PTH has been lucky to get new writers. Niaz Murtaza, a distinguished scholar is now our regular here. Please welcome him and also enjoy reading his latest piece exclusively written for this blogzine. Raza Rumi
Pakistan has suffered such an amazing array of villainous leaders for its short history, found otherwise only in Bollywood action-thrillers, that it becomes difficult to identify the lead-villain and to answer the million dollar question of who gets the million lashes award for costing the most millions to Pakistan.I muse about this issue frequently and deeply. Unable to figure out for myself, in frustration, during along sojourn in the quiet room, I turned to the mirror on the wall for the answer.
After much agonizing, my mirror flashed the image of Yahya—3rd President and proud recipient of Sitara-e-Pakistan and Hilal-e-Pakistan. Even though his rule was shorter than other dictators’, he boasts the unparalleled legacy of presiding over dismemberment and bloodshed in East Pakistan. Busy pursuing wine and women (mercifully not wealth), he barely governed. According to his Wikipedia entry, he died from “alcohol over-indulgence”. For these follies, my mirror ranks him highest in the hall of shame.
The second image from my mirror was of fellow soldier Zia-ul-haq—our longest-imposing ruler.Chosen President for five years by 0.18% in a freak and farcical referendum, he firmly tied Pakistan’s destiny with fundamentalism but achieved little else. While not accused himself, millions were minted by ‘Rufaqa’ from the Maal-e-Ghanimat of Afghan Jihad. His penchant not for wine but for mangoes ofall things finally proving to be his Achilles’ heel and leading to his literal and figurative downfall from commanding heights, he was buried with full honors in our premier mosque.
Third on the list of rich and infamous was our first post-independence democratic PM, ZAB—my childhood hero, fellow Berkeley alumnus and object still of irrational fascination in deep corners of my heart. At Berkeley, I learnt much about ZAB’s heady days from his glass mates. Attacking Balochistan,dismissing opposition governments, suspending constitutional rights, nationalization, politicization of bureaucracy and dictatorial attitude earn him a rank along army dictators. Add his earlier feats and he leapfrogs his nemesis for silver medal: singing the ‘idhar hum, udhar tum’ solo melody at Mujib when a duet was needed; supporting Ayub’s martial-law; and pushing Ayub Khan into the well of 1965 war and then disappearing nimbly when the mighty Khan emerged dripping, looking furiously for who pushed him in.
Unable to fairly discriminate between Ayub and Musharraf, my mirror declares them joint fourth.Subverting democracy for 9-10 years and producing much noise but modest results were common legacies. Individual achievements include fanning East Pakistan problem and planting seeds of corruption for Ayub; and stoking tensions in Balochistan, supporting militants and undermining judiciary for Musharraf. Both generals enjoyed the good things in life and were finally outfoxed by the same family—one by the father-in-law (himself outflanked by a third general), one by the son-in-law (his fate remains to be seen).
The next bunch were short-termers -this, and not intentions, being the reason for their lower rankings.Career bureaucrats who rose through intrigue, the two Ghulams (only in name) and Sikandar (also onlyin name) rank jointly next for subverting democracy and politicizing bureaucracy. No one doubts their financial integrity. However, it is difficult to identify major achievements either.
With the army and civilian dictators grabbing major rankings, most democrats appear late on my mirror’s list. NS, the country’s first businessman PM, ranks next. The industrially-still-underused motorway, the bomb and some economic reforms as PM; and beautiful parks, roads and hand statue(subject of much gossip) while assiduously doubling as mayor Lahore during his tenure as CM Punjab were his main contributions. They compete for attention with the other side of the balance sheet of Ittefaq Industries: corruption, judiciary assault, khilafat movement, lassi-nihari breakfasts and low attention span. Demonstrating some maturity since returning from his 8-year long Umra, he seems setto become PM for a record third, hopefully lucky, time.
With a difference of unees-bees, my mirror next ranks BB–Sharif’s competitor in the 10-year pingpong match in 1990s. Her own tenures produced unremarkable achievements and much heart-wrenching. She should have exercised better judgment in making life’s most important decision and by subsequently keeping a tighter leash on loved ones. But for her remarkable courage in sacrificing her life for democracy, my mirror ranks her higher than NS and next (with much gap) to the Founding Fathers as we reach the hall of fame.
Ranked second best by my mirror is Liaquat for his contributions to our creation and for laying the foundation of government from scratch. However, my mirror points out missed opportunities too, like failure to institutionalize democracy and address early grievances in East Pakistan. The last image from my mirror was of Jinnah, whose achievements need no elaboration.
My mirror ignored second fiddle Presidents and PMs, and current incumbents, who are still piling up (mostly negative) legacies. While in arguably approximate, my mirror’s rankings reveal interesting patterns. First, the army’s monopolization of the bad end is challenged only by Bhutto, who was elected democratically but ruled dictatorially. Unelected civilians occupy the middle, while four democrats occupy the next middle and good end. Many may bristle at the unfavorable ranking of Musharraf-Ayub compared with BB-NS. My mirror’s quick and dirty calculations reveal higher achievements for the former but much bigger blunders too, producing a bigger net negative balance than for BB-NS. Absolute power corrupts absolutely while even medium-strength democracy places checks on madness.
Thus, the un-elected have ruled two-thirds and elected one-thirds of 60+ years. Five big political upheavals—East Pakistan, Balochistan-2, rural and urban Sindh and FATA–originated under dictators and only Balochistan-I under a (dictatorial) democrat. GDP growth rates were highest under the three dictatorships and lowest under the three democracies (1947-51, 1972-77, 1990s) as the former periods coincided with tighter governance but also higher American attention and better global economy than each preceding decade when Pakistan was under democratic rule. But the modest economic improvements pale in comparison with the economic and political costs of violence stoked by dictatorships. Which is better? Lessons to learn and points to ponder! For me, dictatorship is the flashy,unpredictable hare and democracy the slow, steady tortoise, which wins if we persevere with it.
Chalay tu kut he jaye ga safar, ahista, ahista
Milay gee us kay chahray ki sahar, ahista ahista.