Friday, December 21, 2007

Banned in Pakistan: Comedian of the Year, by Ahmad Faruqui (Updated 22 December 2007)

The Pakistani journalist Ahmad Faruqui (left) circulated the column below to a group of friends after his newspaper, The Daily Times, refused to publish it.

In his cover note, Faruqui wrote:
I have been writing for Daily Times since it began publication in April 2002. Attached is the first column of mine which they have rejected because it is too personal.
I expected that the column would be a personal reflection by Faruqui on some taboo social subject.... But it turns out that the "person" in question is none other than "President" Pervez Musharraf.

Faruqui wrote me:
What surprised me was that it was not my first column which was critical of Musharraf. What troubles me is that Daily Times is one of the most liberal papers in Pakistan. I find this very odd.

What's so odd? Musharraf wants responsible commentators, like Mulla Nasruddin:
"I shall have you hanged," said a cruel and ignorant king to Nasruddin, "if you do not prove such deep perceptions such as have been attributed to you." Nasruddin at once said that he could see a golden bird in the sky and demons within the earth. "But how can you do this?" the King asked. "Fear," said the Mulla, "is all you need."

Update: Subsequent to this note being posted, Ahmad Faruqui followed up with more information:

I have found out that the punishment for being "too personal" is two years in jail and a fine of $1,700. And this is after the emergency has been removed and the uniform "doffed."

Comedian of the year

Ahmad Faruqui

TIME magazine has declared Vladimir Putin as Man of the Year. We don’t know whether our own Pervez Musharraf was in the running. He did not make it to the short list. It is quite likely that they put him on another list and he ended up being declared “Comedian of the Year.”

On the global stage, Musharraf is the undisputed king of dark comedy. But mind you, this is very different from the slapstick humor you might see on the Monty Python show.

Musharraf’s comedic device is the utterance of non sequiturs with a stern demeanor. And it is this austere visage –almost bordering on anger –that imbues his acts with an inimitable touch.

Who else would say the following? “Against my will, as a last resort, I had to impose the emergency in order to save Pakistan.” You see, he is a man of many wills. The president in him did not want to impose it while the Chief of Army Staff in him did. Hah!

And what does it mean when he says, “As a last resort?” This is an admission, albeit a very indirect one, that without the emergency, he would no longer have remained president. Just the thought of Pakistan without him as president is enough to bring a smile to most people’s face.

The script continues, “The conspiracy was hatched to destabilize the country.” But the conspirators were never named. Dame Agatha Christie would not have approved of such an incomplete story but it is funny in an old fashioned way.

He goes on to say, “I cannot tell how much pain the nation and I suffered.” Alice would have said, “Goodness gracious, general, you had complete freedom of movement, you could go visit relatives, stop by your office if you were in the mood for working and, come to think of it, you could even go shopping. So what caused you to suffer?”

Maybe he felt the police would pick up him up because he was openly expressing his opinions on TV, which was contrary to his own diktats.

But wait. Maybe the suffering was moral. As he went to bed every night, he lay awake thinking of the people that he had put in jail that were lying awake in rotten surroundings. To relieve his suffering, all he had to do was release them.

But did he? Of course not! He had declared an emergency precisely to make them suffer. How dare they rise against him on the streets, agitate against military rule and file petitions in the Supreme Court. He was going to fix them once and for all.

The emergency was not entirely unexpected. For a while, he had been dropping hints that he might impose an emergency if (a) the senior judges of the country joined in a “conspiracy” to end his eight-year rule and (b) if street riots caused political chaos that would hobble the fight against Islamic extremism.

Musharraf went on to say that the Supreme Court, which had been poised to rule on the legality of his October re-election, was acting beyond the constitution. Now that calls for a good round of applause.

The person who suspended the constitution was acting constitutionally and staying within its boundaries but the apex court that was seeking to prevent the abuse of power by that individual were acting beyond the constitution. Says who? Perhaps the Mad Hatter at his tea party.

He concluded his 20-minute address triumphantly by saying that “Now [that] the conspiracy has been foiled … [i]t is my commitment to the entire nation and the world that the election on January 8 will be on time and will be absolutely free and transparent.”

He threw the gauntlet at those political parties that plan to boycott the polls because they feared that the polls would be rigged. Musharraf warned, “This is all baseless and they must desist from it.” To alleviate any doubt, he said the government would invite “any number” of foreign observers to come and watch the fairness of the polls. Whether the invitations have been sent out is an open issue. Whether they have been accepted is another open issue. And whether they will show up to monitor the polls is the $64 million question.

The dictator’s comments beg the question of what is free and fair. Pakistanis have had a few elections under military governments. Perhaps the fairest was held by Yahya in 1970 and the most unfair election by Musharraf 32 years later. In both cases, the results were disastrous because the military was not prepared to share power with the elected representatives of the people.

Yahya refused to hand over power to the Awami League and plunged the country into a disastrous civil war that ultimately dismembered the republic. Musharraf pretended to hand over power to parliament but never did.

In his speech during the presidential inauguration, he took a swipe at the West and lambasted it for seeking to impose democracy on Pakistan. He said it had taken the West centuries to get there and they should not expect a poor nation like Pakistan to get there in just a few decades.

So why was he proceeding now to hold free and fair elections? Pakistan is either fit for democracy or not fit for it. Perhaps he was telling us that he likes to hunt with the hound and run with the hare. That is Musharrafian humor for you.

Like the three dictators before him, Musharraf is exploiting the fact that Pakistanis have not had much success with democracy. When he says that he intends to bring “the essence of democracy” to Pakistan with the next elections, he forgets that India has been a successful democracy for the past 60 years.

It is true that the Indians under a single prime minister (Nehru) had better luck with democracy than the Pakistanis did under seven prime ministers in the 1950s. But the army has been in power for all but a decade since then in Pakistan. If feudalism was the barrier to introducing democratic traditions, the army could have eliminated it.

One has to conclude that there is no democracy in Pakistan because the army does not want it. It wants to be the prima donna. Chronic military rule has crippled Pakistan’s development, leaving it in a state of permanent adolescence. Musharraf concluded a recent interview with the Washington Post by saying that Pakistan was neither “small” nor “a banana republic,” probably leaving the interviewer speechless. The laugh is on him for reacting so defensively.

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