Humbug and Ho Hum

Qadri at Model TownBy Humayun Gauhar

What a sad people we are – sad and funny at the same time. It is said that clowns are usually sad – and violent too. We are playing out a tragi-comedy: tragic for us, funny for the world. Though we are the authors of our own script, we fool ourselves into believing that its authors are global powers. These powers certainly edit the script, but only if we allow them to, which is why we feel that we don’t have control over our destiny. If we took control of our script and edited it ourselves when advisable, we would have control. Like any sensible country, global powers edit our script primarily for their own good before thinking of ours. Their interests come first for them, as they should, as our interests should come first for us without creating a global kerfuffle.

I cannot stop laughing at last Monday’s airport escapade on the second coming of Tahir ul Qadri when a non-event was turned into an international spectacle because of the double stupidity of the Brothers Sharif within one week. The first was the massacre of Qadri’s followers on June 17 in Lahore and then the running battle between police and Qadri’s supporters around Islamabad airport on June 22 that ended in the diversion – or hijacking, call it what you will – to Lahore of the Emirates Airlines flight that he was on. We made a perfect sight of ourselves before the world, but then the world is used to such performances from us, getting bored and worried at the same time.

Our vast majority suffers from chronic ignorance so it repeatedly elects tried and failed rulers who too suffer not only from chronic ignorance but also from chronic stupidity. A person without formal education can have wisdom; one with enough degrees to plaster a wall can still be ignorant, stupid and lack wisdom. Wisdom doesn’t wear expensive clothes, live in expensive houses, drive expensive cars, have huge bank accounts or have multiple palatial houses and flats in Pakistan, London and Dubai. Such ‘success’ almost always comes from dishonesty caused by greed’s presence in wisdom’s absence. What excuse can there be to elect the Bhutto-Zardari Combine four times and the Brothers Sharif three times except that we are bonkers? Bipolar from birth, a large chunk of us thinks that Pakistan was made to be a theocratic state while the other chunk believes that it was meant to be a secular homeland for India’s Muslims. Only our founder rightly knew what it should be: an Islamic Welfare State that becomes a model for others to emulate. But for selfish reasons his successors and our serial constitution makers conveniently forgot his vision and preserved the tribal-feudal-Seth status quo that benefits them only. Result: Pakistan has become neither an Islamic nor a secular state and nor indeed a welfare state but a vassal state going through the motions of independence while upholding the symbols of sovereignty. The people, meantime, get increasingly deprived. It’s a perfect recipe for volcano and failure.

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If we are learning from our mistakes then there is hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is what some well-meaning people and the system’s beneficiaries call ‘the beauty of democracy’, still not realizing that while true democracy is indeed beautiful this is not democracy. However, if we are not learning from our mistakes but reinforcing them, then one can safely conclude that the light at the end of our tunnel has been switched off, if ever it was switched on. Our stupidity has become congenital and will result only in things that I am loathe mentioning.

I’ve always said that when you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry, its best to laugh. I wonder: is Nawaz Sharif a serial hijacker/diverter of commercial aircraft? Some people accuse me of dragging General Musharraf into every article. But when the similarity is compelling how can I ignore it? Sharif hijacked Musharraf’s PIA flight from Colombo to Karachi on October 12, 1999 and tried to send it to India, our army chief and passengers on board. Fifteen years later he hijacked (or ‘diverted’) an Emirates Airlines flight from Dubai to Islamabad and took it to Lahore carrying his one-time friend Tahir ul Qadri, passengers and all. The first time he lost his government because the army backed its chief. The hijacked Qadri has no army, only thousands of committed supporters, so Sharif survived for the time, but for how long if he continues with his mismanagement and shenanigans? If the Brothers Sharif aren’t careful, a mob could snowball into a force more powerful than an army.

Qadri refused to disembark in Lahore and police couldn’t get into the aircraft to get him out without permission of the captain because the aircraft was UAE territory. A passenger is within his legal rights to insist that he be taken to the destination for which he purchased the ticket, unless there are unavoidable circumstances, which there weren’t, because fright isn’t an unavoidable circumstance. His reason for refusing to disembark was to buy time to allow his supporters to gather at Lahore airport. His refusal to leave in any government vehicle was to demonstrate that the Brothers Sharif are not to be trusted. He succeeded in both. More comedy was to follow. Sharif’s people called Qadri a hijacker. He didn’t divert the aircraft, did he? Qadri was the hijacked. It’s rich, minions calling the hijacked a hijacker.

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I will always wonder: if Nawaz Sharif had allowed Qadri to land in Islamabad and proceed to Lahore in procession with his supporters no matter how long it took, a usual Pakistani occurrence would have been a non-event. Similarly, if he had allowed General Musharraf to land in Karachi, proceed to Rawalpindi, called him the next day, told him that he was retiring him and replaced him with a proper soldier instead of an engineer, I don’t think the army would have done anything. It reacted in the absence of its chief after Nawaz Sharif acted illogically.

Just as one asks: what was the need to attack Qadri’s Lahore headquarters on the pretext of removing security blocks and killing some 15 men and women, injuring over 80 and smashing cars, what was the compulsion for police to charge an otherwise peaceful crowd of men, women and children gathered at Islamabad airport to receive their leader and make a production out of nothing? In any other country the Lahore massacre would have been unconscionable. Here it is business as usual. The only conclusion can be that suicidal stupidity is born of rulers taking the advice of intelligence agencies and officialdom as gospel truth instead of telling them that it is their job to ensure law and order so they better get on with it. Ruler after ruler has made this mistake, allowing security, intelligence and civil and military bureaucracy to dictate to them rather than the other way round. If they can’t do their jobs, sack them. They still don’t realize that intelligence agencies and civil and military bureaucracies often start working against them because they think that it is time for them to go.

While Qadri’s preaching puts emotionally and intellectually inadequate people in a comfort zone, his persona makes others uncomfortable. They fear a demagogue lurking within. Time will tell, but no sensible person can fault Qadri for his message: change the system by making the constitution truly democratic. This is what many of us have been saying for over two decades. He repeated this same message to the press some days ago, that he was not interested in toppling this government but the system, but parts of the media made it sound as if he was deviating from his original objective. Changing governments within this system will not make a difference, as we have seen again and again. It is changing the system that I (and an increasing number of others) earnestly believe will bring our salvation and save Pakistan as long as it returns us to Mr. Jinnah’s ideals spelt out in his universal speech of August 11, 1947 to Pakistan’s first constituent assembly. We have to be careful though, for what we may take for revolution can turn out to be anarchy at the very least, not true democracy but totalitarianism of the vilest kind and not necessarily military. Some anarchy always precedes revolutions but only for a time until the revolutionaries establish control. The worst dictatorships in history started as political revolutions: Pol Pot, Hitler, Lenin and Stalin, Mussolini… A bad system could be replaced by a worse one. In Pakistan’s case, the worst would be a falling apart of the State. States with longer lives have collapsed and are still collapsing before our eyes: the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the 1990s and now Ukraine, Iraq and surely others in the Middle East. What’s so special about us? That we were born on the Night of Power? Historical forces don’t have religion; they have evolution. Special states are those that deliver to their people and continuously and significantly improve their condition.

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Lost on the day of the Sharif-Qadri kerfuffle was the Supreme Court’s order overturning the Sindh High Court’s order to take Musharraf out of the Exit Control List. It was expected. Comically, Musharraf’s is a case of not letting a person go out of the country; Qadri’s is a case of not wanting a person to come in. The only commonality between the two is that the Sharifs have grudges against both and feel threatened by them. One is still backed by the army; the other has an army of committed supporters. Maybe Sharif fears that the army is quietly supporting Qadri as it backed him against Benazir once upon an IJI time. Perhaps he also fears that he has encouragement from certain foreign powers. The Sharifs are experts in making enemies out of friends or where there are none. Fear is a terrible thing. It consumes you and you take leave of your rationality and survival instinct.