THE month of March seems linked with Pakistan’s destiny. March 23 marks the 1940 resolution for the Muslims of India aspiring for a separate homeland and the fateful army action in Dhaka in 1971 started on the evening of March 25. By early next morning hundreds who had lived for over two decades as patriotic Pakistanis were lying dead in the streets, and were buried as Bangladeshis. March 26 ended the brave and extraordinary experiment to keep the two geographically apart Muslim homelands as one entity. Hundreds of thousands died before the formal surgical process was complete nearly nine months later.
Despite almost a thousand miles of hostile intent in between, the enormous goodwill generated between two peoples disparate in language and culture kept them united as one country for almost a quarter of a century. That by itself was a miracle.
A similar experiment in nationhood in 1958 among the more contiguous Arab peoples, the United Arab Republic (UAR) comprising Egypt and Syria barely lasted three years. Like the Bangladeshis, the Syrians resented being treated as second class citizens and discriminated against by the Egyptians. Nasser avoided a bloodbath by abandoning plans to send troops to put down the coup that rendered the union apart in September 1961. An attempt in 1963 to revive the UAR, which would include Iraq, soon ended in frustration.
During the first tenure of Mujib’s surviving daughter, Hasina Wajid, as PM, relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh improved considerably against all expectations, the personal chemistry between her and Mian Nawaz Sharif being excellent. But the relations have deteriorated recently by Bangladesh’s ‘war crimes trials’. One has to be deaf, dumb and blind not to perceive India’s fine hand orchestrating the campaign for ‘war crimes’ to deliberately fan adverse feelings against Pakistan, and unfortunately it is succeeding.
Those involved in loot, rape and murder, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis alike, must be prosecuted and brought to justice. Atrocities by the locals on the non-Bengali population were also brutal and widespread – not anywhere on the scale that the ethnic Bengalis had to endure, but nothing to be proud of either.
It is intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt to deny this, it is sheer hypocrisy. We cannot ignore the brutality of war crimes simply because of the time lapsed. The evidence must be credible and presented deliberately. If the process is forcefed and flawed, it will create doubts about justice being contrived by politically motivated kangaroo courts, undercutting its credibility and demeaning the memory of the victims of these atrocities. Conducted by a genuinely neutral international court, justice must not only be fair and equitable, it must also be seen to be so.
While feudalism is alive and well in Pakistan, it is not so in Bangladesh, India, Nepal or Sri Lanka. Even then the stranglehold of dynastic politics is common to almost all South Asian countries. The only way to break feudalism in Pakistan is to ensure a transparent electoral process – only possible if the Election Commission of Pakistan functions as it should.
Bangladesh serves as an excellent example where an independent EC carried out free and fair elections in such manner and mode that no one could challenge the process. One must preserve the sanctity and spirit of the constitution, not get bogged down in the legal interpretation of its words. The electoral process has no credibility without first local bodies polls being conducted first, to determine the real representatives of the people. Democracy must start at the grassroots level.
To maintain this leadership vacuum at the doorstep of the people to their advantage, the feudals contrived to reverse this process in Pakistan. No one questions this sleight of hand. Withdrawing enormous amounts of public of money on their last day in office of the PPP-led coalition government, by keeping the banks open on a holiday, was prima-facie mala fide. Does the ECP have the courage to label this daylight robbery as such? The ECP should take action against those who violate the constitution at will. Justice (r) Wajihiddin Siddiqui says Article 218(3) empowers the ECP to curb corrupt practices during election at any and all levels.
Deliberate and systematic misgovernance poses an immense problem. It is impossible for the leaders to let go of the reins of power. Some are simply addicted to its trappings, many hang onto power because their greed can never be assuaged. Arbitrary authority allows enhancement of their own net worth, and they perpetuate their rule to corrupt the system. Brutal use of power is bound to invite retribution from those who succeed them. Democracy and the mindset that feudalism inculcates cannot coexist.
One cannot understand why the electoral process is being so rushed through. What is the hurry, given the stakes involved? The process of choosing the caretaker PM exposed the distrust among the political parties.
The deadlock over the caretaker PM was finally resolved by the ECP and, as expected, Asif Zardari outsmarted the PMLN yet again. Dr Ishrat Hussain was used as a bogey; Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid and he were easily the best choices for the country. We got window dressing in the form of an 84-year old. Anyone betting on Khoso being a hands-on caretaker PM 24/7? Can his age take the strain of 45 days of intense high stakes governance? The only saving grace is Khoso being from Balochistan. Akhtar Mengal and his party taking part in the elections is very good news for the federation. If Najam Sethi delivers on his promise to ensure a fair electoral process in vital ground Punjab, the results will surprise everyone. Why should he resign as caretaker CM Punjab if someone demands privileges? Najam should simply tell that person off!