Bullet or ballot? By Humayun Gauhar

When I recently said, “Our salvation lies in the bullet, not the ballot” I upset my wife greatly. Poor dear, she can’t even slaughter a chicken, but microbiologist that she is, she doesn’t balk at killing cockroaches, so what’s the problem? Again we chose the ballot. Again we’re crying. Having made our bed, we refuse to sleep in it. Another unnatural intervention will not get us a better bed, as it never did in the past.
The excuses being proffered for the government’s paralysis are nonsensical. “Everything will be fine if Musharraf goes.” Will inflation suddenly come down? Will there be an overnight end to terrorism, lawlessness and uncertainty? Will the steep decline in the economy be arrested? Will the State Bank’s reserves, heading towards zilch by end-September, start rising? Will America’s threats recede? “The People’s Party has become Musharraf’s party.” How did its leaders, touted as great democrats yesterday by today’s crybabies, sell out so easily to Musharraf if they truly are great democrats? Because their way of removing Musharraf by restoring the sacked judges will take longer than Nawaz’s quick-fix solution?
Excuse: If the judges are restored adl will return and all problems will be solved. Understand the difference between adl and insaaf • balance and justice. Justice is an important element of an adil or balanced society, but it is only one element of adl. Will the poor and powerless get justice? Real justice starts from the bottom up; bad justice goes from the top down. Stuck at the top it remains justice for the elite only. What pray will the sacked judges do if they are restored, apart from encroaching again on the domain of the executive? Order fuel and food prices lowered without any understanding of economics • What is discounted cash flow? What is limited liability? Who will pay for the loss? The Supreme Court Bar Association, whose coffers must be full • have you ever considered how much the 16-month Lawyers’ Movement must have cost? I doubt that even the SCBA has the money to subsidise lower fuel and food prices. They can only be lowered if the government is born of an egalitarian, not an alien elitist system. How can a system that fortifies the iniquitous status quo by fortifying the hold of the anti-democratic feudal warlock and tribal warlord lower prices? They must eliminate waste in government and the overfed elite.
Do you think we have the ethos to do that? Ethos comes from an egalitarian ideology. We have none. Even though we hypocritically insist on describing Pakistan as an Islamic Republic, the Islamic concept of a balanced and egalitarian society is as alien to us as it is to a monarchy’s subjects.
Sure 100 days aren’t enough. Did we foist this on them or did the prime minister’s desire to emulate all things American? Had pragmatism given way to populism? Why not emulate President Eisenhower and place the same sign on your desk prime minister • “The buck stops here.”
A hundred days are definitely enough to show some movement in the right direction, a modicum of some strategy for crisis management. We’ve only seen leaderless drift, with the real unelected leaders of the two biggest ruling parties AWOL, a proxy prime minister all dressed up with nowhere to go and the coalition expected to break any moment. They “have” achieved a unique first though • government and opposition rolled into one sitting on the treasury benches. Have you ever heard of a government providing its own opposition? One expected all this to happen, but not so fast. I suppose even if a leopard’s spots fade, they come out in full glory once the sun starts shining again, so as not to be mistaken for hay by other leopards.
Food is the first and foremost fundamental human right, for if we have no food we are all dead and all other rights become irrelevant. Staple food is becoming so expensive that hardly anyone can afford it any more, even if it is available. What planning is there to ensure the availability of affordable staple foods? If that fungus that has reached Yemen gets to us, a large part of our wheat crop could be destroyed. If we have to import 2.2 million tons of wheat at $1,400 a ton, it means over $3 billion. Add $12 billion fuel imports and the lights go out.
The poor will be eating the rich. What has government done to reduce its energy wastage and other profligacy? Nothing. What planning is there for $200 oil • more if Iran is attacked? Nothing. Why go on?
What are the options? As if on cue, one is beginning to hear the same voices that recently screamed for “democracy” asking for intervention again. These very people howled for a coup and welcomed General Musharraf when he literally descended from the skies thanks to the bizarre shenanigans of a “democratic” prime minister. It didn’t take them long to start howling for “democracy” when they weren’t invited to make any hay under Musharraf’s sun • or got thrown out of the barn after making it for a while. Only three months after elections they are asking for intervention just because they fear losing the huge hay they have accumulated over the years under different “democrats” and “dictators”. Some are saying (hoping?) that the army will have no option but to intervene by December, whether it likes it or not.
Not so fast, my intellectually corrupt compatriots. It’s easy to break; it’s difficult to build. You know that, because you’ve helped so many rulers break but build nothing. We’ve seen that just as the politicians have no solutions to our problems, the army (and bureaucracy) has none either, even though it starts with great expectations. Its not supposed to; the politicians are. Ask yourselves: “What will they do after intervention that they didn’t do earlier when they had a better chance?

Dissolve the National Assembly and the constitution requires elections within 90 days. Will messiahs with halos around their heads jump out of the ballot box this time, or angels sprouting wings? It will be the same bad lot. Nawaz Sharif will sweep, but only in the Punjab, a veritable disaster in a highly polarised country.
The perception that Punjab’s “brute majority” has “hijacked” the government will be exploited to the hilt by our rapacious politicians • echoes of 1971 when the “brute majority” of East Pakistan was “unacceptable” to West Pakistan and those who were not applauding silently watched the spectacle of collective national suicide by drowning in one’s own blood. “The people have spoken” has never been part of our “democratic” idiom; “If I win, its democracy, if I don’t, it’s not” has.
Nawaz will pick up from where he left off. Will America be overjoyed? Not if he turns out to be “Ahmedinijad with the Bomb.” But if America is indeed out to Balkanise Pakistan, it “will” be overjoyed • its efforts to foist an alien system on us that finds sanction under the mirage of “democracy” will have borne fruit. After the judges get Musharraf and Zardari for him, Nawaz will trash the restored chief justice, just as he did another before him. He will arrest and thrash journalists, just as he did many earlier. And we will return to the Sharif version of Islam, not too unlike the Taliban’s misinterpretation of Islam.
If, after dissolving the National Assembly or army intervention, they ask for and get ten years from the Supreme Court to put things right, what then? We will become international outcasts. America will condemn it publicly while welcoming it privately to keep us on the hop. Again: what is it that they can do now in 10 years that they were not able to do when they had a better chance from 1999, unless there is a complete change of belief?
Now that we have again chosen this path, we must continue on it until it reaches its logical conclusion. Only when we find a dry well surrounded by bones and vultures at the end of this road will we learn our lesson • that the road was a mirage. Then, perhaps, we might take the road less trodden upon • sirat-al-mustaqeem • the correct path that leads to water. The fear that the strain might break the country is facetious. If there is enough inherent strength in Pakistan • and I believe that there is • we may go through fire and brimstone, which we desperately need to anyway, but we will learn and move on. We could come out of it better and stronger.
If not… God doesn’t make states, people do. People are fallible. Coalitions break. It’s important that these assemblies run their course again no matter how many governments they produce so that our painful learning-growing process proceeds unhindered. Another coalition can be formed within this assembly. If it can’t, or it too breaks after a time, at least this National Assembly will have died its own death and not been killed. Let there be another election. Let any government materialise. Let the devil take the hindmost? Never. The president and the army can always act if the country really is in danger or thousands are dying of hunger. Now is too early. Meanwhile, they should for once make a plan of not how to intervene but what to do the morning after.
E-mail:
humayun.gauhar@gmail.com

Source: Nation, 20/7/2008

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