The first stone

Courtesy:- Ayaz Amir
Friday, February 17, 2012

Pity our doomsday prophets who have been predicting the end of things. For them this is likely to be a long year. When predictions fall by the wayside, when fate refuses to march to our tine, and the pillars of the temple expected to fall remain standing, hope turns to dust and time takes on a different dimension.

I know you will shriek on hearing the word memo one more time but to get an idea of how quickly things can change just consider the excitement with which this net was first cast, as if there was no escape for its intended victims. Now it is an embarrassment, best forgotten by all concerned.

This winter of discontent was set to last, and lead to thunder and lightning. Let no one say a glorious summer lies ahead. We should not tempt the furies. With us even spring is not without its heart pangs – “na gul khilain hain na un se milain hain na mai pee hai, ajeeb rang mein ab ke bahar guzree hai” (the flowers have not bloomed, you have not come, we have drunk nothing, strange has been the passing of this spring...forgive the awkward translation). But the worst has not come to pass.

For many hopeful souls the contempt charge against PM Gilani was the guillotine which would fall on his neck and cause despair in the ruling alliance. We may still be in for more fireworks but it is going to be a more drawn-out affair than the hopeful were hoping for. As the process creaks along – “the law’s delays” a phrase we find even in Shakespeare – Senate elections will be over, the PPP in a majority, and budget time will be that much closer.

The 20th Amendment is a bit of a minor miracle – ensuring an independent election commission and neutral caretaker setups, going so far as to stipulate that if agreement fails between government and opposition on caretaker names, the final word will lie with the chief election commissioner. If this doesn’t stop the cry of election-rigging in Pakistan nothing ever will.

To the PML-N goes the principal credit for giving final shape to this amendment. It pushed long and hard and finally had its way. This was a far cry from its earlier stand when dark hints were thrown about resigning from the assemblies and forcing early elections. Different voices are often heard in the PML-N but ultimately, as we keep seeing, pragmatism prevails. The Memogate petition in the Supreme Court was an exception, good sense taking a back seat, but no point in pouring salt over an open wound.

The prime minister and his team, especially Khurshid Shah, also deserve credit for showing patience and not losing their cool, and not losing sight of the larger picture. Failure to agree on the 20th Amendment could have jeopardized much more, including the Senate election.

This is a hotch-potch ruling coalition. Governance is not its strongest suit but politics is. No minority party in Pakistan’s history, the PPP with only 124 members in a house of 342, has managed to cling to power, even if it be just a semblance of power, for so long. So while administratively a disaster, in the exercise of politics this government deserves the highest marks.

A word may also be in order about Gilani’s personal role in all this. This nonsense about seeking martyrdom is just that...nonsense. No one likes getting a pickaxe in his neck and no one, just for the heck of it, likes going to jail. And in Pakistan all too rare have been the occasions when anyone in the prime minister’s office has stood up to General Headquarters, this just not being the Pakistani tradition. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was defiant but we know where that defiance took him.

In its long history many have been the figures raised by the PPP to power and glory only to see them stab it in the back when the seasons changed. The list is long, from Maulana Kausar Niazi soon after Bhutto’s downfall to Farooq Leghari who proved Judas to Benazir Bhutto. There have been countless people, some in high positions but mostly from amongst the rank and file, who have stuck with the party through thick and thin. Gilani’s name will take pride of place in this list.

In the memo affair he withstood pressure from not only the judiciary but from Aabpara and Rawalpindi. When was the last time a civilian head of government said that an action of the army chief and ISI chief was unconstitutional and invalid? And just when the corps commanders, through ISPR, came up with that astonishing statement that the prime minister’s remarks could have grave ramifications, Gilani sacked the defence secretary, a retired army general. The army went red but Gilani did not blink.

In a country where we keep talking about civilian supremacy, when a prime minister stands his ground we say he is courting martyrdom. Gilani is no angel. His faults and omissions are well known. Whether it was only perception or something more, he could have been more careful about the reputation of some of those closest to him. But these faults, grave as they might be, pale in the light of the resoluteness shown by him in this crisis facing his party.

He has also taken upon himself, without equivocation, the responsibility of not writing to the Swiss authorities about reopening cases against President Zardari, even going to the extent of facing a contempt charge from the Supreme Court. In our society, with its semi-tribal ethos still very much intact, there is something to be said for taking a stand and sticking to it regardless of the consequences.

What about the rule of law? Despite the lawyers’ movement and the restoration of the judiciary deposed by Gen Musharraf we are still very much in the early and formative phases of the process that would lead, in the fullness of time, to the rule of law.

There is a legacy and history of corruption as far as the PPP leadership is concerned. We cannot shut our eyes to this. But then we must ask whether only the PPP leadership has been corrupt and other players in the political arena pure as the driven snow? The NRO sought to draw a line under the past. We tend to forget that it was part of a package which saw Musharraf taking off his uniform and the path being cleared for the holding of free elections.

These multiple steps created the conditions for the restoration of the judiciary. We are selective about many things, history not being the least of them.

There was a time when judges – let us not name them – took oath under Musharraf’s PCO. Not only that, they validated his rule, not once but twice, even giving him the right to amend the Constitution. But we have drawn a line under all that. Like charity, moral righteousness is also best when beginning at home.

The Air Marshal Asghar Khan petition about ISI money doled out to anti-PPP politicians to cramp Benazir Bhutto’s chances in the 1990 elections will be a litmus test for the rule of law. Will the matter be taken to its logical end? Will General Aslam Beg and my friend Lt Gen Asad Durrani, then ISI head, be cashiered? Will the recipients of ISI money be disqualified from holding political office? I don’t think so. In Animal Farm, a take it bears remembering on the socialist revolution, George Orwell has the last word: “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.”

Until all animals are equal and some not more so than others, and when the rule of law is not selective in its application, should we not temper some of our indignation and hold back the horses of our moral outrage? Ghalib bears witness to the same proposition: “Mein ne Majnoon pe larkpan mein Asad, Sang uthaya tu sar yaad aya.” When in my youth I threw a stone at Majnoon, I remembered my own doings.

Or did Christ have the last word: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”


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