comment: Taking stock —Munir Attaullah
Time is the only sure-footed taskmaster, albeit an unpredictable one. In a few short years its magic has permanently altered certain important dimensions of our national life
Let me start by asking you a question: what is that inescapable reality which every human being — from the loftiest intellectual to the most clueless ignoramus — deals with effortlessly in practice, thinks about it from time to time, but has not even a half-decent answer as to what ‘it’ is? And, to boot, is utterly helpless to exercise any influence over it.
No smart aleck answers now. The ISI is not the answer I am looking for. Is it ‘Love’ then? No. Exclude that because everyone is an expert on that subject. Could it then be that little matter of life-after-death? Negative, again. After all, there are millions (including suicide bombers) who are pretty sure they know exactly where they are headed.
I will tell you. There is no one who, from time to time, has not thought about that mystifying thing called ‘Time’. We all use the concept seamlessly to anchor our daily thoughts and acts. But does anyone — from mystics to physicists — have any real idea, or understand, what ‘Time’ actually ‘is’ or how it can be influenced?
Is this the prelude to a scientific column about Time? No. That column will be written, but on another day. My thoughts for today are far less highbrow, and little more than some mundane reflections on the dynamics of our politics and our media: of how, even in the scant few years I have been writing (and thus forced to give order to my random thoughts), some things have rapidly changed irrevocably, others are in a transitional phase, while still others continue to appear as depressingly static features of our political and media landscape.
And what is the link between such thoughts and the digression I began the column with? As I follow the lively media discussions on the latest sensational disclosures, charges and counter-charges (even though they mostly confirm what sane people have known all along), as well as the continuingly tedious comments on the current political scene, I am reminded of what that erudite physicist and expert on Relativity Theory, John Wheeler, once said: “Time is that which ensures all change does not happen at once”.
Given that our politics and media are as inextricably intertwined as Space and Time are according to Einstein, is that not analogical support for my oft argued position in these columns to prefer evolutionary rather than radical change?
“Seize the moment,” we are often told. Doing so may well produce some temporary results. But all real and permanent change takes time. And this is largely true of human affairs as much as it is a characteristic feature of the physical world. ‘Seizing the moment’ is mostly about initiating, or giving impetus to, a process that needs to run a particular course. Neither Mother Nature, nor human nature, will be bullied or stampeded. Repeated coaxing is altogether more likely to produce a satisfactory outcome.
As I said, all these hand-wringing confessions and disclosures by some senior officers that have the media and the public in thrall presently are nothing new: As Muslims we are familiar with the concept of tauba; as Pakistanis, we understand the benefits of shameless hypocrisy. Put the two together and it is no surprise that those whose conscience was on holiday in their heyday seek — and find — easy rehabilitation in this manner once their glory days are over.
Is this then an argument for a policy of zero tolerance — and, therefore, a trial of the previous president for treason — when it comes to the blatant flouting of the laws of the land by the high and mighty?
In principle, the answer is a ‘yes’. But the cynicism with which the likes of Generals Aslam Beg and Hameed Gul, and Brigadier Imtiaz (not to mention a host of politicians and ex-bureaucrats) deserve to be treated should be tempered with a heavy dose of hard-nosed realism. The time, regrettably, is still not quite ripe for an all-encompassing sort of rigorous accountability, though I have little doubt that it is not far off in the distant future now. For the present there is more to be lost than gained by such precipitous action, particularly in the case of our ex-president.
That said, I do however believe the time is judicious for the Supreme Court to seize the moment, ride the tide of public interest in these disclosures and confessions, and give a sizeable impetus to this process of change by a quick hearing on Asghar Khan’s famous petition. Here is a golden opportunity to set many a precedent, not the least being that of driving an important nail in that coffin where ‘military overlordship’ currently lies pretending to be in its death throes. Do you think Generals Beg and Gul dare refuse now, in the current climate, to appear before a re-vitalised SC, as they once imperiously could? See what I mean by the power of time?
Time is the only sure-footed taskmaster, albeit an unpredictable one. In a few short years its magic has permanently altered certain important dimensions of our national life. And other crucial distortions of the rules of the power game, now caught in the vise-like grip of a dynamic flux that augers well for the future, are in the process of slow rectification. Nevertheless, even though the Khadim-e-aala Punjab has reluctantly decided to forego his grandiose title, in certain other respects it is business as usual in the motherland. Time can sometimes appear to be depressingly static.
The ‘Istikhara’ programme on a particular TV channel is still going strong. The anchor of another popular religious programme is still using the prefix ‘Dr’ despite being publicly exposed (why does the management of his channel, so high on principle, not take notice?). Meanwhile, the genuine ‘Dr’, the one with the etched frown and furrowed brow, unerringly continues to explain in morose tones to our ‘badkismet aur bay-bas awam’ how they are the innocent victims of a ruthless and exploitive establishment that itself is a slave to American interests. Incidentally, this particular double-faceted explanation for all our woes remains a sure-fire hit with our ba-sha’oor public.
But the good doctor should beware. His thunder is in danger of being stolen in broad daylight by the man who ‘knows’ everything, the presenter of the ‘Brasstacks’ programme on another channel (incidentally, I am wondering who finances the airing of this particular programme). Forget the US. Even Americans are unaware victims of a bigger and more powerful International Jewish Conspiracy, aimed at thwarting an Islamic resurgence by controlling the world’s monetary system.
The writer is a businessman. A selection of his columns is now available in book form. Visit munirattaullah.com (Daily Times)
Come back from the brink, please!
After meeting his leader Nawaz Sharif at Raiwind on Monday, the PMLN Information Secretary, Mr Ahsan Iqbal, has issued a 48-hour “ultimatum” for the PPP government to stop “maligning” Mr Nawaz Sharif or face “hundreds of corruption stories involving PPP leaders”. He was referring to the daily “revelations” being made by Brigadier Imtiaz Ahmad Billa (retd) courtesy an overexcited media.
This was predictable even though reaction to Brigadier Ahmad’s revelations was clearly becoming negative. Not only had more spooks crawled out of the woodwork to contest his “secrets”, he was himself undergoing a gradual “death by media”. Why has the PMLN acted in anger? Had there been a cool headed discussion before letting Mr Ahsan off the leash, the decision would have been to “stay cool”.
The other side has been silent so far but reacted to Mr Ahsan’s statement in much the same language. Fortunately, however, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was moderate in his reaction when he said that politicians should show maturity while in the crosshairs of certain elements out to defame them. Since the Presidency was accused of orchestrating the vilification campaign, the retort from there could be interpreted as: Go ahead! We don’t care!
The bitterness of the PPP was clearly a leftover from the “minus one” campaign unleashed earlier by some TV channels and newspapers. The target was President Zardari and some anchors and chief reporters were allowed to cross the line of decency and fair play. That campaign was tacitly attributed to the PMLN simply because the PMLN Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, was crossing his own limits of anti-government diatribe. He had accused the MQM of being the henchman of the PPP in its attacks against the PMLN.
Brigadier Ahmad continues to swear loyalty to Mr Nawaz Sharif but shows lack of pragmatic wisdom by absolving the MQM of Jinnahpur. Somehow, the pending Mehrangate Case at the Supreme Court too got exhumed by the media and more dirt began to fly against all the anti-PPP forces of the past, led, of course, by Mr Sharif’s PML. Given the kind of wits demonstrated by the bean-spilling brigadier in question, one cannot say that the PPP could have masterminded the campaign even though it has benefited from it
The question is why did Brigadier “Billa” do it? We can give the following possible reasons which are in any case more cogent than the conclusions drawn by the PMLN. (1) Like all spooks, Billa knows about hundreds of unimportant but sensational past events and lacks the maturity to contain himself, indeed seeks to return to the limelight after years in the wilderness; (2) He is deluded into thinking that he will be admired for his “moral courage” and not be discovered as a self-important simpleton; (3) He wants recognition for his personalised vision of “national security” now that he is free to put it before the nation. (4) He is bitter because Mr Sharif didn’t help him while he was in prison during the Musharraf years and then didn’t allow him to regain his confidence and come close to him in the PMLN after Brigadier Billa came out of prison.
There can be reasons too relating to his personal “disappointments”. For instance, (1) He was ill-compensated for his services to his bosses in the ISI and the army, who left him in the lurch when the heat came upon him after Operation Midnight Jackals; (2) He is trying to pay back some fellow professionals who disliked him and were responsible for making the cases of corruption stick against him.
Some of the bitterness has oozed out of him on TV. He thinks he had gone out on a limb for Mr Sharif but was not appreciated while he was PMLN’s IB chief. He thinks Mr Sharif in power was surrounded by a wrong set of people who would not allow his “advice” to prevail with Mr Sharif. He simply can’t fathom that Mr Sharif may have ignored him “on merit” and that Mr Sharif could have stayed away from him after 1999 because of a change of political style. More lethally, he may still not realise that his revelations may be interpreted by Mr Sharif as “character-assassination”.
If it is maturity that compelled Mr Sharif to stay clear of Imtiaz Billa, it should also recommend to him abstinence from issuing ultimatums of war. What will happen now, for instance, when the Presidency and the PPP have counter-challenged him to do whatever he can? Equally, however, the PPP should show maturity by not escalating the war of words through counter-challenges. It has bigger challenges confronting it in the shape of the economy and the war against terror. (Daily Times)