Analysis: Manifest Destiny — Tanvir Ahmad Khan
Daily Times, August 25, 2008
Readers of Tolstoy’s War and Peace are all too familiar with passages in which the great master breaks away from his grand narrative to brood over the meaning and essence of history. He was not content with the heroic mode which doubtless had been revived by Napoleon’s mighty sweeps across Europe. The genius Napoleon, he noted wryly, had “suddenly been discovered to be an outlaw” and exiled to die “a slow death on a rock”.
Scientific sociology that the Russian chattering classes applied to movements of history did not satisfy Tolstoy either partly because he felt that available facts were not usually sufficient to arrive at truth and partly because they would not apprehend a higher will at work in human affairs.
The new history, Tolstoy wrote, is like a deaf man replying to questions which nobody puts to him. In Pakistan, today, new history is being written less by professional historians and more by instant interpreters — not all of them are journalists — that dominate the print and the electronic media. One may be forgiven for being reminded by many of them of Tolstoy’s devastating judgement. They would become more relevant and credible if they were to spend less time on the minutiae of political tactics by which various stakeholders seek advantage over one another and focus more sharply on reading the forces that shape destinies of people.
The nation of Pakistan is lost in a maze because its political class is finding it difficult to offer a vision of its manifest destiny. Faced with a deep national crisis, admittedly not of its making, this class is haunted by fears, many of which are nameless; it is, therefore, unable to put together a programme of national revival. General Musharraf’s long overdue resignation should have been a triumphal moment to raise the spirit of the people and set them on the road to recovery. This moment is getting dissipated in minor details of manoeuvres by which some illusory mileage may be gained at a future date.
In the several weeks prior to his resignation, Musharraf had systematically trivialised the new political set up by portraying it as incapable of providing effective governance. This was a characteristic Musharraf ploy of transferring responsibility for the grave consequences of his long misrule to some other shoulders. The impeachment move may well have been triggered by the perception that this campaign could be a prelude to something far more reckless. In the ensuing confrontation Musharraf banked heavily on the knowledge that he did not face a revolutionary situation or even radical opponents. In political terms, the overwhelmingly anti-Musharraf verdict handed down by the assemblies of all the federating provinces was a brilliant initiative in wrapping up the remnants of his power.
But even in this dismal hour he was able to write part of the requiem. More than the guard of honour that has upset many people, Musharraf got written into it an obligation to give him complete indemnity. He may well have been uncanny in saddling the government as, indeed, the parliament with an agenda that would not be easy to address.
This is the essence of the Musharraf legacy. We have a battered and fragmented polity marred by deep distrust and misperception. Balochistan is alienated as never before. Violence is the defining feature of groups that have no interest in the survival of a progressive and democratic state that the founding fathers had dreamt of. Once the economic bubble burst, the state started losing control and has yet to come up with a resolute plan of action. More importantly, it cannot deal with international friends and foes with any degree of assurance.
In common parlance, the sovereignty that Musharraf compromised over a decade can hardly be restored to full measure by Mr Asif Zardari overnight, particularly when there is no consensus on how to deal with the debris of the Musharraf era.
Talking of nameless fears, one need not despair of the international community. Looked at from inside, Musharraf’s departure is nothing short of deliverance. For the view from outside, things were blurry for a long time but, perhaps, not anymore.
Hussain Haqqani, our new man in Washington, is innovative if nothing else. A piece written by him for the Wall Street Journal (August 21) has the engaging title “America is Better off Without Musharraf”. George Bush may or may not agree but his successor would have little hesitation in sharing Haqqani’s little incursion into the national interest of the United States. There is time and space for defining things afresh and there is no justification for exaggerating our fears.
The mainstream political parties can transform the domestic scene today by agreeing to work together to overcome the imminent political, economic and social threats. This is what a minimum common programme is all about. They can do so for an agreed period of time and then press their respective claims on the attention of our people in a general election.
A continuing coalition now will help but it will not be a disaster as and when its components seek a fresh mandate. What can be disastrous is a policy of paralysing governance at a time when an autocratic regime has unravelled to throw up issues that should never have been allowed to assume such dangerous proportions. The business of government needs a lot more substance; it also needs time.
The manifest destiny of the people of Pakistan is a state that Jinnah visualised but did not have the time to create. It is a state that would order its affairs through an elected parliament that, in turn, would enshrine the diversity of the land and its people in a free federation of provinces endowed with a high measure of autonomy.
Over a thousand years, its people, once part of a Muslim empire embracing much of South Asia, have struggled to find the right balance between religion and politics. They found that balance in tolerance, innovation, respect for tradition and ceaseless engagement with modernity. Pakistan has no alternative.
The writer is a former foreign secretary. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org