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Wisdom corridor

“Who won?” a dear old lady asked me. “The script won,” I replied. “I’ll tell you an old army joke because it fits us like a sock.”

A commander announced to his soldiers, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you can change your old socks. The bad news is that you will exchange them with one another.”

We do that after every election: exchange our current smelly old socks full of holes for our earlier smelly ones torn and tattered…and so the spiral goes – down, down, down…

Spiral it is, for by going round in circles we create the illusion of forward movement. Any movement is backward. Lenin said, “one step forward, two steps back” – forward and back like a yoyo, to and fro, to and fro like automatons programmed.

By bringing Nawaz Sharif back to power we have actually gone back to October 12, 1999, though when we emotionally brought the PPP back to power we had regressed to November 1997. In that sense it is indeed forward movement, from 1997 to 1999. If the army is forced to intervene again, we will be back to 1999. If another election is held and the PPP returns it will be back to 2013. What a rollercoaster.

First there was Bhutto. He begot General Zia. Then we elected Bhutto’s daughter. She gave way to Zia’s political heirs. Then we elected Bhutto’s daughter again, then Zia’s heirs, then Bhutto’s daughter and then Zia’s heirs who gave us another general after whom we elected Bhutto’s heirs and now Zia’s. The Lucky Irani Circus can’t hold a candle to this.

Since the ‘New Pakistan’ of 1971 we have elected either Bhutto or Zia forces three times each with little to show for it. Overall, the country has declined so much that some are questioning its viability. Change might be constant but nothing changes here except the details. The iniquitous status quo always triumphs. We persist in opting for old socks and yet lamenting our sorry lot. Einstein said that repeating the same experiment again and again and hoping for a different result is a sign of insanity. Quite. Aping the experiments of colonizers and hoping to hit gold is a sure sign of a colonized mind. Persisting with colonized minds and hoping to win freedom is a sure sign of lunacy. But no matter: things have a way of sorting themselves out. Hopefully the sorting process is not too painful.

It bears repetition: we have created the facade of a British parliamentary system but the essence of democracy is missing. Instead, the essence is our native dynasticism throughout South Asia. We have simultaneously erected the facade of an Islamic state but the essence of Islam is missing. Instead, the essence is clericalism with all its myriad interpretations of the Word of God. The dynast-cleric compact is age-old in Muslim history and persists to this day.

Our people’s will has never been heard. All elections held under the 1973 constitution have been rigged. There is consensus only on the fairness and transparency of the 1970 elections in Jinnah’s Pakistan. It led to disintegration.

Things have gotten worse. This too bears repetition: the contours of this election have exposed our sharp parochial divides with parties getting elected around province, area, city, language and ethnicity. Today no national party remains, only provincial ones. The Punjab’s party gets to rule Pakistan because of the province’s brute majority. This is dangerous.

When East Pakistan had a slight majority we devised the satanic ‘parity principle’ and treated the populations of both wings as equal. Why not now? Because it is totally and utterly undemocratic, that’s why. The will of the people is a cornerstone of democracy and you cannot emasculate it to any extent.

Hidden in these contours lie the seeds of disintegration or confederation. A wise leadership tries first and foremost to save the federation. If not, then it will try for confederation. Disintegration is not an option for it will throw the entire region into a tailspin. Language and ethnicity have emerged at the most powerful cohesive force, even in educated and advanced Canada and Britain where Scotland is on the cusp of separation. We have proved that language defines nationhood, not religion splintered into many interpretations. Only a strong ideology can supersede language as a cohesive force provided it is dynamic, as the Soviet wasn’t and the Chinese is.

Pakistan falling apart suits no one for it will change maps from Turkey to Bangladesh and everywhere in between. After every great war the world map changes, as it did after World Wars I and II, the Cold War and now the War on Terror winding down, the first that the West has lost.

Dangerous though it is, what else can one expect but a parochial outcome from a poor clone of the first-past-the-post British parliamentary system where the number of seats in assemblies does not reflect the percentage of votes a party gets. This system divides, not unites. That doesn’t mean that proportional representation is better. It means that a one-person-one-vote election in a two-candidate race in a second ballot would better reflect the will of the people. More expensive and time-consuming sure, but something more positive and reflecting the will of the people will come out of it. It’s not as simple as that though. It will require great administrative, systemic and constitutional changes. Who can now do that? Perhaps the answer lies in the script.

The biggest pre-election challenge was to hold free, fair and transparent elections. In this the caretaker governments, the Election Commission and by extension the judiciary have failed utterly. Consensus is emerging that this could be the most flawed election in our history. Having said that, wisdom demands that the result be accepted despite the flaws if you wish to save the federation. Wisdom also demands that all new governments be allowed to tackle our fault lines with sobriety and realism and not get too macho, which betrays weakness because it a gambit to hide its absence. The bigger post-election challenge comes now: for all governments to complete their terms and try and take Pakistan out of its multidimensional morass. If they must go before time they must go constitutionally. The Chinese are making an economic corridor with Pakistan. We need a ‘Wisdom Corridor’ from China even more.

Nawaz Sharif is showing signs of maturity, but its early days yet. Once they actually sit on the throne power always goes to their heads. It is the bounden responsibility of advisers to keep their leaders on the straight and narrow, remind them that pre-election bombast is not always to be taken seriously and give them lessons in realism and human frailty twice a day, morning and evening and shake well with different words and new examples. Machiavelli’s Prince has little relevance in a democracy.

Mr. Sharif has held government twice in the centre and thrice in the Punjab. These will be his sixth and seventh governments. He should have learned the limits of power by now. He lost power every time by over-reaching against forces more powerful than him. None has limitless power except the Almighty. Learn the limits of power and stay within them. Then and only then can you successfully and legitimately expand its limits. The best way is to earn so much respect that people automatically take your word to be good for the nation, not because they are frightened of you. Fright was Mr. Bhutto’s method; respect was Mr. Jinnah’s. Take your pick.

As I write this word has just come in of a huge bomb blast in Peshawar during Friday prayers. Obama has said that he won’t stop drone strikes. What are you going to do? Go on a drone shoot? Attack Washington, begging bowl in hand. Welcome back to power Nawaz Sharif. Enter reality Imran Khan.

Now start negotiating with terrorists. You can never succeed by negotiating from a position of weakness. You have to negotiate from a position of strength. Have you won the war against native terrorists? Has America won against the Afghan Taliban or Al Qaeda? Those who sue for talks have weakness. You must also know how much you can give them and whether the people can swallow it. Otherwise negotiate and you will be taken for a ride. You may win over some but the hardcore will remain, for zealots don’t give up until they have imposed their belief system or are wiped out either by force or with counter ideology.

Democracy British style has survived its own persistent failure due to military interventions that make it a martyr. No more interventions please unless the very survival of the country is at stake or the official economy collapses totally, both of which possibilities are centre stage in the drama of the script. Let alien systems crash towards their destiny. Pakistan has crossed the precipice and ascended the tightrope between two cliffs. The choices: either fall into the abyss below or cross over to the other side where, please God, the grass is greener.

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