Pity the wretched country which staggers from pillar to post, seeking a constitutional consensus after four decades of independence. Pity the state which lacks legitimacy, desperately clutches at bureaucratic-centralism, martial law, ‘guided’ democracy, socialism, Islamic fundamentalism, and now democracy. Pity the country that makes martyrs of autocrats and military dictators. Yes, pity a people torn between paying homage to Z A Bhutto on the 4th of April and commemorating his executioner Zia ul Haq on the 17th of August every year.
Reams of paper have been wasted trying to make contemporary sense of the 1940 Lahore Resolution; miles of words have been written portraying Mr Jinnah in various shades of green and grey; tons of wreathes placed at the shrine (yes, shrine) of Mr Bhutto; and now we seek to crown Gen Zia ul Haq with the halo of a Wali Allah. No one cares to ask what purpose, if any, is served by resurrecting these ghosts of our inglorious past other than to cloud the way forward.
It is time to dispense with contentious images and grasp the reality of today. The Pakistan we know bears not even a faint resemblance to any idea from yesterday. The country has been dismembered, ideologies corrupted; we have brutally assassinated leaders, callously torn up constitutions; communal hatred, incipient sub-nationalisms, bloody ethnic divisions scar the landscape. And as we totter to the edge of a new century, with India breathing down our necks, even our dreams for the future of our children are blurred by the nightmares of each passing day.
No, there is not much point left any more in digging up the past, in agonising over the failings of Zia ul Haq or eulogizing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto; nor indeed, we dare say, in disputing over the ideas of the incomparable Mr Jinnah because we can no longer agree on what he said or believed in. The more we rely on them for contextual guidance, the more intractably divided we become as a nation. Instead, we should look to where we stand and what we have become, now in 1990.
What we indisputably have is a frail, provisional democracy. Of such a system, at least one thing is known for sure. It is more representative and in greater tune with the aspirations of our people than anything else in the past. From Mr Jinnah to Gen Zia, to a greater or lesser degree, no one has ever advocated anything other than a democratic way of life. Clearly, a minimal consensus should be developed to bolster this system rather than defame it by making it unworkable.
How, then, should we go about assembling such a minimal consensus? To begin with, any attempt to unseat any government, whether by the COP in Islamabad or by the PPP in Punjab, should be resisted forcefully. Such shortcuts only succeed in belittling the system and confirming its booted detractors in their abhorrence of it. Two, the Kashmir issue should be managed with foresight. This is not a question over which to score points. A war with India would be disastrous not only for the system we wish to nurture but also for the state and country. Three, the provinces must have greater powers so that the system is able to perform to its promised potential. Let there be private provincial TV stations and banks, People’s Works Programmes, taxes, royalties, the lot. The only real democracy is that which works all the way down to the grass roots, not one which is jealously secluded in Islamabad and monopolised by one political party. Finally, the MQM must be calmed down and allowed to participate vigorously in government.
In all this, there has to be some minimum give and take among the participants in democracy. It is time everyone got off their high horses, exorcised the ghosts which haunt us from the past and looked purposefully at the future.