August's burden of history
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.