Wed, 30 Apr 2003

Parvez piles on people's pain

Anwer Mooraj, The Dawn, Asia News Network, Karachi

It has always been the tradition in Third World countries, whenever a change of government takes place, to eulogize the incumbents and to rubbish the folks who have been thrown out of power. Pakistan is no exception. The difference is that in this country the puppeteers who pull the strings that make the marionettes dance, use considerably more guile and finesse than in places like Nigeria and Indonesia.

How else can one explain the fact that three years ago, when Pakistan Television was asked to introduce to an incredulous public Gene. Parvez Musharraf, the new saviour of the country, who was going to rescue the nation from the clutches of that arch evil Nawaz Sharif, the only anchor man they could find in a country of 140 million souls. He was the very fellow who, during the rule of the Muslim League government, was shown on national television as leading the mob that attacked the Supreme Court building. Tariq Aziz need not worry. All is forgiven. Life goes on.

Currently, the entire energies of the combined opposition in the National Assembly and the Senate are being expended in trying to expunge the provisions of the Legal Framework Order (LFO). No business is taking place. The government is at a standstill, and the people of Karachi who braved the heat on that blistering October day and cast their vote are wondering if this whole episode was not just one big wasteful exercise.

One knows the constitutional lawyers are concerned as are some of the politicians. But is it really all that important for the mass of the people if the LFO stays or goes ? It isn't as if the people are biting their nails and waiting with bated breath for this controversial document to be thrown out. Would it really make any difference to the people who are basically interested in two square meals a day, and protection from a corrupt police, if Gen. Musharraf kept both his uniform and his presidency?

Or if Makhdoom Fahim and Qazi Hussain Ahmed eventually celebrate by repeating the triumph that Nawaz Sharif had achieved a few years ago when he threw out the odious clause 58(2)B? The fact is, the people have no illusions about either the army or the politicians. Both have piled on the agony. And the graduate clause hasn't really helped.

The president has taken a principled stand on the LFO, and by the look of things is not willing to budge. Why can't he also take a principled stand on an issue that really matters, like "honour killing", which is not only a criminal offence, but something which continues to tarnish the image of this country abroad?

The conclusion one draws from this is that it is apparently much more difficult to accomplish anything worthwhile when a country achieves independence and claims to be free. The politicians and the president will continue to vent their spleen and cry for the rights of the people of Kashmir, Chechnya and Palestine, while rapists and killers of village women in Pakistan go about their business in the comfortable knowledge that nobody will touch them.

It was much the same with some of the key players who preceded Jamali. They too were concerned about all the issues except the ones that had to do with human dignity. But some of their admirers still speak of them fondly.

Of Benazir Bhutto, for instance. One does not hear much about her these days. One misses her perky insouciance and her flair for adding new dimensions to the commonplace. From her self- exile, she fires the occasional anti-Musharraf missiles on her lecture tours of British and American universities. She tries to convey the impression that she is enjoying a brief political hibernation and continues to hold out the hope to her dwindling supporters that she will return one day in the not too distant a future, triumphant and ready to lead her flock once again on the road to prosperity. Regrettably, she wasn't a great achiever. And she didn't do anything to eliminate the menace of "karo kari."

The more intelligent among her supporters know hers is more or less a lost case, what with the list of NAB references against her and her spouse and the hostility of the military brass. But the parliamentary party is still intact, the breakaway Patriots notwithstanding, and the hard core has not allowed fringe- elements to assume a para-political role.

One also does not hear much about Nawaz Sharif these days. News occasionally trickles in about how well he has been doing in Saudi Arabia where he is supposed to own a chain of stores and that he has decided to weigh anchor and settle in the United Kingdom -- at least for the time being. He still has a clutch of supporters in this country who have displayed a degree of loyalty that has surprised even members of military intelligence who, as a rule, would not trust some politicians with last week's laundry list.

Nawaz Sharif, with his obsession for constructing highways, his preference for employing unlikely people in crucial positions and for displaying the heartiness of the big businessman when dealing with the Koreans, was never known for his brilliance.

And one feels that Beaverbrook's famous assessment of Asquith could also fit Pakistan's man of steel: "Uninformed indolence and gentle indifference." He did leave behind something that motorists in Punjab grudgingly acknowledge -- a modern motorway. But he too did nothing about the menace of "honour killings".

But Shahbaz Sharif, his younger brother, and a former chief minister of Punjab who is also in exile, was an altogether different kind of person. Shrewd, intelligent and practical, he was very much an action man, and like his brother, had come to the notice of Gen. Ziaul Haq who recognized his many talents. He will be chiefly remembered for his contribution to Punjab and particularly to its capital.

Lahore, the pride of the Mughals, with its gardens and fountains, its tombs and mosques, its quaint streets and bazaars with the smell of musk and sandalwood , and an old quarter drenched with history, has always been the most beautiful city in Pakistan.

The problem was, that many of the facilities in the metropolis did not function. Officials in government departments had a lackadaisical attitude towards work. Flippancy was used as a cover for professionalism. Shahbaz Sharif did his best to change the mindset of the inhabitants and made them proud of their city.

One must not forget the last of the great players, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, the feudal democrat, and an irredeemably marginal figure to whom other feudal democrats turn whenever there is a stirring in the political wind. He belongs to a part of the country where some of the worst rapes and murders have taken place.