On the Pakistan Elections
There comes a tide in the life of nations,
Which, if taken at the crest,
Leads to fortune. (Shakespeare mangled)
Remember those two kinds of people—the ones who always see the glass half empty and those that see it half full?
And, oh, the experts, especially the Indian ones; they never do see the bright side of most things, least of all Pakistan. It is as though you could not be an expert if you ceased to be ifsy and butsy and joyed in innocence for a bit.
All of which recalls that most instructive experiment that the good doctor of Austria once conducted.
Dear Sigmund, we are told, put up an easel with a spotless white sheet plastered over; not quite spotless though, for at the dead centre he planted a needle-point black dot as well.
Then came the ten subjects; and nine of them when asked said they saw a black dot; just one cretin blurted that he saw a white board!
Add to that the other conundrum. Most of us who would hold forth on affairs of the world tend to conflate the end of time with our own particular mortality. So just as we imagine ourselves to be the persons we are today, rather than processes that have spanned a lifetime of making and unmaking, we bear on events not as processes but as products.
And when was there a product that was not first an aspect of processes? To this I have spoken rather more in an earlier article titled “Essentialising Pakistan” (Znet, January 13, 08).
For the wary, let me say that it is not my incautious case that democracy has finally arrived in Pakistan (when does anything ever arrive finally?). An election, alas, does not a democracy make all by itself.
For that to happen—and I speak only of political democracy, which even where it flourishes, as here in India, leaves the bulk of the populace in economic throe—must require a Constitution that acquires long-term incontrovertibility, a Parliament that is answerable only to such a Constitution, a Judiciary that can breathe on its own and be accepted as arbiter, warts and all, mechanisms of law-enforcement that see the citizen without coloured glasses (as they do not still in India), a fourth estate that remains vigilant against atrocity, even as it most of the time, as here in India, speaks for the material interests of the ruling classes, a sustained order of civil alertness that can mobilize against the worst excesses of the state and dominant social groups and interests—all that as infrastructure to the peaceful transfer of state power through free and fair elections.
Clearly, in the case of Pakistan, that is an agenda for the coming days and months, perhaps many years as well.
So why do I see the glass as being half full?
For one thing, the elections just concluded did not happen merely because Kings at home or across the atlantic decreed it. It happened in deference to a new and compelling Bolivarian impulse among Pakistanis across the board. It came in answer to a moment of recognition (Anagnorisis, Aristotle was to christen so momentous a point of departure from that which has been). And it came laden with a message that the people had put behind them all the fear and trembling that has so tended to thwart the expression of popular secular will in Pakistan.
Secondly, for the first time, not the worst of bigots succeeded in centring these elections either on India or on Kashmir. The significance of that only those know who know a great deal about sub-continental history.
Indeed, if India was invoked here and there among opinion-makers and common Pakistanis alike it was invoked as a point of desirable reference. Time after time one heard the sentiment that, after all the blood that has besmirched the five rivers over some six decades, and after all the machinations that Pakistani rulers of any hue and their comprador promoters abroad may have attempted, it is only Pakistan which has been made to suffer while India seems to have gone on more sure-footedly. And that a credible democracy, in addition to other things, seems to have had a great deal to do with the outcome.
Notwithstanding secular Pakistani’s genuine concerns with Hindutva bigotry, thus, it is that other recognition which has forced the everyday Pakistani to ignore appeals to denominational passions and defeat the Mullahs even in the North West Frontier Province. A secular assertion of awesome proportions indeed. And, if anything, in Balochistan, several left-of-centre politicians seem to have succeeded in winning the trust of the voters!
I see the glass half full because, excessive and precipitate as this may sound, I see the beginnings of a turn-around that suggests that the lessons of the loss of erstwhile East Pakistan may be seen to be registering within Pakistan itself. Namely, that the edifice of a viable nation-state cannot be built on the brick and mortar of religious persuasion. That the problems of Pakistan’s troubled areas are as much born of ethnic and linguistic oppression as were those in East Pakistan seems now undeniable. As is the further fact that those oppressions should have remained wedded to the same scale of economic exploitation as East Pakistan had suffered.
To the extent that Kashmir has tended to remain at the focus of so much Pakistani consciousness on account primarily of religious affiliation, the transformations underway in Pakistan itself could not but logically force a different perspective on the issue. Quite just as more and more Kashmiris recognize that the one factor that overrides any other in Pakistani history has been that of ethnicity rather than of Islam. And if the Pakhtuns and the Balochis, and indeed even the Sindhis, feel as they do about Punjabi dominance, Kashmiris may hardly expect to fair any better as part of some imagined Islamic state. Consider that only some 3% Kashmiris are below the poverty line in contrast to an Indian national average of about 26%; and that in contrast both to the Kashmir on the other side of the LOC as indeed to Pakistan itself, Kashmiris are rather beginning to relish the cut and thrust of a vibrant political democracy to boot. And also consider that these are by now facts that have percolated deep and wide among most Pakistanis, whatever public statements may be made from time to time. Indeed, a steadfast Islamist like Syed Ali Shah Geelani must wonder what future his brand of politics might have in the face of the rout suffered by the Islamicist parties in the Pakistan elections.
The project to annex the valley then through theocratic mayhem is seen not just to be guaranteed to fail; it is perhaps beginning also to be seen as a goal not particularly of great moment to the real interests of Pakistani citizens. Indeed, Pakistan’s generation next that has no felt understanding of or allegiance to the history of partition would much rather get on with the good life that India’s generation next seems so much to revel in. And as to those who, like the millions upon millions in India, lack the bare essentials of living even the contingent life, the Mullah/Feudal/Army/America combine seems to have delivered little else but economic and ideological servitude. If then they have spoken as they have, they have not done so from mere pique—an occurrence that promises much to alter the life of the subcontinent in constructive ways.
I hear the expert smirk rather in that knowledgeable way and say of me as Caesar said of the soothsayer, “he is a dreamer; let us leave him.” I might mumble ‘O but the Ides of march will come for Musharraf/Mullah/Feudal/Army/America as they did for Caesar.” Have no fear.
Although they may not come this march or or the next, or in your or my lifetime, but come they will. Let each Indian and Pakistani ask of herself which side she is on, and then be on the side of the future, and then work for that future with selfless resolve. That done, those Ides may come sooner than you think.
And what of America? They wanted the PPP, but got instead a serious-minded democracy!
And just as in Palestine, the victory of Hamas in one of most watched and supervised of recent mandates in the world did not square with democracy for the neo-imperialists, so also the good showing by Nawaz Sharief’s party in contrast to the rout of the official PML (Q) must seem a cruel distortion of the democratic agenda desired by Bush and company.
No wonder that with customary shamelessness and lack of principle the American establishment seeks openly to engineer a government in Pakistan that may exclude Nawaz Sharief’s party and indeed do dirt on the mandate. The great surprise would have been if the Bushies had indeed done anything else.
What must be understood is that the Pakistani electorate has not vanquished the Mullahs because America so wished them to do; far more significantly, they have done so because, born of neo-imperialist machinations in the first place, the Mullah parties were assessed to have done as little good and as much harm to the people of Pakistan as America itself.
So it is I see the glass half full.
Ah, but what of the Indian establishment that is now so enamoured of America, the world-leader in democracy and warfare?
From what evidence exists, there is little ground for assuming that India sees fraternizing in any far-reaching way with her immediate geo-political world as of greater consequence than striking that ‘strategic partnership’ with the bully in Washington.
We say to our establishment, thy ides of march will come too; just wait till you get your particular comeuppance a year or so from now.
In that context, how diverting the fact that even Advani, that drooling Prime Minister-in-perpetual-waiting, takes recourse to a left-of-centre discourse in his recent public pronouncements!
He reminds the nation—at bottom himself—that close to 80% Indians subsist on about 50 cents a day, and that some 20 individuals possess as much wealth as some 300 million Indians.
When those sorts of noises issue from the frontline friend of the neocons and the Israelis, be sure that the ides of march are waiting.
And just as the people of Pakistan have demonstrated, here in India as well at the next General elections our own bigots need not think they will fare better than the Mullahs have in Pakistan. And should they not, remember that the quality of results in the Pakistani elections would have had much to do with that eventuality, notwithstanding how hoarse the right-wing throat may have become from shouting about “terrorism.”
Time then for the billions of sane Indians and Pakistanis to come together in a new partnership—one that drives the marauders into the cells they belong in, and intent on assuming a new secular brotherhood and a new history of peace and creative oneness.
Let that resolve pour into the glass, drop by determined drop, and show the frozen expert and the interested sceptic alike that the glass grows full, not half full.
And let the millions of sane Americans likewise force upon their power and greed ridden leaderships that what was once the new world , full of ideals and dreams, has been rendered a decrepit old eyesore, but that it may yet join in with the others to forge another new world that comprises humanity everywhere.
And all that had best happen before the earth takes its revenge and drowns out all the worlds together without regard to wealth, armaments, or colour of skin.
And if that is rhetoric, it is such that an Obama might not mind, nor the people who follow his fortunes in increasing droves.