No One Writes to The General

Lawyers lawyers in blackIn the NYT today is Pakistan’s Silent Majority Is Not to Be Feared, an op-ed by the author Mohsin Hamid on Musharraf and the rising tide of discontent with his dictatorial ways. He begins by admitting that he was an early supporter of Musharraf and cites some of the economic booms during the last 7 years. However, in sympathy to the growing unrest against Musharraf, he has rethought his position:

General Musharraf now appears to be more concerned with perpetuating his rule than with furthering the cause of “enlightened moderation” that he had claimed to champion. He has never been particularly popular, but he is now estranging the liberals who previously supported his progressive ends if not his autocratic means. People like me are realizing that the short-term gains from even a well-intentioned dictator’s policies can be easily reversed.

This Devil’s bargain has been a consistent part of the popular psyche that has supported dictatorial rule in Pakistan since the 1950s. My parent’s generation praised Ayub for bringing industrialization and development and Zia for trying to harmonize Islam in Pakistan. And in 1999, I heard the same appeasements coming from the intellectuals – Musharraf will bring democracy or will train us to appreciate democracy. I consider this line of argument entirely specious:

[The argument is that …] Pakistanis are forever stuck in the “not yet” time – lacking education or training or a civil society to elect goverments to represent themselves. The masses are uncouth and uncivilized. “Mature” democracies such as the United States do not have mass rallies and tire burning after a child is killed in a road accident. “Mature” democracies elect their leaders after impassioned and logical thought as the best representing the ideals of the collective society. Pakistan has to be trained and Condi Rice is completely devoted to the “steps towards democratization” that The General is undertaking. The pendulum of metaphors swings from “time” to “distance”.

On this one, I am squarely with the Subalternists. The filthy masses of Pakistan are political agents and they are ready for democracy. And they even have leaders. But, the unsurprising reality is that the system is set to prohibit any populist challenge to the regime. The two-legged bar stool of Pakistani dictatorship is firmly situated at this moment.

But now, this blunder by The General has swung the momentum towards that populist challenge. Until now Musharraf had been coasting on US/World Bank support, good economic news and a shrugging acceptance of status quo – that has now ended. There is no way for him to de-escalate without giving in on several key issues: uniform, Presidency, participation of all political parties in the election. This particular agitation by the lawyers follows closely the pattern after student unrest on campuses across the nation, gave birth to the MRD [Movement for Restoration of Democracy] during Zia, which, in turn, resulted in the elections of 1985.

Question is, will the United States support The General or back the calls for democracy? Will the President support the Black Revolution sweeping Pakistan?

In that I join Mohsin Hamid’s concluding paragraph: “An exaggerated fear of Pakistan’s people must not prevent America from realizing that Pakistanis are turning away from General Musharraf. By prolonging his rule, the general risks taking Pakistan backward and undermining much of the considerable good that he has been able to achieve. The time has come for him to begin thinking of a transition, and for Americans to realize that, scare stories notwithstanding, a more democratic Pakistan might be better not just for Pakistanis but for Americans as well.

Author: sepoy

what is the vertiginous chapati saying to me?

5 thoughts on “No One Writes to The General”

  1. Witness to surrender–actually is a title of the book as well by one of the Pakistani Brigadiers about surrender of East Pakistan–however, there is plenty to watch in Islamabad these days. Sometime, I say to myself —get outta here–but you don’t want to leave when the show is on as you miss a lot. O Boy! I wish I could translate these inspirations arising from the current crisis http://zubaan.blogspot.com

  2. Or maybe ‘black’ as in the Hafsa madresah revolt of Islamabad — now that’s a true revolution!

    They looked awfully similar to the KKK — grand marshall(ess) et all…

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