By Roedad Khan
When the history of these benighted times comes to be written, August 5, 2023 will be remembered as a day of infamy, a sad milestone on the downward path. At a time when leadership is desperately needed to cope with matters of vital importance to the very survival of the country, Imran, the best qualified leader to deal with such problems is in jail. He is unacceptable to the civil and military leadership of Pakistan. He is also unacceptable to the United States of America. No wonder, he is in Attock jail enjoying the facilities of a C class prisoner.
Today Pakistan is a shadow of what it used to be. What is there to celebrate? The Federation is united only by a ‘Rope of Sand’. 75 years after independence, Pakistan is torn between its past and present and dangerously at war with itself. A general languor has seized the nation. It has a disjointed, dysfunctional, lopsided, hybrid, artificial, political system – a non-sovereign rubber stamp parliament, a weak and ineffective Prime Minister, supported by the Army.
As we look back at all the squandered decades, it is sad to think that for Pakistan it has been a period of unrelieved decline and the dream has turned sour. Pakistan has long been saddled with poor, even malevolent, leadership: predatory kleptocrats, military – installed dictators, political illiterates and carpet-baggers. Such leaders use power as an end in itself; rather than for the public good. Under the stewardship of these leaders, ordinary life has become beleaguered; general security has deteriorated, crime and corruption have increased. Once we were the envy of the developing world. That is now the stuff of nostalgia. We seem exhausted, rudderless, disoriented. Our great dreams have given way to a corrosive apprehension, fear, uncertainty and frustration. The corrupt among us are doing breathtakingly well but the large mass in the middle is struggling hard just to keep its head above water. Today most youngsters, the future of the country, graduate directly from colleges into joblessness.
One of the lessons of history is that when people lose faith in their rulers, when they lose faith in the sanctity of the ballot box, when elections are rigged and votes are purchased; when judges try to match their constitutional ideas to the exigencies of current politics and shift with political winds; when judiciary functions at the behest of authority and allows itself to be used against the citizens; when the gap between the rulers and the ruled widens; when there are no ways for people to express political preferences from time to time in an atmosphere free from fear, coercion, or intimidation; when known corrupt people, tax evaders and smugglers are foisted upon a poor, illiterate electorate unable to make an informed political choice, and sworn in as ministers; when elections throw up not the best, not the noblest, not the fittest, not the most deserving but the scum of the community, and a legion of scoundrels, when hunger and anger come together, people, sooner or later, come out on to the streets and demonstrate Lenin’s maxim that in such situations voting with citizen’s feet is more effective than voting in elections.
Imran Khan has a unique opportunity to design and build a new Pakistan on the ruins of the old in fulfillment of the dreams and aspirations of the people of Pakistan.
Today Imran embodies the nation’s romantic dream of itself. Imran is the only leader with the unique qualifications to confront and master our severe political and economic predicament. At long last, people have found a leader who will light a candle in the gloom of our morale; who has a passion burning within him that will set our nation alight; who will be the standard-bearer of the disenchanted; who can give voice to our humiliation; who helps the nation recover its elan vital; who places country above self; who restores the process of national revival; who gives the country a new agenda, one that does not replace once set of corrupt leaders by another; who offers the genuine hope of a new order to take us into a new millennium; who stitches the country back together; whose heart is in the right place; whose hands are clean and remain clean; who restores the rule of law; and who protects the citizen’s honor, person and property; a crusader against high level corruption, who will purge the country of all corrupt elements-politicians, bureaucrats, both civil and military and members of superior judiciary; who brings the guilty, those who stole the Pakistan dream, to justice, who will bring back a sense of decency; who will raise the people from the slough of despondency; who will restore the people’s faith in themselves, their rulers, and above all in their country; who will, as Burke said, tell the people not where they want to go but where they ought to go; who will, as Mercier said, lance the poisoned carbuncle and clean the country of its mess and who will ‘seize the moment’, give the country the ‘lift of a driving dream’, and drag the nation to its feet again. This is of course, asking for the impossible. But pursuing the impossible and asking for the impossible is one good definition of a Revolution…. Imran will electrify this country, because we live in darkness.
People of Pakistan are pressing for early elections and return to democracy. It is axiomatic that elections alone do not a political democracy make. What the country needs is not early election, not a cosmetic change, but a purifying, cleansing, surgical operation to purge the country of all corrupt elements and robber barons, followed by urgent structural changes, institutional reforms and measures to revive lost faith, in political institutions, the country’s future, the Rule of Law; the sanctity of the ballot box; the electoral process and the independence of Judiciary.
Why is there no moral outrage? Why are the better sort of the nation so silent? To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards of men. Why have we sunk so low? What can you expect from a people who show no sign of life even when they lose half their country? What can you expect from a people who have unlimited capacity to become inured to the worst possible conditions, of existence and the loss of everything that makes life worth living without perceiving that anything is wrong? The tragedy is that each man feels what is wrong, and knows what is required to be done, but none has the will or the courage or the energy needed to seek something better; all have lofty ideals, hopes, aspirations, desires, regrets, sorrows and joys which produce no visible or durable results, like old men’s passions ending in impotence. They deserve the fate that has now descended upon them. And this is not the end of our humiliation. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of the bitter cup which will be proffered to us in the days to come. An evil spirit now hangs over Pakistan. Is it our destiny that for us there must always be darkness at high noon, there must always be a line of shadow against the sun?
If people want a change, they will have to vote with their bodies and keep voting in the streets – over and over and over. A regime like this can only be brought down if enough people vote in the streets. This is what the regime fears most, because it either has to shoot its people or quit. A bloodless revolution but a mighty revolution – that is what we need today.
Today a politically retarded Pakistan finds itself in a valley. Looming above is a powerful army. It has a diarchical, disjointed, lopsided, topsy-turvy, hybrid political system which is fast acquiring the mantle of permanence. The engine of history is moving Pakistan backwards. Our fledgling democracy may, after all, turn out to have been a historical accident and a parenthesis that is closing before our eyes.
A time bomb is ticking in Pakistan. The country is in deep, deep trouble. General Asim Munir is not in tune with the zeitgeist of Pakistan. Those among us who owe everything to this country must bear the burden of trying to save the soul of Pakistan. There comes a time when people get tired. We say today to those, who have ruled us so long without our consent, that freedom from army rule is not negotiable; that their interest and the interest of Pakistan do not coincide, that we are tired of military rule, tired of tyranny, tired of being humiliated, tired of being deprived of our right to elect our rulers. We say to them: enough! enough! We can’t take it anymore. We are at the last quarter of an hour. The cup of endurance is about to run over. We have no alternative but to stand up and fight. If we succeed, and God willing we shall, we may get a new Pakistan – free, open, democratic, proud. A dynamic, developed, and steady country, standing on its own feet, in control of its destiny, genuinely respected by its neighbours and the democratic world. A country with a future. Another country. We are a nation with potential coming out of our ears. We could move mountains if only America would stop supporting tyranny in this country.
Long ago, Karl Marx, famously borrowing from Hegel, said: “Everything happens twice in history, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce”. In our case, history has a habit of repeating itself again and again ad nauseum and is nothing more than a series of endless repetitions, each more debased than its predecessor.
There are, in my view, two factors that, above all others, have shaped our history during the last 75 years or so. One is the growing power of the military in running the affairs of state. The other, without doubt, consists in the total failure of the politicians, the intelligentsia, the intellectuals, the civil servants, infact, the entire civil society to comprehend the threat posed by a powerful army to the country’s fragile democracy, and to devise ways and means to thwart it.
“Military coups”, Alexis De Tocqueville warned more than 200 years ago, “are always to be feared in democracies. They should be reckoned among the most threatening of the perils which face their future existence. Statesmen must never relax their efforts to find a remedy for this evil”.
Marx once said: “Neither a nation nor a woman is forgiven for an unguarded hour in which the first adventurer who comes along can sweep them off their feet and possess them”. October 7, 1958, was our unguarded hour when democracy was expunged from the politics of Pakistan with scarcely a protest.
When the history of our benighted times comes to be written, it will be noted that the superior judiciary failed the country in its hour of greatest need. What would have happened had the Supreme Court decisions been different? It is idle to speculate but I have no doubt that the history of Pakistan would have been different and the country would never have been placed under military rule. Chief Justice Munir committed the original sin. Others tamely follow his example. The practice of striking bargains with those in power continues. The result is the mess we are in today.
This country was not created by rifle and sabre. Three Barristers – Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah, the first two not particularly gifted lawyers, led India to freedom. Unlike Gandhi and Nehru, Jinnah was a brilliant advocate. His unique political achievement, the creation of Pakistan, was the product of his genius as a Barrister. Sadly, the Pakistan Mr. Jinnah founded is gone. It disappeared the day power – hungry Generals, assisted by corrupt politicians, used the army as an instrument for grabbing political power and hijacked Pakistan. On that day, the lights went out. Pakistan slid into darkness.
Supreme Court should be the barrier that protects the citizens from the winds of evil and tyranny. If we permit it to be desecrated or demeaned and it crumbles, who will be able to stand in the winds that follow?
Today the Pakistan stage is clogged with bad actors playing lousy parts from commanding heights. Too many conflicting agendas. Too many egos. Too many so-called leaders with dirty hands. Major absentee on the stage: the people of Pakistan, barely mentioned by anyone. How can corrupt rulers occupy any place in the political order of Pakistan? This is equivalent to asking what place should be assigned to a malignant disease which preys upon and fractures the body of a sick man.
In other countries, crises produce leaders. In our country, leaders manufacture crises in order to grab or retain power. Today there is an intense anxiety on the part of ordinary people for decisive leadership. People are waiting for a stirring lead and a clarion call. It seems that while the nation craves for leadership, political leaders are equally determined not to lead them. Is it because they are all status-quo friendly and do not want to rock the boat? Isn’t it a great tragedy that today the destiny of Pakistan is in the hands of its reluctant leaders who refuse to draw the sword people are offering them?
Otto von Bismarck once said that political genius entailed hearing the hoofbeat of history, then rising to catch the galloping horseman by the coattails. Today Imran is acknowledged leader of a mainstream political party and has a decisive role to play in the critical days ahead. The voice of history beckons Imran.
O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire, it is not the gentle shower, but thunder, we need the storms, the whirlwind and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened, the conscience of the nation must rouse; the proprieties of the nation must be startled, the hypocrisy of the corrupt rulers must be exposed.
Today all the symptoms which one had ever met within history previous to great changes and revolutions exist in Pakistan. Nobody knows where it was headed without popular leadership to guide or direct it. The social contract between the rulers and the ruled has collapsed. Fundamental issues of far – reaching significance are churning beneath the placid surface of life. I know that at the present moment an unusual agitation is pervading the people, but what it will exactly result in, I am unable to say. “I can detect the near approach of the storm. I can hear the moaning of the hurricane, but I can’t say when or where it will break forth”.