Thursday, February 21, 2008

Will he ever leave?

The results of Monday’s general election are self-evident: Mr Musharraf’s party has lost and this means Mr Musharraf has lost. Yet the man appears to have looked in the mirror the next morning and while, say, shaving his chin, mused, But what have I lost? I’m still the President. I’m still the President for the next five years, at least! So off he went to office to tell the whole country the same.

This, after declaring the previous day that he would listen to the voice of the people. Clearly, the voice of the people travels only as far as his own reflection.

I know people who voted in this election and I know people who didn’t. Those who did voted less for any opposition party and more to voice their own opposition to Musharraf. These are some of the reasons why he is opposed:

For the way he came into power. In 1999, he sacked an elected Prime Minister, and declared himself ‘chief executive.’ The US and UK pooh-poohed that it was just the sort of thing that happens in the Islamic World, where people have no respect for freedom and democracy.

For the way he came into more power. In 2002, he held ‘elections’ and declared himself ‘President’. The US and UK praised Musharraf for being a key ally in the ‘war against terror’.

For the way he helped religious parties come into power. In the 2002 elections, the MMA, a hodgepodge of six religious parties, emerged as a new political power in two of Pakistan’s four provinces. It was the first time in our history that religious parties had won majority seats in any province. The US and UK pooh-poohed that it was just the sort of thing that happens in the Islamic World, where people have no respect for freedom and democracy.

For the way he helped the US and UK stay deaf to Pakistan’s ordinary citizens, for whom it is obvious that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the stifling of freedom and democracy in Pakistan through support of Musharraf is largely to blame for the six-headed hydra called MMA, and for the rise of political Islam all over the world. There are parallels between the MMA’s 2002 success in Pakistan and the support of religious parties in countries such as Lebanon, Iran, Turkey and Palestine. Could it be more obvious: the policies of the US and UK in our countries aren’t working.

For the way he treated and continues to treat his own people. Since 9/11, military torture cells have spread across Pakistan, ensnaring anyone suspected of ‘terrorist activity’. What the US does internationally, Musharraf does locally: the connection between Al Qaeda and the many Pakistanis who’ve disappeared has yet to be proven, but as long as Musharraf has the backing of those he mimics, it will not have to be proven.

For the way his government has treated rape victim Mukhtaran Mai. In 2005, when she was invited to speak about her gruesome ordeal outside the country, Musharraf accused Pakistani women of ‘lining up to be raped’ in order to score international attention. He has yet to apologise. Because of his close alliance with the mullahs, none of the barbaric laws against women in Pakistan have been repealed.

For sacking Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in March last year.

For imposing Emergency in November last year.

For arresting and detaining thousands of Pakistanis who opposed the sacking of the Chief Justice, and the declaration of Emergency.

For creating a climate of such misery and violence that even our most popular political icon, Benazir Bhutto, was killed. If he could survive so many assassination attempts, why couldn’t his government secure her survival too? The loss is personal. The loss is still too deep to ever be forgiven.

For the rise in crime, inflation, poverty, illiteracy, pollution, power cuts. This winter in Lahore has been the worst I can remember: we lost electricity and gas up to 10 hours daily. All the shopkeepers, teachers, tailors, taxi drivers, rickshaw wallahs, and business men and women I spoke with agreed: life had come to a complete halt. The entire country seemed to curl inward, in a state of despair and lethargy.

The Feb 18th 2008 elections were a way to come out of this depressed state. Musharraf's party has been rejected and religious parties too have been rejected. Pakistanis have spoken in favour of freedom and democracy.

Will the United States do the same? Barack Obama says to bomb Pakistan; Hillary Clinton says to continue backing Musharraf; John McCain says to stay in Iraq for a hundred years. Call this freedom and democracy?

Will Musharraf ever leave?

Post Script to Book Launches of THE GEOMETRY OF GOD


Thank you to all those who made the effort to hear me read and speak in Karachi last month (Jan 2008). Given that the launches were during the month of Moharram, the turn-out was much better than I’d dared to hope, especially at Liberty Books, where around ninety people showed up. As always, the Q & A was my favourite part (second favourite part was when people bought the book).


In this photo, my mother is on the right: