May 242008

There is the model offered by the armed men in the mountains, on the one hand. On the other, there is the nihilistic rage briefly exhibited in the three days of horror that followed Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Could these portend the way the cookie could finally crumble?Americans are different FROM other peoples. I do not refer to their economic or military might or their foreign policy but to the simple, general fact that they are a unique nation. They owe their existence to a single document, the world’s first written Constitution, which outlines the raison d’etre of their state.


This document has been respected by their successive heads of government. And it has been enforced ruthlessly by their Superior Courts. (Note for file: General Zia-ul Haq, the satanic Sauron of Pakistan claimed our Constitution was “a piece of paper that I can tear up,” and nobody challenged him or held him to account.)

American governmental institutions pay at least lip service to the proposition that “all men are created equal before God, that all possess in like measure the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

Geographically, the nation has expanded, from the original sixteen states that fought the Revolutionary War against the British, adding territory after territory, state after state, in what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have called ‘The Expanding Frontier’, until it leaped right across the Pacific Ocean to acquire its fiftieth state of Hawaii.

Despite the many ethnic and cultural streams that have gone into the formation of the American identity, and despite its enormous and varied geography, there is an amazing degree of cultural homogeneity across the country. And it is a distinctive cultural identity, with its own unique themes and preoccupations. The American use of “the language of Shakespeare and Milton” is of course also distinctive. As per Alan Jay Lerner in his musical play My Fair Lady: “There even are places where English completely disappears. In America, they haven’t used it for years.”

What we, in our post-British imperial English call a biscuit, Americans call a cookie. An American ‘biscuit’ is something vaguely akin to our paapey, and is eaten with meat and gravy. And American cookies are sweet, baked confections that are considered to be nourishing snacks.

Now, what happens to a cookie if it is dipped into tea or coffee? It becomes soggy. And what happens if we try to lift up a soggy cookie? Why, it crumbles, of course, which brings me to the expressive American colloquialism: Well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

I will return to this particular colloquialism and its relevance to our present national situation. And that situation inheres in the premise that the key political issue of our time, the issue that defines everything else, is the extreme public disaffection with the blatant chicanery and massive incompetence of General Musharraf’s former regime.

In an earlier article in these pages, I had suggested that this disaffection had channelled itself in three broad directions. The first and most negative of these is the violent uprising against the state led by pseudo-Islamist militants, whose objectives inter alia include the dismemberment of the Pakistani state and the destruction of Pakistani society in its present form. These militants are the obverse side of the Musharrafian coin, the coin of one man’s irresponsible pursuit of personal power. One does not exist without the other’s Siamese twin embrace.

The other two directions are those of the democratic opposition to dictatorship. These include, on the one side, the widespread spontaneous agitation triggered by the removal of the Chief Justice and, on the other, the sweeping electoral victory of anti-Musharraf political parties.

The peaceful agitation triggered by the removal of the Chief Justice and his defiance of the regime set in motion whole chains of events making it abundantly clear to Pakistanis and to the world that the panic-stricken, irresponsible regime then in power had to go. The assassination of the country’s foremost political personality brought the eyes of the world to focus on our elections. It thus became extremely difficult for the regime to indulge in the kind of unabashed, unapologetic rigging they had done in 2002.

And thus emerged the grand coalition of the PPP, PMLN and ANP, quietly joined by the JUIF and more stridently by the MQM. This coalition was now charged with fulfilling the historic moment granted them. The tasks ahead included: the ending of one-man rule and revival of the much mauled institutions of the Pakistani state; the revival of a Constitution distorted out of recognition by the likes of Generals Zia and Musharraf; immediate repair to and long-term re-envisaging of an economy ravaged by the most incompetent government this country has ever seen; and, last but not least, the political and military defeat of the armed militias attacking the very foundations of our state and society.

Daunting tasks? Indeed. The chattering classes insisted: they’ll never do it. We all know what these people are like. They’ll not even be able to stay together for long. The redoubtable Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, not humbled by decisive electoral defeat, sniggered, “They will not last for ninety days!”

And, do you see, my good readers, how correct these chatterers and sniggerers are proving to be? Leadership, it seems, needs to be made of sounder stuff than that displayed by Messrs Zardari, Sharif, Khan, Rahman, Hussain and their various deputies. That, as the Americans might put it, is the way a coalition crumbles.

But let me introduce another element into the equation, the element of the ordinary people of this country, too long denied even the minima of justice, good governance or sound economic management. The people have now used their final weapon, the ballot box. And even this, thanks to the abysmal inadequacy of our political leadership, has failed to deliver solutions.

What recourse remains?

Well, there is the model offered by the armed men in the mountains, on the one hand. On the other, there is the nihilistic rage briefly exhibited in the three days of horror that followed Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Could these portend the way the cookie could finally crumble?

The writer is a marketing consultant based in Karachi. He is also a poet

Courtesy: Daily Times, 24/5/2008

 Posted by at 10:34 am

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