Tuesday, August 19, 2008


When Pakistan voted the two main political parties of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to power earlier this year in an election ordered by General Pervez Musharraf, it looked like Pakistan had voted to save Jinnah’s liberal Pakistan from Arab-led Islamic fundamentalists who were determined to turn that country into a ‘pure’ Islamic state, just like Afghanistan was before 9/11. Then, everyone rejoiced at the victory of democracy and the defeat of a military dictator who was perceived to be fighting America’s war against Muslims.

To me, the situation then was reminiscent of what happened in India after Indira Gandhi was defeated in 1977 because of the excesses committed by her government during the Emergency that she had imposed solely to remain Prime Minister. That was, for India, a defining moment which could have led to its history being rewritten. But, Indira Gandhi’s opponents blew it by getting mired in the politics of personal vendetta which backfired, as it had to, and resurrected Indira Gandhi and the Congress party from the dead.

I had then posted an article, ‘A vote to save Jinnah’s Pakistan: will it?’, highlighting that the dangers facing Pakistan were far greater than what India faced in 1977. It was clear to me that Pakistani leaders needed to co-opt Musharraf in Pakistan’s internal war against terror and not repeat the mistake that Indian leaders had made. But, then itself it was beginning to appear that no lessons had been learnt and that Pakistan was heading towards a disaster of unimaginable proportions.

The mauling of Musharraf by the deadly duo of Zardari and Sharif, resulting in his resignation as President yesterday, has led to scenes of joy in Pakistan and a euphoria in the Karachi Stock Exchange. Sadly, this is really no more than a victory of the politics of petty vendetta over common sense and national interest. This mauling, rather than strengthening democracy, may actually accelerate Pakistan's slide into anarchy and fundamentalism. And that may well lead to the mauling of the Pakistan that Jinnah dreamt of by the Pakistan that Osama bin Laden is dreaming of.

At this point, it is only appropriate that I reproduce my earlier post that says it all in gripping detail.


In 1977, India voted to dramatically and humiliatingly rout the invincible Indira Gandhi and her Congress party out of power. India had then emphatically signalled that the nation was not willing to accept the curbs and excesses that it had experienced during the Emergency. Indira Gandhi's personal defeat in her own constituency drove home the point that no matter how powerful and charismatic the leader, he/she had to respect the individual liberties that the founding fathers of the country had guranteed through the constitution.

In 2008, in the first free and fair elections held in Pakistan since 1970, the nation has voted even more emphatically and dramatically to tell all those who have thoroughly messed up the very idea and ideology of Pakistan envisioned by its creator Jinnah, that it wants to save the country from the inevitable disaster towards which they have been taking it for quite a long time now.

MA Jinnah had visualized a secular and democratic Pakistan in which there would be a complete separation between the totally free personal religious beliefs of its citizens and the functioning of the state. Though Pakistan was created as the country for all Muslims of undivided India, Jinnah was very clear that the religion had no absolutely no role to play in governance. His address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947 made that ideological cornerstone absolutely clear.

Jinnah’s concept of Pakistan was, unfortunately, given a hasty burial as the other leaders of Pakistan went about Islamizing the nation and ‘cleansing’ it of people belonging to other religions who were forced to either convert to Islam or flee to India. In 1973, the country drove a major nail in Jinnah’s conceptual coffin by introducing an Islamic constitution.

In 1977, just as India was taking a watershed step towards rejection of an oppressive regime, Pakistan was equally fatefully falling into the hands of a military dictator who would go on to unleash fundamentalist Islamic forces that would make Jinnah look like an infidel and push the country suffocatingly into the grip of Islamic extremists spearheaded by the Arab Al Qaida and its subordinate homegrown arm, the Taliban. The abyss that General Zia ul Haq had pushed Pakistan into had only a one way ticket till now.

Yes, there were times when victories and successes, as seen through only the narrow prism of an Islam that some mullahs and their followers preached, justified the relentless march towards increasing religious extremism. In reality, these ‘achievements’ just covered the deepening and widening cracks that were destroying the very core of Pakistan and, most importantly, concealing the fact that this was not the kind of Islam that the vast majority of voiceless, fearful and increasingly terrified Pakistanis wanted.

More than thirty years after that downhill journey started, and after a full ‘dekho’ in Afghanistan of the kind of life they would ‘enjoy’ in a fully Islamized Pakistan, those who were courageous enough to say what they really wanted to through the ballot box have told the whole wide world that they do not want the Al Qaida, mullahs and the Talibanis to run their country at all. This rejection of that extremist brand of Islam has been almost complete in the areas most affected by their domination, particularly the Frontier bordering Afghanistan.

That the people of the Frontier have soundly thrashed the extremists, despite the much hated presence of US troops next door against whom these guys are fighting, is the most telling message of this watershed election in Pakistan. This can well be viewed as nothing short of a spectacular resurrection for what the Qaid-e-Azam stood for. After 60 years, Jinnah has risen from the ideological grave in which he had been buried as dead. The expected defeat of mainstream fringe parties supporting President Musharraf should not deflect any one from the real message that the voters of Pakistan have unequivocally given to those who are going to guide the destiny of their nation in future.

Pakistan’s battle to save Jinnah’s country has not been won yet. Indeed, it has just been joined. A long and really hard fight can be expected in the future to conclusively send the mullahs and the military back to their respective barracks, particularly the former, before victory can be proclaimed. Will the battle be won?

Pakistan today finds itself in a situation quite similar to what India faced in 1977. Almost the entire opposition had then come together to rout Indira Gandhi whose misrule during the Emergency united as ideologically opposed parties as the Left and the BJP. The country rejoiced when they all won and formed the government. Much was expected from them; a new direction, a new energy, a new hope. What did they deliver? First, they got after Indira Gandhi in a most petty and vindictive manner. Then they started fighting among themselves, unable to rise above the very differences which had thwarted all their efforts to defeat the Congress earlier. Disillusionment set in soon; people forgave Indira Gandhi quickly and she stormed back to power in the next elections. And the dynasty’s pre-eminence has never been threatened ever since.

Benazir Bhutto’s PPP, Nawaz Sharif’s PML, the ANP and independents together command a two thirds majority in the Pakistan National Assembly. Enough to impeach President Musharraf should they so desire. That seems to the consuming passion of Nawaz Sharif, the man earlier overthrown by Musharraf in a military coup, above everything else. Sharif is not willing to join the government to be headed by PPP, the largest party, as long as Musharraf is President. He is also bent upon reinstating the Supreme Court judges sacked earlier by Musharraf to legitimize his presidency. As had happened in India, Pakistani politicians are seemingly unable to rise above their petty hassles for the sake of their country.

PML (Q) and MQM, the two major parties backing Musharraf, may have suffered reverses in the elections primarily because of the anger against Musharraf for becoming the stooge of the US in the latter’s fight against Muslim ‘terrorists’. But, paradoxically, the ones who have been totally rejected by the voters are those who are fighting against the US! That shows how hated their version of Islam has become in Pakistan.

People may hate Musharraf for fighting with the US, but they just do not want their country to be governed by those fighting against the US. The reaction against Musharraf is clearly emotional; the rejection of the Al Qaida and the Taliban reflects the practical realization of the Muslim who wants to live a life of freedom from the fear, the choking dogma, the oppression, the violence and the economic doom that these guys have given and promise to give in the name of Islam.

Pakistani politicians would do well to learn the right lessons from what happened in India so that they do not squander this priceless opportunity to reclaim Pakistan from the brink. Reconciliation rather than confrontation has to be central if extremist forces have to be conclusively defeated. It must be remembered that no matter who comes to power, even if it is the fiery anti-American Imran Khan, Pakistan’s fight against terror has necessarily to be on the side of the US, whether tacitly or openly. The seeing of everything from the prism of a “Muslims are killing Muslims” mindset, to quote Mr. Khan, has to be shed if there has to be any realistic hope of honouring the peoples’ verdict.

The electorally defeated extremists who want to ruin the great Satan US are the ones who are ruining Pakistan. They have to be fought collectively by all those who have Pakistan’s interests uppermost in their agenda. Expending energies in trying to overthrow Musharraf, who they would do well to co-opt in this terminal fight, and in petty infighting, will quickly disillusion the masses. That will then set the stage for a triumphant march to Islamabad by the Al Qaida, the Taliban and the clerics who incubate them. A repeat of what happened in Afghanistan will play out in the very heart of Pakistan with an intensity and ruthlessness far greater than what the world saw there. Mainstream Pakistani politicians who have quickly put Benazir Bhutto’s assassination behind them would do well to remember the final moments of President Najibullah in Kabul.

This is the real “core issue”, to borrow Musharraf’s words on Kashmir, which will determine whether Pakistan will survive as Jinnah’s country or become Osama Bin Laden's nation, the Islamic state that he and his band of religious extremists are trying desperately to create in the landmass that presently constitutes Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Destinies of nations are sometimes determined by a few course-altering events, not much different from the tide in the affairs of men that Shakespeare had written so magically about. That tide in the affairs of countries is upon Pakistan now. Pakistani politicians would do well to take it at the flood and lead Jinnah’s Pakistan on to fortune. If they miss it this time too, they may well condemn their country to remain bound in shallows and in miseries at the mercy of Arab Laden.

Will they succeed? Both Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif have already dug their heels in as if the most important issue facing the country is their mutual fight to death. The right lessons do not seem to have been learnt yet. Will they and others ever learn and display necessary magnanimity, statesmanship and clarity of purpose before it is too late for Pakistan?

Will this vote of the people of Pakistan to save the country save it? What do you think?