It doesn’t mean what you think it means. Annus Horibilis is a Latin phrase meaning horrible year — the English word ‘annual’ comes from the Latin word ‘annus’. 2007 was indeed a horrible year, the worst we have suffered since 1971, when the country was rent asunder. Though it has passed, 2007 has created the portents for 2008 to perhaps end up with even worse consequences, just as the events of 1970 created the portents for the disaster of 1971. Crooks were let off the hook on America’s diktat and zeros were turned into heroes by a dysfunctional government. President Pervez Musharraf’s removal, regardless of the consequences to the democratic process or to Pakistan, has become the only item on his opponents’ agenda and let the devil take the hindmost.
On January 1, 2007 President Pervez Musharraf was one of the most feted leaders in the world. Come December 31 and he had transformed himself (nobody else did it to him) into a leader whose intentions the world suspects.
No one has any inkling of what 2008 holds. Anyone making predictions has either to be an incredible fool or an incredible soothsayer. One cannot be sure that 2008 will be happy because the choices before us this election arise from a giant hobble into a past reeking of failure, mis-governance and rampant corruption — follies and foibles that led to the army takeover of October 1999 in the first place. This return to the horrible past, more than any other mistake of the government, has sent Pakistan into a tailspin, with uncertainty rife and no one knowing what sort of a monster will emerge from the elections, what sort of a gaggle of unlikely bedfellows will form the next government and how long it will last.
One thing is certain: no party will get anywhere near the majority of seats required (172) to form the next government. Thus it will most likely be a highly fractured Assembly with a short lifespan. Another certainty is that it will be a motley crew of rank opportunists with little in common except a desire for power and the keys to the treasury for the simple reason that there is now so much more to plunder. It will be like putting a dog, a cat and a mouse in one cage — the fur will start flying almost immediately. Democracy as a weapon is doing its dirty work for its western proponents and their Pakistani caricatures because out of chaos comes colonization.
The only hope is that if elections lead to a multi-party government of national unity with adequate representation from all provinces headed by a prime minister acceptable to all, they may not lead to disaster as they did in 1971. At the time we had small-minded politicians whose only interest was self-interest. Today’s politicians are even smaller minded and more selfish — so small minded that they would be hard put to challenge a peahen.
This sort of confusion arises when long-serving rulers who have never properly referred to the people suffer from alienation born of isolation born of a huge security risk. Without realizing what is happening to them, they shrink to paying only lip service to the number one item on the national agenda — ‘Pakistan Comes First’ – and reduce it to a populist slogan. For President Musharraf survival may seem to have become the number one issue because he thinks, not entirely incorrectly, that his sudden and unscheduled departure from the scene would throw Pakistan into even a greater tailspin. As to his opponents (including what is called ‘civil society’ whose concerns arise mainly from western political constructs) if you shear off the slogans from the rhetoric, the sole item on their agenda is that Musharraf must go regardless of the consequences to a country at war with terrorists on its own soil and long at war with itself. Historically unable to cope with multi-item agendas, their small minds can only tackle one-item agendas at a time. Thus one-item agendas’ have become the usual standard operating procedure for these political ‘wonderlings’. Remember in the Nineties removal of Nawaz Sharif was their one-item agenda, and before that the removal of Benazir — undemocratically, of course. They couldn’t wait for elections at the right time and always begged the army to intervene to “save the country” and put them in power. The only great mental leap these political wonderlings have ever made was in the late Nineties when their one-item agenda included two people, not one — “fight the corruption of both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.”
If you go back to basics, Pakistan’s problems arise from failure to change to a presidential system with the vital separation of legislature and executive and the essential selection of cabinets from amongst the best and the brightest, as we had before the 2002 elections. The conventional wisdom is that the president did not wish to rock the boat by changing the constitution so drastically. The truth is that when armies take over their ‘mandate’ is to save the iniquitous pro-ruling class status quo that the predecessor ruler was destroying by trying to convert it more to his advantage at the disadvantage of the rest of the ruling class’s share in the spoils. Its mandate is not to change the status quo, far less change it in favour of the poor and the downtrodden. In any case, the Supreme Court (which has played the most destructive role in Pakistan’s history by being supine always but going hyperactive in 2007 and nearly launching a successful coup against the executive) while decreeing that Musharraf’s takeover was legal held that he couldn’t make any structural changes to the federal parliamentary character of the constitution, whatever that means, and must hold elections by October 2002. Then these the ‘honourable’ judges went and took oath under Musharraf’s first Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) swearing, amongst other things, fealty to General Syed Pervez Musharraf, Chief of the Army Staff and newly self-appointed Chief Executive of Pakistan. After the emergency of November 3, 2007, these same judges refused to take oath under Musharraf’s second PCO. Was it because they had grown a conscience or had the general’s fright-factor eroded or had someone more powerful shown them dreams of lush gardens flowing with milk and honey, their homes paved with gold and beautiful maidens reclining on couches with bunches of grapes hanging from vines with angels playing on harps. But this raises a huge anomaly: if the judges of the first PCO are legal, then so have to be those of the second, and if the judges of the second PCO are illegal, then so have to be those of the first.
The president’s inability to make the change has led us neither to a parliamentary nor a presidential system but a little bit of both, neither fish nor fowl, partridge nor quail, man nor woman. Result: a hermaphrodite with schizophrenia. It gave birth to a dysfunctional government at the top and a dysfunctional ruling party leadership. The failures that this caused all came together in 2007.
How does this happen to very intelligent people like Musharraf? It comes from lack of a belief system, something that is confused with wish lists. A belief system comes from strong faith in some philosophy, ideology, religion or creed – usually a combination of some or all of these factors. Musharraf is not unique in this: all our leaders suffer from it, which is the main cause of our multiple failures with all kinds of alien and hybrid systems and with all sorts of leaders. That is why our leaders lack a Ka’aba and Qibla — destination and direction. For example, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was not a religious man but he had very strong faith in his objective, which was to free the Muslims of India from the British yoke and prevent them from falling under the Hindu yoke once the British yoke lifted. He did it by becoming perhaps the only individual in history to do three things at the same time: free his people, change the course of history and create a new country. Incredible, isn’t it, what strong faith in one’s objective can achieve?
The disasters of 2007 started with, for no fathomable reason, President Musharraf fixatedly starting to take target practice on his foot. They began with the Lal Masjid crisis from late January and ended with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27.
In between came the judiciary crisis and the forced return of Benazir Bhutto at the pigheaded insistence of America and Britain. This, inevitably, forced the return of the Sharif brothers. We thought that the nadir had come with the Karachi massacre of May 12. The Supreme Court restored the chief justice on July 20 but controversially refused to allow the reference against him to be heard, as if it was scared to let it go ahead. It would have been in the fitness of justice if it had, because if the president had been shown to be wrong the chief justice would have been accepted back in office by everyone. But as long as Musharraf’s opponents don’t accept his legitimacy, they cannot accept any judge as legitimate either for all of them have taken oath under one PCO or the other, which means swearing allegiance to Musharraf. Musharraf accepted the judgment in good grace (an executive has so much power that it can find many devices that are borderline legal to negate a Supreme Court judgment if it wishes to). But instead of accepting Musharraf’s offer of live and let live, the restored chief justice and his Supreme Court turned on the executive in a vengeful fit that turned into a suo moto orgy, passing highly contentious judgments like releasing terrorists who, according to the president, have committed many acts of terrorism since. (Blue Chip has reliably learned that 124 terrorists in the most dangerous ‘black’ category were released by the Supreme Court). It allowed the return of Nawaz Sharif, his subsequent dramatic arrival and deportation, and finally his return, which could not be avoided after Benazir Bhutto’s return. It got so silly that the Supreme Court was interfering in the prices of fuel and the car parking rental at Karachi Airport. A new nadir was reached with the presidential edict misnamed the ‘National Reconciliation Ordinance, 2007’ that has one law for criminal rulers and another for criminal citizens, to the advantage of the rulers, of course. Lesson: it pays big to be corrupt as long as you are corrupt big. This is what paved the way for Benazir Bhutto to be pushed back into Pakistan by a pigheaded America knowing that a monster was waiting for her. And so it came to pass. Poor Benazir was eaten by the monster which America and Britain had the greatest hand in creating during the Afghan Jihad of the 1980s. Pakistan went into a tailspin. Whoever else may have her blood on their hands, Britain and the America most certainly do for their callousness at the very least.
Now a nation in shock and bewilderment awaits the elections to see what they will bring.
By Humayun Gauhar