View from Dubai
BY AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
20 May 2007
SOME of my closest friends and colleagues are from Pakistan. Which is hardly surprising in a multicultural melting pot like Dubai where you get to meet and work with some of the best and brightest people from around the world.
We Indians and Pakistanis share a unique, emotional relationship that is not easy to understand for the rest of the world. There are hundreds of thousands of families who have their loved ones on both sides of the divide.
Hundreds of families in Hyderabad Deccan, where I come from, have ties beyond the border. I have no relatives on Pakistani side. But someone close to my heart — closer than blood relations — prides herself on being a Pakistani.
It’s little surprising then that millions of Indian and Pakistani families are affected by political and social upheavals on the either side of the line drawn by Sir Henry McMahon.
So if Indian Muslims closely follow developments in Pakistan, they are only being human. And this isn’t limited to Muslims. There are thousands of Hindu and Sikh families who care for what goes on in what was once their homeland or the land of their ancestors.
This occasional expression of concern doesn’t make us in any way unfaithful to India, as our Shiva Sena and RSS friends in India suggest.
I don’t want to get into a Partition debate here. Pakistan is a reality and all of us, whether we like it or not, have to accept it as such.
We Indian Muslims love our motherland, as much as anyone else. But we do not hate Pakistan, if that’s what our saffron friends want. And we would like the country that was created in the name of Islam and Muslims to prosper and do well as a modern state that stands for all that is celebrated by Islam and humanity: Peace, truth, justice, equality and freedom.
Unfortunately, what has been going on in Pakistan over the past few weeks and months does little to promote the ideals and objectives of the architects of the “land of the pure”.
I know my Pakistani friends wouldn’t like this — especially coming this as it does from an Indian Muslim. But as a friend and well wisher of their country, one has to say this.
The manner in which the Chief Justice episode has unfolded and been handled is most shocking, to say the least. But what has been really embarrassing to all Pakistanis and Muslims in general is the absurd drama that followed the suspension of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
Soon after the CJ’s sack, writing in these columns I had commented that by taking on the judiciary, Musharraf might have made the biggest blunder of his political career.
And Chaudhry, I had the audacity to argue, might end up accomplishing what powerful politicians Benazir and Nawaz Sharif have tried and failed: That is, stop the Musharraf juggernaut.
Well, Musharraf is far from gone. But after what happened in Karachi, obviously with the blessings of the powers that be, no leader can survive long in power — even if he has the powerful military establishment behind him.
I doubt if the Generals waiting in line behind Musharraf would back their top gun in total defiance of the unprecedented public anger and frustration.
After the 24-hour long march from Islamabad to Lahore during which Chaudhry was mobbed like a rock star and welcomed with rose petals, drums and firecrackers along the way, no general or politician with any sense of self-preservation would find it easy to stand alongside the regime.
What began as an initiative seeking justice for the chief justice has turned into a powerful, nationwide movement for the restoration of democracy and against all that this regime has come to symbolise.
And I have an uneasy feeling that the cheap show of muscle and plain hooliganism in Karachi, organised by a party that claims to champion the cause of Mohajirs (migrants from India), may have driven the last nail in the regime’s coffin.
The spectacle of young men lying on the streets like dead flies all over the city making Karachi look like a war zone has repulsed and disgusted many diehard supporters of the MQM.
This shocking display of lawlessness has dramatically eroded Musharraf’s support base in and outside Pakistan. Many in the Muslim world and elsewhere were once drawn to the General for the manner in which he constantly rose to meet the challenging situations — from the ever-tumultuous relations with India to the impossible pressure from the United States.
We in India respected him for his bold approach to improving relations with the old and uneasy neighbour and making genuine progress on the issue of Kashmir.
If thousands of Indians and Pakistanis are freely moving across the border including the Line of Control in Kashmir, the credit should go to Musharraf.
I particularly liked his initiative for dialogue between the West and Muslim world. Acting as a bridge between the two worlds, the General put across the idea of Enlightened Moderation calling on both Muslims and the West to address each other’s concerns for a better and peaceful world.
Watching Musharraf address a poorly-attended public rally in Islamabad last week, in response to Chaudhry’s Karachi rally, I wondered whatever happened to that thinking, sensitive leader who once seemed to have his finger on the public pulse.
For the tough talking man in salwar kameez, who constantly waved his arms and jutted out his chin like a Punjabi movie hero, wasn’t the Musharraf we all knew.
This Musharraf was different from the one who won hearts and minds in most trying circumstances wherever he went — from New Delhi to Washington to United Nations.
What happened? Was this Musharraf or unchallenged power speaking? Perhaps, the General has come to convince himself that he is essential to the future and survival of Pakistan.
This is unfortunate considering Musharraf didn’t take power by force like others. It was thrust on him, as Shakespeare would put it.
This is a familiar phenomenon across the Muslim world. The old and corrupt power structures built and perpetuated by colonial powers continue to make good governance and democracy an impossible dream.
This is all the more tragic in the case of Pakistan. The architects of this utopia intended it to be a citadel of Islam and a modern, progressive and model Islamic state.
I can’t help recalling the incredible sacrifices made by the proponents of Pakistan and their followers. Believing in those ideals, millions of people gave up the land of their ancestors and everything in it to call themselves the citizens of Pakistan in 1947.
At least, a million people died on both sides in what was to be the biggest and bloodiest migration in human history. As Qurratulain Haider portrayed in her seminal novel, Aag Ka Darya, travelling to this ‘promised land’ was indeed like crossing a mighty river of fire.
So whatever happened to Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s dream? Unfortunately, after Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan, the first prime minister, Pakistan did not get the leaders who really understood or identified with the lofty ideals of the country they were chosen to lead.
And the country that was created on the basis of a democratic mandate — the legislatures of Muslim-majority provinces in undivided India voted for Pakistan — has not seen democracy — real democracy, that is. In its short history of 60 years, Pakistan has been ruled for at least three decades by the army.
The result has been the acute political and institutional instability that continues to rock the country from time to time.
While India had veterans like Nehru, Azad and Patel to lead from the front and build a united, strong new India, Pakistan lost Quaid-e-Azam and Liaqat Ali Khan within a couple of years of each other.
Well, this brief history may help you make sense of upheavals in Pakistan. But this cannot be an excuse for Pakistani leaders to take their people for granted and play around with national institutions.
Imagine what a democratic, modern and peaceful Pakistan with its infinite natural and human resources and strategic location can do to help the Muslim world. Remember it’s the only Muslim country that possesses nuclear weapons and boasts a powerful, world-class army. Not only a peaceful, moderate and forward-looking Pakistan can be a source of inspiration and guidance to the rest of the Muslim world, but it can also help restore the battered image of Islam and its besieged followers.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times and a commentator based in Dubai. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org