Mavericks, Machiavellis and mice-Anjum Niaz

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Politician-lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan is a cross between a maverick and a Machiavelli. But he’s definitely not a mouse! Listen to his latest univocal declaration: “Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry shall be restored. It will not be a voluntary decision of Zardari government. We will not break the windows and doors of the Supreme Court to place the chief on his rightful seat. Please remember we will not carry him on our shoulders and force our way in. And let me state that martial law will not be proclaimed.”

Ominous words uttered with finality. Has the army and America given its nod to having Justice Chaudhry back when Justice Dogar exits on March 21?

March is meant to shake up things. Sit up, Mr President and Mr Prime Minister, to face reality. But before that, do get yourselves a prototype Oval Office. It doesn’t behoove the president to sit in that gaudy drawing room with his own jumbo-sized portrait hanging over him. It’s been elevated to the stature of his late wife’s portrait. The side by side photos make many statements. The singularly most outstanding message for the beholders is that the president is now an entity unto himself and the sovereign of all he surveys. Seriously, apart from this egotistical display of self-indulgence, how can Zardari conduct the affairs of the state lounging on a chair? We need to see the president working stiff at a table. Surely, he must read files. Do some writing?

The prime minister’s office, I mean his drawing room, is a lot more bubbly and camera-friendly. For starters, the strapping money plant beside the PM is alive and kicking – growing by the day and hopefully adding to his personal coffers as the legend of ‘money plant’ would have us believe. I like the green and white tapestry stripes of Gilani’s gup shup corner where even the bland persona of our khaki chief Kayani exudes more colour and sureness while discussing the killing fields of Swat. But, why do our rulers govern from their drawing rooms? It’s politically incorrect. We want to see shots of Zardari and Gilani charging around Pakistan’s cities, visiting government offices, private schools, universities, hospitals and a hundred other places. Perhaps that’s asking for the moon – since the days of Musharraf/Shaukat Aziz combine, our rulers have been the prisoners of their own four walls.

General (r) Hamid Gul is another maverick gung-ho about Iftikhar Chaudhry’s restoration. But he also makes the peaceniks mad with his call for jihad and continues to spread his ‘poison’ against America. “I am controversial. People either hate me or love me,” he blusters. Gul wants Shariat enforced in Swat “but it must be based on the Holy Quran which does not prohibit education for girls.” The ex-ISI chief is Taliban-friendly: “Their resistance is keeping the wolf (US) away from the door,” he says. As a sympathizer of Osama bin Laden, he declares: “In the absence of evidence (that he masterminded 9/11), I’m not prepared to call him a blood-thirsty animal.” And hence, he’s chums with beards of all shades and size who want to take Pakistan back to the age of jahiliya.

While allaying American fears, President Zardari told Newsweek two months ago: “(Hamid Gul) is more of a political ideologue of terror rather than a physical supporter” adding that “he’s is an actor who is definitely not in our good books. He’s somebody who was never appreciated by our government.” I ask Gul for his comments: “I am indeed a political ideologue of jihad albeit of defensive resistance but not of terror. I eschew and condemn terrorism in all forms. My views in this regards are in consonance with the injunctions of the Holy Quran and also with the UN Charter.” What about you being in the bad books of the president? I ask. “I don’t know Asif Zardari but Benazir was respectful of me. She often exchanged gifts and greetings with me and we enjoyed excellent personal relationship. Several eminent personalities would bear me out on this account.”

Recently PESA (Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Association) convened a grand jirga of sorts euphemistically titling it “Defence of Pakistan”. Chaudhry Shujaat’s mouthpiece Mushahid Hussain Sayyid (an intellectual far above the rest and honest to his bones) pleaded for Zardari’s political survival by asking everyone present to hold their guns and allow “an 18-month domestic ceasefire”. Simply put, Mushahid Hussain’s Q-League could well be jumping into bed with the government and returning to rule over us once again! So the affable senator asked for our blessings. What gall?

Nawaz’s two leading parliamentarians Khwaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal dismissed Hamid Gul’s call for jihad as obsolete and unrealistic. Khwaja Asif’s mea culpa, begging forgiveness from the audience for his and family’s (dad Khawaja Safdar’s) longstanding association and support to dictator Zia, was meant to shame generals like Aslam Beg, Asad Durrani and Hamid Gul. These ‘rogue’ generals had yet to apologize to the people of Pakistan for their shameful role in backstabbing democracy. “Except for me, I am not aware of any general who has apologized,” General Gul later told me. “I apologized for my role in creating IJI. I’ve offered myself to be put on trial. Don’t forget that the ISI charter clearly mentioned a political role which was given to the ISI by Mr Bhutto in 1975 and as I understand, it has recently been taken out.”

What about the other two tainted generals? Beg and Durrani are silent about their “crime”. Unless they too show penance and seek our forgiveness, the Pakistan Ex- Servicemen Association (PESA) will stumble in winning over the hearts and minds of the general public, notwithstanding Hamid Gul’s repeated mea culpa.

PESA’s credibility takes a big hit each time the two unrepentant generals open their mouths. They receive a media backlash. Conspiracy theorists point out the dual role of Durrani. As president of the organizing committee for the “Defence of Pakistan Conference” he presided over US-bashing while at the same time forwarding the agenda of the USAID-funded organization PILDAT (Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency). As a prominent member of PILDAT, he, along with some others, wrote a letter to the prime minister seeking his good offices in ending Nawaz Sharif’s convictions currently being heard by the Supreme Court. “The Americans who have brought democracy to Pakistan don’t want the lawyers dharna and the populist rage to maim the status quo. They are therefore seeking help from organizations that are US-funded,” said a political analyst.

If we were to connect the dots, America via its non-state actors like PILDAT and the army via the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Association could be playing a covert role to end the zero-sum game being played by Zardari-led government on one side and the lawyers, politicians, ex-faujis, and civil society on the other.

The army has its hands full with fighting the extremists. The sponsors of madmen from madressahs who daily behead their victims too are suddenly agog with a change in the air. They were present in big numbers at the “Defence of Pakistan” seminar. Maulana Samiul Haq (the cleric of Akora Khattak who once harboured the Taliban) and Qazi Hussain Ahmad who has never once denounced the Taliban savagery and Medieval Ages mentality spoke in favour of Shariat. “But they will not support me in my call for jihad against the Americans,” Hamid Gul laments. He wonders why we don’t talk about India having 26 intelligence detachments in Afghanistan. “It’s building bases across the Oxus at Kulyar Pamir which means that their aircraft can reach Islamabad within 20 minutes.” Go ask the mice in the government!

Still, we have a unique example of disparate minds, common goals: Imagine the fiery human rights activist Tahira Abdullah winning a shouting match with Maulana Samiul Haq on Shariat; imagine Khwaja Asif of the PML-N making an impassioned apology for aiding and abetting dictator Ziaul Haq thereby shaming the unrepentant generals who refuse to say sorry; imagine pacifist Rasool Bux Palijo snubbing Hamid Gul for his jihadi talk; imagine Nusrat Ali Shah shutting up the ex-generals for their role in destroying democracy and demanding that the role of the faujis be circumscribed.

Ideological conflicts will always remain, but the survival of Pakistan is in brainstorming, not sitting in drawing rooms. Godspeed Aitzaz Ahsan – may your prediction come true and divert a national catastrophe!
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting

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