ISHTIAQ AHMED (IDN)
In The Eighteenth
Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, published in 1852, Karl Marx made a
most incisive observation: “Men make their own history, but
they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it
under circumstances chosen by them, but under circumstances
directly found, given and transmitted from the past. The
tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on
the brain of the living.”
the election of Feb 18, a situation exists in Pakistan where we can make
history of a different sort, notwithstanding the fact that the
“tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the
brain of the living.” The reason is that for the first time in
Pakistani history, circumstances are somewhat different and a break with
the past is possible.
different circumstances are the following: the military has for the
first time been reported to have identified the jihadis as threat number
one to Pakistan’s security while India has been relegated to the
second position. In the past, a symbiosis between the military and the
jihadis had resulted in Pakistan becoming the frontline state in a holy
war sponsored by the United States and Saudi Arabia.
need not go over all the harm it has done to Pakistan, but now the
jihadis are launching recurrently suicide bombings on the military; the
most recent being an attack on the Naval Academy Building on The Mall in
Lahore. It is good that instead of the Pakistani military and the
jihadis acting as one body they are now two antagonistic forces poised
to clash with each other.
is also heartening that the new chief of the army staff, Gen Kiyani, has
issued orders to his men not to hobnob with the politicians. I know this
would be the most difficult thing to learn and internalise, because bad
habits are awfully more difficult to abandon than acquiring good ones.
third reason for optimism that a fresh start can be made is that the two
major parties in the parliament, the PPP and the PML-N, have been
victims of repression by Gen Musharraf, and logically that should help
them work together rather than against each other. A national government
committed to a transition to democracy is a possibility—once again,
only logically speaking.
the Islamists have been roundly defeated—as always happened in the
three free and fair elections in Pakistan in 1970, 1988 and now in 2008.
The Jamaat-e-Islami boycotted the elections this time but its
participation would hardly have worked a miracle in favour of the
mullahs. It is now quite clear that the 2002 election result which
catapulted the MMA to a leading rightwing bloc in Pakistani politics was
Sharif’s long stay in Saudi Arabia would have made him realise that
Pakistan is a haven of freedom when compared to Saudi Arabia. This
should make him value personal liberty and human rights, and indeed
democracy, instead of imposing the dogmatic Sharia through some new
version of the 15th Amendment that never became law because he was
thrown out of power.
much the PPP values the fact that the people of Pakistan—mostly poor
and deprived—voted it as the party with the largest number of seats in
parliament remains to be seen. It should hopefully encourage Mr Zardari
to have some qualms of conscience and not to start devouring afresh the
national exchequer .
more realistically and dialectically, as Marx would caution us to do,
the fact remains that the deadweight of the past is likely to weigh
quite heavy even now. Despite all indications that the people of
Pakistan don’t want President Musharraf to remain in power, it seems
that he wants to, and so do the Americans.
with all the corruption cases against Asif Ali Zardari thrown out by the
courts, is it any wonder that the PPP is neither keen to challenge the
presidency of Musharraf nor to go along with the demand of the PML-N
that the deposed chief justice and other judges be re-instated?
what one can assert at the moment is that a chance or a possibility to
break with the past history of massive corruption, military
interventions, sectarian killings and terrorism in and around Pakistan
does exist, but one should be very hesitant to claim that we are on the
threshold of a social or political revolution.
suppose such a revolution does take place despite American interference
and Zardari’s compromised situation. We get a new national government,
the judiciary is restored to its rightful position and the government
machinery starts functioning according to rules and regulations. In that
case it would be important that the transition to democracy include
genuine autonomy with substantive economic and financial powers being
granted to our provinces.
realistically once again, chances of establishing a genuine secular
democracy in Pakistan are remote, but that should not mean that in the
name of Islamic identity, and so on, we give free reign to draconian
laws and ordinances that serve no purpose except to prove that we cannot
treat our minorities and women as equals.
will indeed have to make our history under the circumstances that exist,
and not those that we may want to exist, but at all moments in time
nations and people have a number of choices at hand and not just one.
Therefore, it is possible to choose another future for ourselves, rather
than produce one that only mirrors our past. Even a small change to a
government based on transparency and that upholds the rule of law in
principle from our past record of arbitrary rule, intrigues and
corruption will be a major step forward.
article was first published in the News
International . The author is a visiting senior research
fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National
University of Singapore on leave from the University of Stockholm.