ at a lonely stretch of the road while bringing him from the Mauripur Air Force Base to Karachi. In her book, My Brother, Fatima Jinnah recalled those agonising moments: “We stood there immobilised … We waited for over one hour, and no hour, in my life has been so long and full of anguish.”

Pakistan’s founder breathed his last in those pathetically agonising moments. Does this painful recollection give us any food for thought or lead us to a feeling of any regret or remorse? The answer lies in the contempt we have been showing to the ideals of democracy, pluralism, social justice and rule of law that our Quaid had envisioned for a dynamic, progressive, moderate and democratic Islamic Pakistan. The passage by the Constituent Assembly of the Objectives Resolution on March 12, 1949 was itself no less than a ‘defining moment’ in our history. But we chose to follow a different path. Intolerance and fanaticism led us to violence with no parallel anywhere in the world.

Within the first year of our independence that happened to be the last of his life, the Quaid had presciently foreseen the coming events. He was disillusioned with the scarcity of calibre and character in the country’s elitist feudal and tribal political hierarchy, which was to manage the newly-independent Pakistan. The Quaid’s worries were not unwarranted. After Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination in 1951, political ineptitude loomed large on the country’s horizon. A governmental decision in 1952 of making Urdu the sole national language was also a ‘defining moment’. It became the nation’s first bete noire.

In 1954, we had our history’s first, albeit civilian coup d’etat. In his viceregal tradition, former governor general Ghulam Muhammad dissolved Pakistan’s first Constituent Assembly, a step later upheld by the then Supreme Court as valid. This, too, was a ‘defining moment’ and the beginning of our ‘democratic’ disorder. It took our politicians nine years to frame our first constitution in 1956, which was abrogated in less than three years. Since then, we have had two constitutions, one promulgated by a field marshal president in 1962, and the other adopted in 1973 by an ‘elected’ group of people, who had no mandate to do so. They were, in fact, responsible for the country’s break-up.

The reasons that precipitated the 1971 tragedy remain unaddressed in the 1973 Constitution, which was adopted under pressures emanating in the aftermath of the break-up tragedy rather than on the merits of the document itself. No government has ever attempted to correct the systemic anachronisms in our federal structure or to redress provincial grievances. Meanwhile, defining moments kept happening one after another in our chequered history. Bhutto’s rule itself was a defining moment. He had the opportunity to recreate the Quaid’s Pakistan. But he chose to become a ‘Quaid’ himself. Besides, seeking to make Pakistan a one-party state, Bhutto pursued a populist agenda, nationalising the country’s banks, schools, colleges and major industries. The nation is still paying the cost of his socialist perversity. Bhutto held early elections to become more powerful but with its controversial results, he soon found himself out of power. General Ziaul Haq’s military takeover in July 1977 was another painful ‘defining moment’ in our history, with its ghosts still haunting our benighted land. In October 1999, General Pervez Musharraf’s military takeover represented our next critical ‘defining moment’.

In the blink of an eye, we dragged into our tribal areas a war that did not belong to us.

The US has wrapped up its war in Afghanistan but we are still fighting a war without realising that terrorism is a disease that will not end with military operations alone. It has to be treated through socioeconomic policies and good governance. No wonder the Peshawar tragedy came as a thunderbolt for the government. This was a wake-up call. An exceptional challenge warranted an exceptional response. Instead of proclaiming a selective emergency as provided in the Constitution’s Article 232, the government opted for a cosmetic, extra-constitutional remedy. It convened an APC to approve a 20-point plan of action. Parliament stood bypassed. It was used only for rubberstamping the plan, which is nothing but an annotated list of normal governmental functions that successive governments had failed to perform. The 21st Amendment is recognition of cumulative governance failures. Even if military courts become functional, what about the remaining 19 points? Who will implement them? If angels do not descend to do that, will the armed forces be requested to undertake that responsibility as well? Will the government even remain relevant anymore?

Ostensibly, there seems to be total strategic bankruptcy in our political cadres. But what if their ‘plan of action’ is itself part of a plan to overstretch the armed forces through excessive use of Article 245 in order to exhaust and weaken them as their sole nemesis, which over the decades has emerged as the only cohesive force in the country? Politicians have already reduced the judiciary and legislature into non-consequential entities and made the police and bureaucracy subservient to their own vested interests rather than the public good. How they led the armed forces into the 1971 debacle is known history. Instead of repeating it, let the armed forces remain the armed forces so that they can defend the country against external and internal threats. Perhaps, it’s time we looked beyond ‘defining moments’.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th,  2015.

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Sexton Blake | 7 years ago | Reply

Let us be realistic, Around 1946 Mr Jinah undoubtedly discussed the future with some junior colleagues and requested that they produce a non-working blueprint for future Pakistan, and the blueprint has been enshrined in some hidden spot so that as new leaders come along they can read it and follow it to the letter. Undoubtedly many of Pakistan's security problems have been created and aggravated by the US, but did Pakistan have to cooperate so enthusiastically?.

ahmed41 | 7 years ago | Reply

A golden sentence here : ---" The US has wrapped up its war in Afghanistan but we are still fighting a war without realising that terrorism is a disease that will not end with military operations alone. It has to be treated through socioeconomic policies and good governance----"

May we have a list of some suitable socio-economic policies.

How about chocking the finances of terror groups ?

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