A Curious Ruling Class

“Patience, stout heart, thou hast endured far worse than this.” — The Odyssey


Published: Fri 15 Jan 2010, 11:34 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 10:20 AM

Odysseus would have had to revise his understanding of patience were he to have undertaken his voyages in the salubrious climate of the Islamic Republic. Adversity and facing up to it are part of the human condition. But the consistent ability to make simple problems worse and invent new problems all the time is a distinction that sets us apart from many other countries in what used to be called the Third World. RAW and Mossad in their wildest imagination can’t do to us what we are capable of inflicting on ourselves.

We just can’t get things right and governance or the administering of things seems to lie wholly beyond our collective ability or collective endeavours. Yes, we face a tough situation that would have taxed all of Odysseus’s cleverness to fix. But what explanation for the collective death wish, which seems to afflict our governing class, from one end of the spectrum to the other?

Does the responsibility for saving the democratic system rest only on our shoulders and not President Asif Zardari’s? Must only we, setting all reservations aside, continue to bleat about the system while His Excellency, and the minions supposedly most loyal to him, continue to do as they please?

For his own good, and his party’s good, why is it so difficult for the President to rely a bit more on elected men from within his party rather than on the unelected drones who surround him and on whose advice, often at fatal cost to himself, he continues to rely, to the exclusion of any other sane counsel?

Nawaz Sharif, to the dissatisfaction of many in his inner circle, offers not one but several olive branches to the President by saying that he would stand in the way of any unconstitutional moves to replace him. And how does our foremost product of accident and circumstance respond to this? By taking a dig at him in his Naudero speech and by blithely allowing his megaphone in Lahore, Governor Salmaan Taseer, to blast the PML-N leadership all the time. If this be not part of the death-wish we seem to be suffering from, what else is it? At whose behest is Salmaan carrying out his sustained attempts at demolition? Zardari already has problems, and serious ones at that, on the judicial front. We may see some action regarding the Swiss corruption and money-laundering cases in which his name is involved or we may not. But this is a potential time-bomb, a perennial spectre at Zardari’s table, which if nothing else would dictate a measure of circumspection on the part of his team.

What do we get instead? A virtuoso performance by Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira who virtually baits the Chief Justice by saying that he should take suo moto notice of the reports—since vehemently denied—that the CJ and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif had met in the dark of the night. And then what to make of events in Karachi? For the first time in the PPP’s history the party had an absolute majority in the Sindh assembly after the last elections. This had not happened with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, not with Benazir Bhutto. The PPP was in a position to form a government on its own. Wiser heads had counselled the President not to feed milk to snakes but he went ahead and is now having to live with the consequences.

Thanks to these policies the Lyari township of Karachi, for over forty years an invincible stronghold of the PPP, has witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of anger against the PPP and the President personally. Why? Because PPP workers were mercilessly targeted in a supposed law-and-order operation carried out in Lyari. Only a genius could have fomented such unrest in such a locality.

On the question of Lyari, it is pertinent to ask who got Rehman Dakait (dacoit), Lyari’s Robin Hood, killed? He was caught in Balochistan but killed in a staged police encounter near Malir. Rehman enjoyed the protection of powerful godfathers. But when the chips were down for him, it was his godfathers who let him go. The crocodiles of Manghopir (just outside Karachi) can be satisfied. Feed them enough and they will bask in the sun. The snakes of Karachi are insatiable. But since it is the entirety of the political spectrum which should be under the microscope, what to make of the democracy certificate conferred on Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani by Mian Shahbaz Sharif? Talking to Hamid Mir in his Capital Talk TV programme, the Punjab chief minister said that of all the army chiefs he had known, he had found Gen Kayani to be the most pro-democracy. Can we please put a moratorium on such certificates?

Bhutto elevated Gen Zia above six other generals to make him army chief. Zia’s gratitude took the form of seeing Bhutto swing from the gallows not long thereafter. Benazir Bhutto conferred a democracy medal on Gen Aslam Beg during her first premiership and could only rub her hands in bewilderment when, with Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s help, he ousted her a year and a half later.

Shahbaz Sharif was one of the persons instrumental in getting Pervez Musharraf picked up from Mangla where he was corps commander and made army chief in 1998 after Gen Jahangir Karamat had stepped down. Musharraf must have seemed very pro-democracy then but we know where it all ended.

Musharraf should be tried under Article Six of the Constitution, which prescribes the punishment for high treason. But before that it would perhaps not be out of order if those who detected a democrat in him in 1998 should proffer a public apologia.

Which is not to say that Kayani has it in him to be like any of the others. He could well be the exception who proves the rule about our army supremos. All the same, he still has some way to go. There will be time enough for medals later. CM Sharif should concentrate on his bailiwick, Punjab, where he has his job cut out for him. (To give him his due, he is one of our better administrators.) But his military diplomacy, judging by his past record in this field, deserves to be taken with a fistful of salt.

As if to prove that we are all in the same bathhouse (the Urdu word hamaam has a sharper resonance to it) there is the spectacle of the Chief Justice proposing Justice Ramday as an ad hoc judge of the Supreme Court. Why can’t we let our stars have some mercy on us? My Lord Ramday has played his innings and a good innings at that. If all the world’s a stage, more important than one’s entry is the timing and manner of one’s exit. We are given to prolonging our departures, simply not knowing how to bow and take our leave. Justice Ramday should be allowed to leave with dignity and grace, concentrating on his memoirs and his garden. It will be the proper example to set. Ad hoc Judge Ramday…just doesn’t sound right.

Ayaz Amir is a distinguished Pakistani commentator and Member of National Assembly (parliament). For comments, write to opinion@khaleejtimes.com

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