Sunday, May 20, 2007

Where is Nowhere?

Byline By M.J. Akbar : Where is nowhere?

A sectarian simmer in Punjab bursts into violence; in the patterns of that fire, the shadows of an old ghost begin to dance. Slogans of Khalistan are heard, albeit from the margin. But that is sufficient for a very senior officer of the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi to invite some journalists for a briefing. Pakistan, he whispers, is behind all this. The official will not permit his name to be disclosed.

A killer bomb, activated through a cell phone, goes off during Friday prayers at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, the largest mosque in Asia. Even before the echo of the blast has ebbed, "intelligence" officers of the police are talking to the media, once again on an off-the-record basis. Where do their fingers point? All the usual suspects, please, line up. Pakistan, take your place at the head of the line.

This is not unique. A dozen bombs go off in Pakistan for every one in India, and guess whom they blame for eleven of those incidents? India. The administrative systems of India and Pakistan have only one ideology left: Alibiology. They have become addicted to alibis, because no faith could be easier to follow. It is almost a miracle that the Pakistan establishment has not blamed India for the recent demonstrations and street carnage that have whittled the credibility of the Musharraf government.

Media in either country doesn’t waste any time in turning an unattributable whisper into a screeching headline. Public memory is conveniently short. For every investigation that reaches somewhere, a hundred go nowhere. "Nowhere" is a large cavern in the public unconsciousness, into which all that is unpleasant is dumped, where the dead are forgotten while life goes on.
No one has time for inconvenient questions. If the police theorists are so convinced that this or that organisation was behind the Mecca Masjid outrage, why did they not do something to prevent it? They may not have succeeded in preventing the incident, but is there any evidence that they tried to do so based on a tip or a clue? And if they were taken by surprise, why do they offer knee-jerk explanations before they have had any time to investigate?

Why does a senior official of the MEA in Delhi or Islamabad choose the comfort of anonymity when blaming the other? If he has serious evidence of complicity, he should hold a news conference. The Delhi official isn’t blaming his own Prime Minister, so why the secrecy?
Islamabad and Delhi should formally permit their intelligence bragging rights, instead of all this pretend-mysteriousness. They have a legitimate and even honourable role to play in the defence of people’s lives. If they can trace and implicate masterminds or puppeteers intent upon spreading havoc among the innocent, their efforts must be lauded.

One fears that the problem is not a veil over success, but inefficiency. The famed and feared ISI of Pakistan has the skills to instigate mayhem, but no ability to prevent what it has not started. Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have absolutely no clue about the perceptible collapse of civil society that is now the most serious threat to political stability and the economic revival that had begun to get visible in the last two years. In the absence of rational analysis, and proposals that might help in the formulation of serious answers to genuine problems, they provide a bazaar list of "enemies" to their embattled President.

Generals never see the problem as the enemy. They see the enemy as the problem.

There is no shortage of crises in India, but India is blessed with a mature democracy. If those in power don’t tackle the problem, the problem sweeps them out of power. A Constitution, and a mature political process in which elections are being further sterilised from corruption each year, ensure that there is a peaceful method with which to deal with leaderships that have lost their way, or lost their credibility.

Pakistan’s dilemma is not complex. There is no sanctity to the Constitution, or the rule of law. A figurehead of the judiciary may have become the symbol of the fight against a President who emerged from a coup, but the Supreme Court has always provided the necessary justification to cover the nakedness of any leader dressed in nothing but a silver pistol. De facto has been given the veneer of de jure. If Pakistan’s Epaulette-and-Moustache Presidents take the Supreme Court for granted it is because the record permits them to do so.

When was a coup in Pakistan ever declared illegal? When is a coup ever legal?

In practice, Pakistan’s political system has found an entry route for Army chiefs to come to power. But it has not discovered an exit route. Dictators have lasted much longer than democrats because there is no system of accountability. Civilians see the mood of the people when they look ahead; they see the hunger of the armed forces when they look behind their backs. They are hemmed in from both sides. The dictator shuffles off potential troublemakers (also known as corps commanders) behind his back, and ignores the people in front. He can concentrate on making speeches that sound good in America. Happy days are here again!

Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan had to fail in war to lose their jobs; Zia ul Haq was helped towards the Almighty by an almighty accident that still remains unsolved. Fortunately for Pervez Musharraf, he failed in a war with India before he led the coup, so he can’t be punished for that. What next? He has taken the battle to the streets, encouraging his vigilantes to inform the country that there is a King’s Party in this confrontation. Will he now contest and win a dubious election by disqualifying anyone who can defeat him?

A vulnerable government is the privilege of a democracy. Indian Opposition parties have the legal and moral right to hope that any incumbent will fall, and they can succeed in the ensuing election. But if a government is unstable, the system is stable. The nation is stable. There is the excitement of peaceful dramatic change, as took place at the national level three years ago, and has just occurred in Uttar Pradesh. Losers get depressed, and then gear up.

If dictatorship is the institutionalisation of ego, as today in Pakistan; then democracy is the destruction of ego. This summer’s road from Lucknow to Delhi is littered with punctured egos. The punctures will heal, of course, because democracy has restorative powers as well. It is both the bite and the serum.

Alibiology is less excusable in a democracy, and therefore grates all the more when Indian officials content themselves, and hope they can fool the country, with an excuse. There are certainly forces inimical to India, based in or sponsored by elements in Pakistan. But they would achieve nothing if we in India did not have weaknesses that could be exploited. Nor is it very wise to keep suggesting that the internal security systems of India are so weak that they can be continually and easily penetrated by a foreign agency.

Vigilance is the price of liberty, true. But vigilance needs three eyes, only one of which looks across the border. Two must look within.

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