Much ado about nothing again?
WHAT a staggering week. Only in Pakistan could you have witnessed such a whirlwind of events and fast-changing political scene and scenario in a mere seven days.
This period saw a consistent voice against terrorism silenced; Minar-i-Pakistan providing the backdrop for yet another political maverick, this time with an agenda that continues to cause misgivings; and the launch of the career of the third generation of a political dynasty.
Of all these developments the one that touched me personally the most was the killing of Pakhtunkhwa senior minister and one of the towering ANP leaders, Bashir Bilour, known fondly all over Peshawar as Bashir Lala.
Op-ed writers in national newspapers who knew him personally wrote eloquent obituaries for the courageous leader, who was a consummate politician excelling both at constituency and national politics.
He was mostly the first to arrive at the scene of each Taliban atrocity in the Peshawar area, despite earlier assassination attempts, and was forthright when he spoke: “They don’t want us to send our girls to school. This is a fight to the finish. We’ll kill and be killed.”
These weren’t words spoken by a politician cowering in fear behind multiple security cordons and bunkered down. These were the words of the man described as the Lion of Peshawar, a rare breed of politician who, in the manner of his death, lived up to his word.
And this valour came against the backdrop of political parties and politicians who shy away from calling a spade a spade — such is the fear, the awe of the terrorists, the major impediment towards a consensus on action against Taliban sanctuaries.
Without this ‘consensus’ the army chief says he wouldn’t contemplate action against those to whom most terror attacks in the country can be traced. Little surprise social media is abuzz with questions about whether a similar consensus was sought before action in Balochistan.
Bashir Bilour’s killing in a suicide bombing has seen renewed calls by the ANP leadership for a national consensus to firmly deal with terrorists who have drawn more than just so much Pakhtun blood.
A day after Bashir Bilour and seven others became the latest fighters to pay the ultimate price in the battle against terrorism in the Pakhtunkhwa capital’s old city, Lahore’s iconic Minar-i-Pakistan was witnessing the appearance of what someone called the latest Minar Madari (juggler).
Doctor Tahirul Qadri announced his arrival on the political scene with a bang. With a bang because a massive crowd was assembled on the vast acreage around the monument and of late political weight is somehow calculated as a function of the size of such assemblies.
While the last great Minar success, Imran Khan, despite his disdain for all politicians and things political is now appearing committed to making an impact in the elections, the latest maverick unfurled an agenda with items which gave rise to severe misgivings.
He seeks a caretaker government of technocrats to be appointed in consultation with ‘all stakeholders including the army and judiciary’ and given whatever time it needed to stabilise the economy, restore law and order and take the fight to the terrorists.
The learned scholar gave Italy’s example; according to him, the “European Court of Justice” dismissed its corrupt government and put in its place a caretaker technocrats’ administration for two years. But the job was done in a year so the prime minister recently resigned.
I am no European law expert but would humbly say that the European Court doesn’t dismiss sovereign governments. About a year ago, an Italian court lifted then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s immunity in six cases of graft and one charge of paying for sex with an underage female.
When a key ally withdrew support, his coalition government collapsed. The president appointed an economic expert of repute, Mario Monti, to lead a government with parliamentary approval to grapple with a crisis triggered by a huge deficit, high unemployment and plummeting credit rating.
A few weeks ago, Mr Berlusconi’s party withdrew support from the technocrat prime minister; he resigned but has been asked to continue till elections which have been called for February. All the steps in Italy were taken with parliament’s approval and ended when the support ended.
Now, the good professor is saying he’d assemble a huge crowd in Islamabad to force the government to accept his ‘reform’ demand which critics suspect is a sinister attempt to usher in an ‘un-elected’ caretaker administration with a remit extending well beyond holding credible elections.
Through the maze created by his ‘oaths’ that he was acting neither on behalf of a foreign power nor domestic intelligence agencies and some of his demands, what emerges with clarity is his stance against terrorism and intolerance.
Perhaps, sensing an opportunity the ever-sharp, and ever-opportunistic to its critics, MQM has thrown in its lot with Tahirul Qadri. Imran Khan, though somewhat muted, has also supported the ‘electoral reform’ demand. It isn’t clear whether he’d also back stern anti-terror action.
This brings me to the week’s final ‘lead-story’ material, the arrival on the scene of 24-year-old Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the third generation (not counting Sir Shahnawaz, Bilawal’s great grandfather) of the Bhutto dynasty to set sail in Pakistan’s perpetually choppy political waters.
The jury is out whether a Bilawal, personally untainted by charges of corruption or misgovernance, will be the shot in the arm the party needs to revive its fortunes and re-energise its support base or will his Garhi Khuda Bakhsh speech and launch prove no more than a damp squib.
However, given his personal loss, it isn’t surprising the one consistent resolve he has expressed earlier in his Tweets as well is for the need to crush terrorism. But his party’s record in power hardly inspires confidence.
It isn’t sad that Tahirul Qadri and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari spoke words which may amount to nothing eventually. They were mere words. It is tragic that the blood sacrifice of Benazir Bhutto, Bashir Bilour and thousands of civilians and soldiers still appears to have been in vain.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.