Yesterday we all saw the brutal machinery of the state at display. A hundred or so lawyers whose only sin was that they were chanting slogans against the government and trying to march out to the Election Commision. They weren’t going to burn the place down or throw bombs at the building or the election commissioner. They were only protesting and then to make matters worse, journalists were rounded up in the baton charge too and we saw them carrying their injured colleagues with arms limping down, foam coming out of the mouths-and we kept watching.
Alas! Our apathy is not even worth any pity. I don’t believe that this listlessness on the part of the nation is because they are not concerned about the political process. They very well are. The people of Pakistan have never been unconcerned with politics. In “Breaking the Curfew”, Emma Duncan makes this point very clear, about Pakistanis’ obsession with politics and she made this comment around the beginning of Benazir’s term; a time when access to information was nil compared to the times today. I also don’t think that people have reconciled themselves with army rule and are weary of the traditional leadership. Benazir and Nawaz Sharif, whether we like it or not still have a vote bank. Democracy whatever little we had, always worked this way in Pakistan, through fixed vote banks that were and still are passionate about their leadership. And even those few not burdened by the compulsion of any vote bank either consciously or unconsciously,have strong reservations about Musharraf. The reasons range from increasing inflation and the ensuing poverty levels, health facilities, corruption and the kind of reasons that have always irked people whatever ruler it may be. For an even smaller portion of the public, it’s a question of constitutionalism. These are the ones who opposed military dictatorship right from 12th October 1999 and weigh Ayub, Zia, Yahya and Musharraf in the same balance. So despite all the varied outlooks, the popularity of the Musharraf regime is fast declining.
Considering all the above, no justifiable reason can be cited for this general apathy. The absence of popular political leadership may serve as an excuse for the “fixed vote bank” types, for people came out in support of the lawyers when it was about the Chief Justice. They had a leader figure to present to the masses, then. A few years ago, an article appeared in an english daily which beautifully caught the essence of this lethargy. The article was about how a historian would comment on the world of today, 100 years from now. After having discussed Bush and Blair and all those parts of the world which are in the limelight today, he described Pakistan as a faint memory of the past, a country where people preferred to sleep on their comfortable couches, hidden away in their own comforts shielded from the hot sun outside while tyrrany swept its arms over the environs and finally knocked on their doors to pull them out.
We as a nation expect a lot from people around us; the government, the NGOs, the lawyers (as of now), the political workers. We all moaned when Nawaz Sharif was sent back, expressed our horror at the blatant violation of the Supreme Court ruling but did anyone of us come out, braved the heat and the barricades and the baton wielding security forces to welcome a popular leader back home, wothout regard to political affiliations? How many of us came out to protest even the price hike, the electricity shortages which affect us directly? How many of the islooites dared to venture near the Lal Masjid and protest when the Lal Masjid Brigade was out on a rampage or even while we condemned the brutal operation on it, come out to let the gpvernment know that the reddening of this city wasn’t settling down well. We all sympathise with the family of the missing persons but how many of us joined Mrs Janjua and her kinds and their likes outside the Supreme Court? We dont’ come out when they published sacrilegious cartoons of the Prophet (P.B.U.H) in the West and leave that to turbaned, bearded kids of madressahs whose pictures can then be splashed all over the western media to stereotype muslims, when millions come out in peaceful protests in Turkey, a country which even the moderately religious from amongst us don’t count anywhere up that mark of “religiosity”. We keep shifting responsibilities until the time tyranny knocks on our very door.
And then we dare to demand a better deal from Providence!