May 142008

Chris Cork

The closing months of World War 2 saw the Japanese employ a tactic relatively new in warfare up to that time – suicide bombing. Pilots were strapped into their aircraft which were fuelled for a one way trip and then, in a hail of gunfire, dived on to the decks of American ships. Hundreds died in this way and they did nothing to stem the tide of history or the eventual defeat of Japan. The tactic was named ‘kamikaze’ or ‘divine wind’ and its modern equivalent, politicians bent on the destruction of themselves and everybody else if they cannot have things their own way, has just crashed on to the deck of the good ship Pakistan. The blow is not mortal, but the ship is badly damaged.

With hindsight we were lulled into believing things had really changed with the false dawn in the days after February 18th. There was a sense of wonder and euphoria in the air after the election with people – including usually sceptical commentators and analysts – pinching themselves to make sure they were not dreaming. There was a quiet air of self-congratulation at a job well done and an almost courtly manner in the civility of victors and vanquished, as if a page truly had been turned and Pakistan was headed down a new path. The real dawn, and a hard reality, broke on the morning of May 13.

It is perhaps too early to say ‘the politicians have failed us yet again’ because the speed at which political events are moving means that there is no period of stillness in which an objective evaluation of where we have got to can be made. They may not have failed, and all we are seeing is the process working through, and political processes are never pretty viewing. But failed or not, the perception of that ubiquitous common man is that we have been hung out to dry, an entire nation swinging in the dry desert heat of summer–thirsty, hungry and for most of the time without power or light – while the politicians pledged to lead us all out of the wilderness haggle over an issue that whilst important has little to do with more essential repair work which is currently being neglected.

Confusion and denial fly about on all sides. The government was about to go into the budget-making process, and it will now do so with a man who will have been in his job the political equivalent of ten minutes. Mr Zardari says there will be no crackdown on the media, but media insiders think they know different. The coalition will hold together come what may say party spokespeople — phooey say the pundits and commentators. We will address all the urgent matters – power, water etc — with all due fervour and diligence say party leaders; yet 45 days after the new government was sworn in there is not a shred of evidence that they have addressed very much besides their own narrow personal and party agendas.

In the hour before this piece was written during one of the brief periods when the electricity was on I watched the breakfast show on a private TV channel. A spokesman for one of the coalition parties was asked directly if he thought that the common man cared as much about the restoration of the judiciary as did the lawyers and politicians. Averting his eyes the spokesman refused to answer the question.

A similar question to a similar spokesperson the night before yielded the illuminating reply ‘I never give a straight yes or no answer to any question’ — which if nothing else was a statement as close to the truth as I have heard a politician give for years. Questions in a similar vein asked in Urdu and a rainbow of local languages all crashed on to the rocks of political obfuscation; and the Alice in Wonderland world of Pakistani political life was laid bare in all its tawdry circumlocutions and deceptions.

In the spirit of fairness to all it must be said that life cannot be easy for the politicians who have to operate in an environment very different to the pre-Musharraf years. A plethora of TV channels in a Babel of languages all have airtime to fill, and one way of filling it is by asking pointed questions of politicians unused to being accountable to anybody; let alone grubby scribblers and hoary old commentators who never have a good word to say for anybody. Unused also to being presented with what they said yesterday being different to what they are saying today, and then looking decidedly foolish as a result. Small wonder then that rumours are floating around that the media is going to have its wings clipped – again – and the much vexed issue of the granting of a licence to another English-language news channel has also resurfaced for an airing. Further stress accrues from unnatural alliances and the vast amounts of time and energy consumed in papering over the cracks inherent in such unstable structures.

Life is also complicated for the politicos by having to put themselves on fast-forward and making expedient commitments that are impossible to honour within improbably short time frames – this last impediment leading to the arrival on deck of the aircraft carrying the mortal remains of the coalition which even as these words are typed is exploding in glorious Technicolor slow-motion; an explosion witnessed by everybody except those actually involved in the detonation — who are deaf and blind to all but their own perceptions.

It may be unpalatable, but the success of the February 18 polls is translating now into a re-run of history rather than a turning of new leaves. There can be no real and lasting rapprochement between the PPP and the PML-N, their ideological and philosophical differences run wider and deeper than the judges issue, and the coalition between the two was never more than Fools Gold. A further round of painful contortions around the theme of ‘we are committed to working together’ will yield the same stalemate and eventually to new polls as the government falls.

The restoration of the judges is the catalyst that has grown bigger than its intended purpose, and whilst there can be no denying either the importance or the relevance of a resolution to the issue there is a country out there, real people with real lives to lead, crying out for a governance that has a semblance of probity. Instead, they are treated to a display of Kamikaze politics…and remember that the Kamikaze pilots of Japan may have died with honour but they did nothing to save their nation from defeat.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan.

Courtesy: The News, 14/5/2008

 Posted by at 11:58 am

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