Over the years, you might have heard plenty of philosophical mumbo-jumbo about the past: that the past is the present; no, it’s the future; and that sort of stuff! Having belonged to a calling that is more about getting on with things – no moaning and groaning; no making of wish-lists; and no waiting for Godot or Lady Luck – one nevertheless was not willing to remain stuck with the past. In fact, I wished the older generation, nostalgically reminiscing over the good old days, had moved to the old people’s home while they still could walk. One continues to believe that living in the past was not a practical proposition, but also found-out that the shadows of the past could not be shed without atoning for our sins.
Ever heard of an incorrigible sinner who got away every time by seeking forgiveness from the Almighty? Once he was accused of a felony he didn’t commit – and naively prayed for Justice. In all fairness, he had to be hanged for all his past crimes. And then some of us might have seen a classic John Wayne Western! They always taught us a thing or two about the Wild West; even about the wider world. After he was diagnosed with a terminal disease, the only prescription to save his soul prescribed by his wise old doctor – James Stuart, who else! – was to do something good before he died. Naturally, JW had to go cleanse the world of some bad hats.
I was reminded of these stories when Salman Taseer was assassinated. It was probably the first act of public good he ever did. Aasia Bibi was wrongly charged of blasphemy – and, as the provincial chief he sacrificed his life to save hers. Right now, there is another chief who, having violated some sacred norms, is under the cleavers – simple because he was trying to make amends.
The political engineering that plonked Imran Khan on the throne of Islamabad was masterminded by the incumbent Army Chief. If that was a culpable offense, I could not adjudge; but when an army chief seeks or gets extension in his office, it violates an institutional norm. He not only deprives the next deserving general of his turn, but also has his status diminished in the eyes of his command. In the wake of the latest regime change in Pakistan, the tirade that General Bajwa is facing both from within and outside the sacred temple is because he ultimately decided to play by the rules.
It’s now up to us: either to gloat over the fact that a powerful actor who was getting too big for their boots has been brought crashing down to earth; or think of helping this institution, that is still believed to be a hapless nation’s last resort, in regaining its former sublime status
Of course, one is aware of the paradox. An umpire was neutral only if he ignored your no-balls – and, If an SOB was your SOB, he was legitimate. That in any case has been the working principle of a people who invented both cricket and parliamentary democracy. “A fine piece of rascality” is how a famous swindle in our region was described by their colonial agent, but then nature took its own course and his military commander conceded that he had sinned. And therefore, while IK’s camp followers were understandably upset when the power brokers went into neutral gear, what defied all logic was that those who had often pleaded that the military ought to remain nonaligned in politics, refused to concede that this course correction by the GHQ was what they had always clamoured for!
Some other implications were even more intriguing.
Considering our political culture, creating a broad-based consensus on core national issues has long been accepted as a critical requirement. The other day, as I tried to brew this old wine in a gun barrel – that despite its partisan past the Army was the only institution that could help bring all the relevant stakeholders together to do the needful – the reaction of some on my mailing list made me pause and ponder. When a lady with strong military ties remarked that whatever happened under the khaki umbrella would have no credibility, it reminded me of a wise man who said that whereas the superpowers may come and go, the voice of the people would always matter.
Then there are developments that seem intractable.
Social media has gone berserk. It is not only that the posts were now coming in faster than we could delete them, but like in a Punjabi axiom, their ferocity could compete with the “shoe-parade” of a habitual liar. And if before the IK-led dispensation was shown the door, lies went around the world five times before the truth caught up, now it has no chance. All our chickens are coming home to roost.
It’s now up to us: either to gloat over the fact that a powerful actor who was getting too big for their boots has been brought crashing down to earth; or think of helping this institution, that is still believed to be a hapless nation’s last resort, in regaining its former sublime status.
A former colleague of mine, who was once in the thinking business, has suggested we have a public debate over the qualitative transformation that is afoot. No idea if it has ever been done, or how to go about it!
Still, my tuppence: on occasions like these, one act that has never failed to work – the boss man takes responsibility, apologises, and quits. We all get a breather and the successors a chance to start with as clean a slate as is possible.