January Issue 2003

By | Opinion | Viewpoint | Published 17 years ago

It is that time of the year again — time to ring out the old and ring in the new. Time to make fresh beginnings and chart new courses. Time to look to the future with renewed hope, vigour and enthusiasm.

But alas, the brilliant fireworks that lit up the sky and heralded the dawn of 2003 did not bring any glad tidings to the lives of most of Pakistan’s one hundred and forty million people. As the sparks faded away into the darkness of the night, and the drumbeats that kept many a tipsy reveller on his feet through the celebrations fell silent, the grim reality of a year gone by without any visible change in the life of a 55-year-old nation hit home hard.

This was a day like any other. Should it have been? There were promises galore in the last three years. Promises of accountability, of weeding out corruption, of good governance. Promises of a return to ‘real’ democracy. Of a dispensation of new people, honest people, competent people — a dream team.

However, the composition of the general’s dream team, post-elections, is the stuff of one’s worst nightmare. Turncoats, deserters, loan defaulters, criminals — all form part of the general’s choice collection.

Rules have been bent, twisted and turned around to secure the desired results. A man is declared traitor and absconder one day and governor the next, to muster his party’s support at the centre. Another is accused of a major loan default one morning and catapulted to the rank of interior minister shortly after, in return for switching allegiance to the king’s party. Yet another man is sentenced to 38 years imprisonment on charges of corruption one day and released the next day because he happens to be related to the country’s top gun.

A former governor who flees the country to escape corruption charges is allowed to return, jailed for a few months, declared innocent and then inducted into the cabinet. The list runs on. A woman MPA switches sides, following threats to remove her husband from government service. The anti-defection clause is held in abeyance to facilitate all floor-crossers. And once the Prime Minister has managed to get the requisite votes, courtesy the lotas, the clause stands revived — with one notable exception: its provision pertaining to the Senate will be restored after the Senate elections.

The manoeuverings of the power-brokers cannot get more blatant than that. And when the press exposes this stark reality, it is accused of distorting the truth and of being a messenger of doom by General Musharraf.

Is telling it as it is a distortion of reality? Of late, the general has taken to attacking the press at every forum. The new anti-defamation law that his government proposes to introduce is designed to toll the death-knell for one of the fundamental pillars of a democratic state. Is this then the real, the genuine democracy that General Musharraf promised when he took over the reins of power in October 1999?

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.