Sep 042008

FRIENDS have been asking if Asif Ali Zardari will be a better choice than former president Pervez Musharraf. It’s too difficult to tell as yet. Humans can’t divine future. But if we go by the book, I mean the evolution of political thought, even the worst civilian ruler is considered better than the best military dictator. Secondly, the future of the PPP itself depends on Mr Zardari’s performance. It is, therefore, believed that he would perform better.

But in Pakistan strange things happen. In its topsy-turvy political setting, the question is no less than a paradox. A newcomer can be judged by a comparison with predecessors but nothing can be said before the new man’s in? Generally, past looks more glorious than the present. One yardstick is the economic well-being of individuals; a criterion can be made by the worth of money in your pocket. You may have had less in the past but it might have been worth more. An assessment can also be made by comparing the general prosperity and security of people or the stability of a country. But to say something at the outset is really a shot in the dark.

Sometimes past looks better when you are afflicted by worse circumstances. This may be particularly true in a Pakistani milieu. If Mr Zardari performs better with his team, the predecessor will look like a bad dream. If Zardari performs worse, people would say, “O Musharraf was a better choice”. Let me narrate a fable to explain. Legend has it that there was a cruel gravedigger who was notorious for his evil deeds. There were bizarre and scaring stories narrated about him. People thought that the gravedigger robbed the graves and removed their ‘kafan’. Time passed and the gravedigger grew old. At his deathbed, he advised his son, “I didn’t enjoy a good reputation in my lifetime; now that I am dying I want you to do such things so that people remember me well.”

The son bowed in submission. As he took the charge of burying the dead, he started doing worse. He would not only rob the graves but mutilate and assault corpses. People were so terrified that they started saying ‘his father was a noble man’.

So, if the present becomes worse, you will revert to the past. In Pakistan this has been sort of a vicious circle. We are like ancient people who believed in the sun, the moon, thunder and fire as elements demonstrated their powers one by one. If Musharraf and company had performed well, people would have forgotten about Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. But when one set of people fail, we go back and look for alternate choices. I must say we are a very unlucky lot as we have to try again and again the same set of leaders we already tried and tested. In Western democracies, you don’t see the same people staying in power for too long. Change brings new faces and fresh ideas. That’s how the coming day becomes better than the passing day.

But here it’s same old story repeated day in and day out. There is a news-item in the papers that Asif Ali Zardari had been tortured when he was arrested during the Nawaz Sharif government in 1997. He was even threatened to be killed in a police encounter. I can recall such threats given to other rivals of the rulers, too. That looks like invoking the past and setting the mood for vengeance. In Pakistan’s political parlance, there are no holds barred. As they say “All is fair in love and war.” You may add another word “all is fair in love, war and politics.”

During the past few months, PML-N leaders had been persistently demanding Pervez Musharraf’s resignation. When the PPP got ready for his impeachment, the PML-N upped the ante and started demanding Musharraf’s trial. Of course, the military ruler had trounced his government and it is obvious that the PML-N leaders would spare no effort to take him to task. They are rather very vociferous about it.

There’s no burying the hatchet in politics. And here we don’t have anybody like Nelson Mandela. Actually, one becomes Nelson Mandela, perhaps, only after new wisdom in detention for thirty years. Only then one can attain the stature to condone the opponents.

Asif Ali Zardari, who spent about a decade in jails with unproven charges, may have attained such a stature. But it has to be seen when he is anointed to the office of the president as the most powerful civilian ruler. But it also depends on the attitude of his opponents. Being a Zardari watcher, I feel he would be lenient to the Sharif brothers. If they become troublesome for Zardari, it will not be difficult for the latter to pay them back in the same coin. Whether Sharif brothers are prepared for hard times and ready to agitate against the PPP in the streets in the coming days is a million-dollar question. Frankly, they have never faced rigours and hardships that come in the way of becoming a leader. It may be vice versa. If the Sharifs got a chance to topple the PPP government, they would show little leniency to Zardari and co (read Musharraf) if past is any book to quote from.

 Source: The News, 4th September, 2008

 Posted by at 9:59 am

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