Not such a benighted place after all

ayazDid anyone have any idea that the election scrutiny process, punctuated hilariously with the comedy show emanating from Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution (put there by that master of our sorrows, Gen Ziaul Haq), would lead to such an intense debate about the meaning of Pakistan? But such a debate has erupted and what fireworks it has produced. Our land was famous for the unchecked reign of stupidity and folly. But it has been so different this time, a rare opportunity arising for a whole multitude of voices to be raised on the side of sanity and reason. And this was happening in the Islamic Republic not in any dreamland of our imagination. Try the same stuff in Saudi Arabia or Iran and we’ll be counting our blessings. Humbug in the name of ideology, when was the last time it received such a whacking? Columns and articles, a spate of them, so many talk shows, exposing the baldness of that Nawabzada Sher Ali Khan-invented concept, the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ (the Nawabzada was information minister to that great Islamist, Gen Yahya Khan). All starting from the rejection of some nomination papers. Given the excitement that this has caused it wouldn’t be such a bad idea for nomination papers to be rejected more often. We have created such an atmosphere in this country that it is easy to be cowed down by the antics of the stupidity brigade. In a country where Mumtaz Qadris are showered with rose petals, and former chief justices of the Lahore High Court think it a mark of signal honour to defend such heroes, and where sensitive laws are open to misuse, it is all too easy to create such a climate of fear. Emotive devices such as Islamic ideology and ideology of Pakistan further entrench this spirit of conformity. But the lesson is clear. Good people should stand up and speak out and when they do, it makes a difference, as has happened in the instant case. I don’t blame the returning officers. Too much has been put on their plate, doing judicial work in their normal hours and taking up nomination papers only after that…and My Lord the Chief Justice, never one to let things be, going up and down the country exhorting them to do their work honestly, without fear or favour. Under this kind of psychic pressure, if some returning officers end up making monkeys of themselves, who is to blame? Even so, we have to hand it to the judicial system that it has been righting some of the more egregious wrongs committed in the scrutiny process. In my particular case the arguments dressed up in the robes of Islam and ideology presented before the returning officer in Chakwal were regurgitated before the appellate tribunal in Rawalpindi. But the division bench comprising my lords Justice Rauf Ahmed Sheikh and Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh bought none of them and ruled in my favour. It helped of course that Salman Akram Raja, one of the ablest and most articulate lawyers in the country today, was my counsel (charging me not a penny of course). Still, the point remains that when it comes to issues like blasphemy and ideology which are open to misuse and bring out the worst among the armies of the foolishly zealous, we should not hesitate to stand up for what we think is right. And if only we stand up half the battle is won. But when we take refuge behind expediency not only do we lose the argument. We allow the morality and stupidity brigades – often one and the same thing – to become the maamas and chaachas (maternal and paternal uncles) of Pakistan. Yes, there is much ideological claptrap in the constitution, stuff that could safely be taken out without jeopardising anyone’s hopes of salvation. But there is other fluff too such as, to quote a random example, Article 14 which proudly declares, “The dignity of man…shall be inviolable. No person shall be subjected to torture for the purpose of extracting information.” Try telling this to a thanedar in his thana. He’ll give you a constitutional lesson you won’t easily forget. We don’t get worked up about these exercises in abstraction. Why did we get so worked up about the morality clauses? As if this wasn’t enough, we face another affliction. Old-guard Islamists were pleasant people. Gen Hamid Gul, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Maulana Samiul Haq, Liaquat Baloch, Munawar Hasan, possessed of a sharp sense of humour and not without a twinkle in their eyes should the occasion so demand. But the new breed of media mullahs now infesting the airwaves are deadlier branches of the old tree because they are totally devoid of humour and so full of themselves that it gives you a minor crick in the neck. From these worthies come such gems as the following (in cold print): that Hurricane Sandy on America’s East Coast was divine punishment for the blasphemous film on the Holy Prophet made in California (on the West Coast), a strange proposition if for no other reason than that the Most High was getting His geography wrong; and that the hanging of Ilm Din Shaheed somehow led to the demand for Pakistan. Call this the new history. Nor is all of this empty word-play. Consider the following: the Taliban, no less, want the lowdown on a character in their custody, Khalid Khawaja. And who do they ask? They make enquiries of some of our self-righteous friends, the upshot of which is a bullet in the neck of the luckless Khawaja. And not a word of regret, forget about remorse, from the self-righteous brigade. But the good thing is that great as the nuisance value of this lunatic fringe may be, it is not about to overrun this country. God knows we have made a mess of things. We have embarked on adventures and gone down a road that would have undone any other country. That we are still holding on is maybe because of the resilience, the native toughness, of the people inhabiting this land. Enduring so much they can put up with loonies too. Or maybe because, despite our follies, good sense in some quarters still prevails. Denunciation in the name of religion, killing in the name of religion: was this the meaning of Pakistan? A country for humbugs: was this its purpose? We were surely meant for something better. Let’s forget about the souring of the initial promise. That’s part of history, dead and gone. The new Pakistan, faithful to the ideals of Jinnah, can still be built but provided that those who care about justice and fair play also possess the courage of their convictions and can deal with the loony brigade in the only currency it deserves: that of mockery and unrestrained laughter. And maybe after these elections, the first in the country’s history leading to an orderly and democratic transition, we can leave the mists of the past behind and arrive at the shore of better things.–The News]]>

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