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08/02/2018
BEST LEFT UNLIVED
ON FORTHCOMING SENATE ELECTIONS, MARCH 2018

Some days are best left unlived.  These first days of 2018 are amongst them.  Our past merits no mourners.  Our present is a transient to be endured. Our future mirrors the moon in our national flag, in a permanent semi-eclipse.

Our seventy-one year old statehood – if measured in human years – would be placed between infancy and toddler-hood. It is in that awkward stage where, its elbows grazed, its knees bruised, it crawls towards the shining toy of democracy, under the watchful gaze of a uniformed, tut-tutting nanny.

This year 2018 is election year in Pakistan.  By the time spring turns into summer, the Senate will have had a transfusion of 52 senators. A few may bring fresh blood.  Many will be recycled plasma. All of them are assured of a sinecure (however undeserved) for the next six years.

Many Pakistanis wonder whether the Senate is at all necessary. Does it serve any function beyond being a constitutional necessity?  The Senate was conceived as an august upper house, a forum for informed debates, an important component in a system of checks and balances. Instead, in the run-up to the Senate elections scheduled for 3 March, all one is aware of are checks fattening already swollen bank balances.

By the time this year’s summer gives way to autumn, 342 seats in the National Assembly will have been decided for a new term of five years.  The only difference between membership of the Senate and the National Assembly is that the members of one outlive the other by a year.

In election year, Islamabad is an unedifying sight. It appears less a display of mature democracy in action than an unseemly scrum of schoolboys with unearned pocket money, jostling to raid the school tuck-shop.

Will our Senate ever attain the gravitas of the U.K.’s House of Lords or the skilled sonority of the US Senate?  Will our National Assembly ever be more than a sandpit for rowdy MNAs?  Or will they continue to be, in Lord Samuel’s description of his native Parliament, institutions ‘kept effective by the persistent absenteeism of most of its members.’

Soviet–watchers were once taught that if they needed to know who was in power in the Kremlin, they should look at whoever stood on either side of Anastas Mikoyan. The durable Mikoyan managed to survive as a Politburo member (the highest echelon in the Soviet leadership) under Lenin, Stalin, even Krushchev, until he was forcibly retired by Brezhnev. 

Mushahid Hussain Syed will not mind being compared with Anastas Mikoyan. He too has demonstrated a nimble adroitness that has seen him swing like a weathervane tilted by the breeze of success. In 1987, on behalf of General Ziaul Haq, he acted as a facilitator introducing the Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar to our nuclear Dr Strangelove - Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Under the Sharifs and their PML-N, as minister-in-waiting he escorted the Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when the latter visited Lahore on the famous bus yatra in 1999. After that, he supported the Chaudhrys and their breakaway PML-Q. Now his latest oscillation sees him back in the forgiving arms of the Sharifs.

To most Pakistanis, this game of musical chairs in Islamabad is no longer entertainment. It has lost its novelty, even as a spectator sport. The issues confronting our country grow in size and complexity, feeding off the putrefying neglect of those responsible for our governance.  

No one seems concerned about the national Budget, even less so now that the man charged with the keys to the treasury is himself being charged with corruption. The Supreme Court sets the police to catch a policeman – in this case an SSP suspected of causing 300 deaths in half as many encounters – to be then told that he has slipped through the greasy fingers of his colleagues-turned-inept captors. The gratuitous testimony (later belied) of a news anchor in a rape-murder case is given credence over investigative evidence. And society demands that the suspect be hanged in public.

Mobs suffer from double defects: hysteria, and amnesia. The forefathers of today’s mob that calls for the public hanging of little Zainab’s accused rapist once waited outside Lahore Central Jail forty years ago.  They had assembled to watch three men accused of gang-raping a young girl named Papoo.  A scaffold had been erected on the ramparts of the Central jail wall so that the bodies could hang in the air above the heads of the mob. The Pakistan Times carried a photograph of the execution. It appeared on 23 March 1978, beneath a full portrait of the Quaid-e-Azam saluting his nation.

Why have we become King Lear’s ‘men of stones’, when our remonstrances ‘heaven’s vaults should crack’? Are we living lives best left unlived?

 

 ©  F. S. AIJAZUDDIN 

DAWN, 8 FEBRUARY 2018         

 

 
08 February 2018
 
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