And Time is watching Pakistan-Ghazi Salahuddin

All that exercise of putting our clocks back by one hour at midnight on Friday may be seen as an indication that we have a sincere relationship with time. After all, this is what they do in western climes. The idea is to save the daylight in summer months. In our case, though, the argument – when clocks were set forward by one hour on June 1 this year – was that it would also save energy by giving us an extra hour of daylight in the evening.

Ah, but we have no way of measuring the impact of this ploy. It was interesting to see a large number of people of the lower middle class to continue to adhere to the old time. Even PIA, symbolically a jet-age establishment, had a hard time adjusting its in-flight software. Naturally, there used to be frequent complications about the time people were keeping. But does time really matter for us?

As for the argument that the change would save energy, the irony – and it certainly has other reasons – is that the energy crisis has deepened. Incidentally, I was in Lahore for nearly the entire week and had to adjust to the routine of electricity coming for one hour and then going off for one hour. Some officials might say that the plan is meant to make people look at their watches and establish a kinship with time as such.

While the clock monitors our activities on a daily basis, we must also contend with the calendar – with dates and months and years. Against this vast perspective, I am reminded, as I write these words on Saturday forenoon, of two important dates that are only hours away. Again, these dates underline our concept of time and also of history. Anniversaries tend to become a reminder of what we have made of time. They may excite fond memories as well as heartbreaking regrets.

Hence, Monday, November 3, 2008 – tomorrow for the readers of this column – is the first anniversary of a day of ignominy in our recent history. What the then General Pervez Musharraf was able to get away with will remain an abiding shame for all institutions and individuals who willingly submitted to the imposition of a virtual ‘martial law’. Yes, we had this remarkable resistance from a large number of judges of the superior courts. The lawyers’ movement that had been launched on March 9, 2007, gained new impetus with the help of the media and civil society activists.

I do not wish to dwell on the glory of that movement because this has almost been a refrain in my columns during the past one year. But November 3 remains a very important date and I am a little anxious about the possible impact of the ‘black day’ that is being observed by the lawyers, with support from political activists. Alas, the Pakistan People’s Party will be on the other side of the divide. It has virtually joined the enemy when it comes to defending a moral principle.

Only last week, I did a little sentimental piece on the loss of hope that had been generated by the lawyers’ movement and had wondered if we can “find strength in what is left behind”. Fortunately, the elections of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) on Tuesday were very reassuring. Ali Ahmed Kurd, an electrifying voice in the movement, was elected president with a thumping majority, in spite of the efforts of the PPP stalwarts. If logic and reason have any reference to how this government is conducting its affairs, this was verily a vote of no confidence. But democratic and moral considerations are not the burden of our rulers’ conscience.

Now, while I have devoted so much attention to the lawyers’ movement and what it means for Pakistan’s democratic redemption, a much more important date for the whole world is November 4 – Tuesday. America’s presidential elections have become a major date with history. That Barack Obama is definitely in the lead is a major inspiration for not only the Americans but also for all peoples who have been denied the gift of democracy. Look, this is how democracy can perform its miracles.

It is interesting that public opinion in almost all the countries of the world, particularly on the Continent, is overwhelmingly in favour of Obama. This should indicate that the election of a Black candidate in the United States, a country not entirely exorcised from its racial prejudices, can herald a new era in history. In our national context, the vindication of the demand for the restoration of the judges sacked on November 3, 2007, could have changed our political history.

By the way, Amnesty International said on Friday that the new civilian government of Pakistan should “immediately” declare the 2007 dismissal of judges illegal. It said: “Pakistan’s leaders need to actively demonstrate that they respect the rule of law and that the government is responsible for the human rights of all Pakistanis. Without re-establishing its legitimacy and credibility through a strong independent judiciary system the Pakistani government will be unable to overcome the many troubles facing the country”.

Unfortunately, the many troubles facing the country seem to be even beyond the comprehension of our rulers. Or, perhaps, they themselves are a major problem. I have alluded in this column to our concept of time and our sense of history. But the manner in which medieval times are allowed to co-exist with such devices as setting clocks forward and back is remarkable. We keep reading and watching horrifying reports of honour killings and of primitive customs and inhuman behaviour not in an individual but in a communal perspective.

This week’s revelation of the gruesome tragedy of Tasleem Solangi, who was thrown before hungry dogs before being killed in Khairpur area in March, is a powerful illustration of the state of our society, particularly in the rural sector. It seems incredible that there are still some individuals of social and political influence who want to rationalise these inhuman acts. Obviously, they subvert the campaign for progressive social change.

At the heart of all this is the status and the rights of women. Look at Swat, where religious militants have bombed about 140 schools of girls. Consider also the nature of brutality that they demonstrate in their confrontation with, in essence, the modern times. They don’t seem to need any clocks or calendars or a historical sense of time and social change.

So, what is our tryst with destiny in the light of such reassertions of a medieval frame of mind? Can we disengage ourselves with the rest of the world? I feel, to borrow an expression from W H Auden, that Time is watching Pakistan, day after day, “as a cat will watch a mouse”.

The writer is a staff member.



The News, Sunday, November 02, 2008

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