F S Aijazuddin
PAKISTAN is one of the few countries where political surrogacy is still legal, where a seed can be planted by the military to gestate in the womb of democracy. Earlier ones were: in Europe, Franco’s Spain; in the Americas, Brazil and Chile; pre-Erdogan’s Turkey; and in the east, currently Myanmar.
In each case, in vitro fertilisation proved unsuccessful as a permanent solution to the country’s need for representative governance. Boots soon discover that their implanted puppets develop minds of their own and seek to cut their umbilical cords.
In Pakistan, Gen Ziaul Haq chose and then disposed of prime minister Muhammad Khan Junejo; prime minister Nawaz Sharif came unstuck with first Ghulam Ishaq Khan and later Gen Pervez Musharraf, and now former PM Imran Khan has run afoul of his former benefactor Gen Qamar Bajwa.
It has been pointed out that a plan hatched in 2018, by which allegedly each assured the other continuity in his post (beyond 2022 in the COAS’s case and 2023 in Imran Khan’s) has unravelled. The former is on his way out and the latter struggling to find the way back in.
The myopia of our political leaders reveals that they are not worried about the rehabilitation of the flood affected, nor soaring inflation, nor the population explosion, nor the need for a national curriculum. Their concern is who will be the next COAS, as if he is the guarantor of their continuity.
The name of the next COAS is a secret, like the location of our nuclear assets. It seems to be better known to others than to our public. A former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria has claimed that the next COAS could be Lt-Gen Asim Munir.
Numerous other names are being bandied about. Only the person who gave the Election Commission of Pakistan the nod to accelerate its decision on the PTI foreign funding case and the FIA to pursue the toshakhana heist against Imran Khan would know. Certainly, it could not have been the outgoing COAS. He would not want to muddy the waters for his successor.
Imran Khan has learned from experience that slogans are the perfect lollipop for the masses. An occasional change in flavour helps. His original tabdeeli/ change has been replaced by haqeeqi azadi/ true freedom. Now that he is recuperating from a botched assassination attempt, he might like to read the autobiography of that earlier freedom fighter, the late Dr Martin Luther King.
Dr King, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, visited India. There he felt the sting in the term ‘untouchable’. He mentions his unexpected reaction on being introduced by the principal to pupils at a school reserved for untouchables in Kerala, as “a fellow untouchable from the US”.
The PTI leader may not share Dr King’s adoption of Gandhi as a role model but he would certainly warm to Dr King’s slogan “We shall overcome”. Black extremists pushed King to go one step further. They wanted it changed to the more militant ‘We shall overrun’.
During his life, Dr King met many nationalists who fought for and achieved freedom for their countries. None impressed him more than the Ghanaian Dr Kwame Nkrumah. He attended Dr Nkrumah’s inauguration as Ghana’s first prime minister on March 6, 1957. He noticed that Dr Nkrumah walked not “in the garments of kings” but in his prison cap and coat. Dr King never forgot Dr Nkrumah’s statement: “I prefer self-government with danger to servitude with tranquillity.”
On the murder of his other hero president John F. Kennedy, Dr King wrote: “Kennedy was assassinated by a morally inclement climate[,] filled with heavy torrents of false accusations, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence. It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder.”
Dr King’s autobiography is flecked with blood. He lived by the word, and died by the sword, shot by a white assassin.
Almost 60 years have passed since Dr King’s famous “I have a dream” speech delivered at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The freedom he fought for reached an apogee with the election of America’s first black president Barack Obama.
Years from now, students of Pakistan’s politics will wonder how we could have so many disparate perceptions of freedom even after 75 years of independence from the British.
Will we ever achieve the ‘true independence’ that Imran Khan hankers after, or will we remain trapped within the illusory independence of a caged bird? The black poetess Maya Angelou once wrote: “The caged bird sings with a fearful trill/of things unknown/ but longed for still/ and his tune is heard/ on the distant hill/ for the caged bird/ sings of freedom.”
The only freedom our leaders yearn for is not from economic dependence nor political servitude. It is freedom from each other.
The author is a Pakistani author and columnist.