VIRAL fear is experienced by young and old alike globally – but not uniformly. Viral pandemic, it is certified, Covid-19 is also a search engine on the stratifications of globalization. The impact is manifold and varied culturally and economically, and we may only learn empirically if there are any impermeable layers. There is interaction and adaptation; yet there may be responses and outcomes that will never be felt in common and so a separate-ness be reaffirmed.
‘Karachi, no one owns this city’, is yet another of the doleful explanatory clichés about the metropolis. Yet Karachi might be better off if it was left alone for a bit – at present it continues to be what it has long been: a battleground for civic and political ownership. Despite the pitiable state it has been reduced to by its varied custodians it remains a prize — demographically and thence politically — and always geo-strategically — as a port.
IF one begins by saying the civil politician is as much to blame for military influence in politics as any army general, one can then stop mincing words and — having implicitly ceded that army boots do march upon civil political space — embark on a less coy discussion of this aspect of Pakistan’s democratic march with reference to the pulsating present not just the detonated past. What have the civil and military learnt from abounding exemplified lessons of history and how do they use that knowledge? Bear in mind that the canvas common to both is the space Pakistan’s people inhabit. They should be calling the shots – but not in cross-fire. Which is all that civil politics as played presently by professional politicians seems to be doing: Is there a Cheshire cat grin on military faces?
Justice Munir early on provided the doctrine of necessity as just recourse for dissolving assemblies, legislative or otherwise. General Ayub, the trailblazer of military political interventionism who as C-in-C helped President Iskander Mirza shelve Pakistan’s very first much belated but non-durable constitution of 1956 in 1958, wasn’t much bothered about cosmetic constitutional camouflage. But such is the law of popular political gravity, he came to see wisdom in promulgating a civil presidential system with a customised rule-book. They called it the 1962 Constitution. When parliamentary nostalgia and popular discontent reached a critical mass, Bhutto, founding the PPP, rode the civil storm; but the instrument for a return to regard for the will of the people was an intra-martial agreement. The army, commanded by General Yayha, structured with a legal framework order, voluntarily oversaw a return to civil electoral politicking, with elections duly held as promised in December 1970 which are still undisputedly deemed historically pristine and translucent. They also turned out to be popularly unacceptable and the eastern wing parted from the western wing.
We have so many regulatory bodies, inquiry commissions, supervisors and monitors, that the only reason we don’t keep nervously looking over our shoulders is that we are also on the watch for what could lie ahead. The ambience is of unfocused anxiety. The analogy of a police state doesn’t come to mind, for the police force too is under scrutiny. However, PEMRA may soon have TV channels genially tell us ‘Big Brother is watching YOU’ for PEMRA is certainly watching them. If they are naughty or complain there could be recourse to a tribunal and the exercise – for this is civil dictation not military – may not be, like General Zia’s 90-day electoral guarantee, liable to indefinite postponement.
‘Corruption’ has been the make and break PTI slogan and the
outstandingly ‘corrupt’ leaders of yore have been electorally dis-enabled and
the two mainstream grassroots parties left floundering if not quite sunk. Common
citizens are gauging what is on the march in the field: Imran Khan (for the
party is the man) and his support base. Bear in mind that the mandate to govern
was formally conferred by perhaps too gullible an electorate in the framework
of the much-amended and sometimes vacillatingly so, as with the 8th amendment,
1973 constitution. It is a landmark consensual constitution that, though unceremoniously
stamped upon by boots in 1977 and 1999, has yet to follow Pakistan’s earlier constitutional
tomes into the unemptied dustbin of history.
SETTING aside the particularities of NAB and the context of specific tenures and incumbents, what does ‘accountable’ connote more generally? Housewives for instance take accounts/hisab daily: How much money was spent on the alu, matar, daal; is it actually the weight and price charged? Double-check! If there are discrepancies who is cheating or being fooled? The cook? His favourite sabziwalla? Are they in cahoots? If the cook is to blame he is replaced, and possibly the grocer and butcher as well: produce at another shop is the same price and better quality. Punishment and investigation are linked to forestalling recurrence.
What if a negligent housewife suddenly
wakes up and finds she has been cheated by a series of cooks over years of
poorly supervised housekeeping?
Pakistan’s democratic advances and retreats are usually perceived
in terms of a tussle between power-belts: a civilian establishment comprised of
what– post lateral-entry– we may no longer justly call mandarins, enabled by
and facilitating administration and policy for an electorally empowered party
leadership: now called chors and dakkus. (Party activists,
dissidents, and turncoats of lesser stature we could soon be calling raillu
kattas.) In the scales for charge of
the governmental process is the military establishment.
We still term it the khakis.
Notwithstanding the fact that the last military coup was essentially a day-long
airborne drama, those clad in blue and white do not emerge as coup-Caesars.
Perhaps what really matters is what you have on the ground — or the ground
realities of the political field. What
are these and who determines them? Supposedly in the electoral democratic
process the voters. But who enfranchises and disenfranchises?
Pakistan’s federal and provincial connectivity – which has a fraught history to put it mildly – is being subjected to increasing stress directly and indirectly, in ways great and small. Is it ingenuousness or ingenuity that is responsible: How reckless can political rivalries and pro-interventionism get?
There have been some sudden shocks but a steady nibbling at consensual accord on inter-provincial and collective national mutuality of interest is unpleasantly discernible. Wiser heads – such as the PPP’s Senator Reza Rabbani and Sindh’s former governor Zubair of the PML(N) — pinpoint errors, counsel and forewarn. Unfortunately, accusative demagoguery is more engaging and accessible in talk-shows that can tincture and define public opinion. Legitimate grievances and fears are voiced inside and outside the parliament by legislators and the executive but without doing much to allay misgivings or subject their manifestations and causes to constructive analysis and review in the houses. Parliamentary conduct appears narcissistic, rather than publicly representative. Outside of parliament, the President of Pakistan and provincial governors are national figures, symbolizing the federation. If they seem to prioritize party preference and objectives in over-frequent public appearances and off-the-cuff comment they are misreading the tenor and constitutional nature of office. Continue reading Provincialism and centralism: Levers?→
Devising and furthering ‘suitable’ national narratives is a much recommended culturally and intellectually highbrow activity for the awed and awesome amongst us.
Speaking as one at the receiving end of proliferating narratives I cannot but feel that, important as constructing an appropriate narrative may be, it is even more important to deconstruct some existing ones. The more so when they crystallise as one-liners, slogans that are accepted unthinkingly and allowed to be unquestionable. Take just one to begin with: Pakistan was founded as a Muslim homeland. Continue reading Construct/Deconstruct→