Au­gust's bur­den of history

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Ghazi Salahud­din

UN­LIKE T S Eliot's April, Au­gust may not be our cru­ellest month. But it does mix mem­ory and de­sire. And per­haps it is the most omi­nous. This is what it was last year and this year, too, there are some new stir­rings of dis­quiet in the air.

Es­sen­tially, Au­gust is a month of an­niver­saries, with In­de­pen­dence Day po­si­tioned glow­ingly in the mid­dle. What in­de­pen­dence has meant for us and what we have made of it is some­times a con- ten­tious is­sue. More so be­cause many of us lo­cate the ' ide­ol­ogy' of Pak­istan in the speech that the Quaid had de­liv­ered on Au­gust 11, to in­dis­tinctly sug­gest a sec­u­lar dis­pen­sa­tion.

It was in Au­gust, on its twelfth day - or was it the twelfth night? - that Gen Zi­aul Haq was born and he also met his death in the same month, on the sev­en­teenth. That C-130 ex­plo­sion in 1988 has re­mained a mys­tery. This is a good month for breed­ing con­spir­acy the­o­ries, down to the launch of the 'dharna' ag­i­ta­tion of Im­ran Khan last year.

Au­gust may be an aus­pi­cious month for would-be mil­i­tary rulers. Gen Pervez Mushar­raf cel­e­brates his birth­day on Au­gust 11. He still has po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions, un­mind­ful of the tra­di­tion that re­tired gen­er­als (or old sol­diers) do not rule but just fade away.

Now that we are done with the date­bound In­de­pen­dence Day cel­e­bra­tions, there is this sense of busi­ness as usual for the rest of the month. But the rit­u­al­is­tic tide of re­flec­tions that was timed with Au­gust 14 should be ex­pected to linger for a while. So, what is it that we have achieved and where are we headed as a na­tion 68 years af­ter Par­ti­tion?

Sixty-eight years, to be sure, is a very long time. It is al­most the limit for liv­ing mem­ory to hark back to that blood­ied birth of a na­tion. That mem­ory plays its tricks is another mat­ter. By the way, I re­call that Mi­lan Kun­dera quo­ta­tion: "Man's strug­gle against power is mem­ory's strug­gle against for­get­ting". I am not sure if this is rel­e­vant here. But it is nec­es­sary for us to be truth­ful about what has hap­pened to us in the past.

As time passes, we are bound to have re­grets about how we have wasted our years as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try. When we look back, we are psy­cho­log­i­cally re­strained from look­ing too in­tently on the loss of what was once East Pak­istan and what it im­plied for our search for iden­tity in a world that is for­ever in flux. One mea­sure of the jour­ney we have made is to see how a num­ber of other coun­tries have changed since 1947. There, for in­stance, is South Korea. Or China.

We, in Pak­istan, have re­peat­edly pre­tended to be on the verge of mak­ing a new be­gin­ning. This is par­tic­u­larly so in our strug­gle for a truly demo­cratic and civil­ian struc­ture of gov­er­nance. In that sense, we seem to be stuck in limbo at this time, not cer­tain about who ac­tu­ally is in charge. But there is lit­tle con­fu­sion about the cen­tral­ity of the on­go­ing cam­paign against mil­i­tancy and ex­trem­ism. The op­er­a­tion in Karachi has ac­quired a piv­otal place in this cam­paign. In both cases, though, the army is vis­i­bly call­ing the shots.

Mean­while, the civil­ian rulers are kept busy with mat­ters of po­lit­i­cal im­por­tance, of­ten of a tran­sient na­ture. Af­ter that gru­elling round of del­i­cate ne­go­ti­a­tions to not let the Na­tional Assem­bly mem­bers of the PTI to be de-seated, there was this bomb­shell of res­ig­na­tions dropped by the Mut­tahida Qaumi Move­ment on Wed­nes­day. It is easy to look at all this as a black com­edy. Only, the threat that these man­i­festly ex­pe­di­ent strat­a­gems pose to the present demo­cratic ar­range­ment is very real.

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