The Full Circle, almost

Saturday, May 25th, 2013 5:29:57 by



‘Historical moment’ is a term that has been cheapened by overuse. Yet, we are within striking distance of a real one, when Mian Nawaz Sharif will take his oath as the prime minister of this country while General (retd) Pervez Musharraf is in custody. One of the most haunting, and perhaps, the most circulated image immediately post-October 12, 1999 was of a seemingly broken, almost teary eyed Mian Sahib behind bars. The cheap idea was to catch Mian Sahib at his most vulnerable and then to humiliate him. Mian Nawaz Sharif’s tenure from 1997-99 cannot be termed a success; however, it was obvious that there was something absolutely wrong with the way he was removed and subsequently treated. The images of Mian Nawaz and Mian Shahbaz from prison cells and wagons were from the same time when the Commando was waving fists and promising a “new country”. It was also the time when many of our intellectuals and sages were welcoming the arrival of our very own Ataturk. To believe in Karma is unscientific. Yet, even for the most hardened of sceptic, there is a vague feeling of some coming of the full historical circle, at least the possibility. However, some might say that if the circle is to taken to its logical completion, we are looking at the Commando leaving the country either before the swearing-in or immediately after. Let us hope that doesn’t happen.

None of this should be personal, although it is hard not to think of it as personal. Opportunities like these do not present themselves very regularly. A military dictator caused this country to be amputated, ordering mass killing. Another military adventurer also denied Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto a proper funeral. The Commando did not allow Mian Sahib to attend his father’s funeral. One should not kick when someone’s down as a general principle, yet it is trumped by the greater principle of fairness. General (retd) Musharraf has to be held accountable for treason and most significantly insulting us as a people. The Commando has been granted bail in BB’s murder case and will probably get it in Nawab Bugti’s case. The prosecutor in BB’s case was mysteriously murdered and that has already been forgotten, it seems. To be fair, it would be extremely difficult to hold him immediately criminally responsible for these murders due to requirements of proof. As far as treason is concerned, no formal proceedings have really started.

The formal legal arena is, perhaps, not the best place for deciding what is treasonous and what is not? Treason is a political issue and needs political determination. The logical culmination will indeed take place in the court, and hopefully, if and when that point arrives, the courts will be up to the task. Yet, the moral force has to come from the people, from parliament. An example is Yahya Khan being declared a “usurper” by the Court, without the requisite national consensus on military intervention. The Commando has already been humiliated and more importantly rejected, so why bother now? Why risk “institutional conflict”, argue the realists. There is a lot of merit in this argument. However, what really is “institutional stability”; does that mean beware of upsetting certain quarters too much or else, you know, the system might be “derailed”.

Once we agree that it is not personal, a logical corollary is that no one person has the right to forgive and forget. Let us have the national conversation on what needs to be done with General (retd) Musharraf and those directly complicit. ‘Moving on’ is sagacious advice and we should but only once clear responsibility has been fixed.

Why the Commando has to be held accountable by us, as a people? Firstly, it is the right thing to do. Secondly, the people need closure. Finally, that challenge has not faded away yet. While free and fair elections were being conducted and now as the post-electoral euphoria goes on, bullet-riddled dead bodies keep getting dumped in Balochistan. Mian Sahib has made all the right statements on forming a Kargil Commission, normalising relations with India, making known the findings of Abbottabad and Saleem Shahzad Commissions. It is important that everyone in parliament urges him to keep his word and support him when he does. It might be useful to read the appropriately named report, “Roots of Impunity” released by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Amongst other things, the opinion of the establishment on politicians, politics and democracy is disturbing, yet fascinating. The views of some powerful people in the country are exactly what the stereotype would lead you to believe.

Mian Nawaz Sharif has displayed signs of maturity in the past five years (barring the representative failure of his role in the Memo proceedings) and has displayed some clarity on the civil-military relationship question. Truth and reconciliation works both ways. The onus is also on Mian Sahib to come clean on the Asghar Khan case. He already has the mandate of the people. A statement made to the people of this country on his past follies, particularly the formation of the IJI and the 1990 election, will only help him, and the people of this country.

As far as the argument of institutional harmony is concerned, trying the Commando will only help in the long run. Our armed forces at present fight for the survival of this country and need all the support of the parliament and the government. Yet, the drawing of lines which cannot or should not be breached will bring clarity.

Mian Sahib’s opening statement on the willingness to negotiate with the Taliban is not a confidence-inspiring start. His view is admittedly milder than that of Mr Khan. Yet, the difference seems to be quantitative and not qualitative. The TTP has extended the customary response to the “offer of peace” by Mian Sahib at the centre and the PTI in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, with bomb blasts in Quetta and Peshawar. The soft line on extremism during the campaign was electioneering, and even if one forgives it (very, very hard to do, mind you), there are absolutely no excuses post elections.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2013.



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