The Dangers of Minus One Formula

Minus one in politics is often a dangerous idea and is counterproductive. Brutus did not fare well much long after he gave Julius Caesar the fatal blow. That much is pretty true everywhere.

I have to confess today that despite my open and well-known opposition to his regime and his policies, I found the high treason case against Pervez Musharraf as unfair. The way the case was taken up by the Iftikhar Chaudhry led judiciary, whom I openly supported during the Lawyers’ Movement, was vindictive and not justice. Clearly, Pervez Musharraf was not the only one responsible for the 1999 martial law and whatever followed thereon.

In the prevalent common interpretation, I have been politically active since high school days. Now, I style myself as a retired political enthusiast; someone who has no direct active participation in politics anymore apart from voting in the elections. These days, yet again, business is good for all political enthusiasts in Pakistan. Thanks to Panamagate, the tasty days of speculation, rioting, political maneuvering, and uncertainty are coming back. My Facebook feed is ripe with people snarling, sneering, and vulgar mud-slinging at anyone and everyone who does not agree with them. I, on the other hand, try my best to abstain from such engagements.

But, sometimes, I admit, we are dragged into such an argument. The temptation is too high. We just can’t withhold our inflated egos and passions. It is just too bloody tasty; the social media and drawing room talk – we just love it, come on.

Some of my friends routinely drag me to such argument. I have now developed a simple rule; any discussion needs to happen in a drawing room setting. I do not indulge in a social media encounter for who knows who may be watching and might classify it as contempt or blasphemy. Obviously, I don’t want to be lynched. I generally prefer the cosy and familiar setting of my study where I feel wiser than I am for such ‘healthy’ discussions.

We live in a country where there is no clear line drawn to the end of one’s freedom and the beginning of another. The same goes for our individual or institutional roles; rights and duties. We love poking in everything, and everyone, we can get our hands on. We prefer the natural order of things strictly in the Hobbesian sense of the term.  In such, we are a very natural society.

I do not know, for certain, how the Panamagate case would eventually turn out. I am neither an expert in law nor privy to the secret mulling of the ruling party or their political adversaries. I am merely a student of politics, and I would not dare to predict the uncertain nature of Pakistani politics and claim it to hold completely true. However, history teaches us many lessons and one of them is the cliché; “we learn from history that we do not learn from history”.

This natural state of ours, as Thomas Hobbes liked to call it, does not put us only in a political or legal crisis; the threat it poses to our society as well as our very existence is subtle but significantly high.

In 1947, when Pakistan was created, unlike many states, it was a union of heterogeneous people, communities and territories. Pakistanis were diverse to begin with and such a “nation” needed very careful and delicate handling. They voluntarily surrendered their individual liberties and freedoms in hope of a social contract that would not just protect them but help them prosper. In Hobbesian tradition, it was a journey from anarchy to sovereignty; and from the state of nature to an established political entity. For Thomas Hobbes, it was only logical; he poised his idea of the social contract on this very seemingly logical transformation of a society from anarchy to a society with order, law and welfare.  However, Hobbes lacked the imagination to see clearly what happens to a society which falls backwards i.e. from order to anarchy.

What Hobbes could not do, the two other Age of Enlightenment giants, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, did. They argued that when the best interest of a society is not satisfied, the citizenry has the right to change people in power, withdraw their allegiance, and resort to disobedience including even violence.

We witnessed it in 1971. We also witness it every day when the Two Nation Theory; the basis of Pakistan’s creation, is challenged and called a farce. We are witnessing it since the day Pervez Musharraf decided to hit Bugti and open Pakistan for international espionage and military convoys. The war within, they say, still rages.

Pakistan is a country where everyone is doubtful and doubted. Every institution from the Army to the Parliament and the Judiciary has been tainted and trespassing beyond their constitutional roles. And every individual is believed to be working for personal benefit or “lifafa”. In this atmosphere of total disregard for constitutional jurisdiction and complete lack of trust, Panamagate case could not hit us harder. Experts are already expressing reservations at the level of fairness and impartiality in how it has been handled so far.

Restraint and caution would have been wise, some would say.

Let’s have one thing very clear; if anyone has done any crime, and anyone has any evidence, let the courts decide. But, justice should look like justice. It should be transparent, free and fair.

Bhutto was subtracted in the gallows, Gaddafi by way of a bullet. None of the two solutions proved any useful. Those who believe that political problems are better solved elsewhere would do better to remember what happened in 1988 elections; 9 years after Bhutto was hanged. Nawaz Sharif was barred in 2008 elections, Asif was until recently self-exiled to Dubai, and Altaf cannot even speak to his followers. None of this went well either. Those who doubt should look closely at the results of 2008 elections or recently held PS-114 by-election.

It is often said, “Whoever laughs last, laughs longest”. Whoever may be laughing now, the political winner of this crisis will have the last laugh – and it may not be the third umpire as some of us have been led to believe.

At a time when our enemies are attempting to diplomatically isolate Pakistan, thwart the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and more dangerously when ISIS fighters are carried on helicopters from Fallujah and Mosul to Tora Bora to be launched in Pakistan, the timing of political disruption is ironically unmistakable.

Whatever the future holds is unclear and uncertain at this point, but, surely, we are in for a bumpy ride if we don’t tread cautiously. And this reminds me of another cliché; “پاکستان اپنی تاریخ کے نازک ترین دور سے گزر رہا ہے” (Pakistan is passing through a sensitive era of its history)