- Getting the country back on even keel
Because of regressive politics, the common good becomes uncommon. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has suffered because of this brand of political dispensation. There have been very limited periods of progressive politics in the land of the pure. The All-India Muslim League (AIML), the founding party of the country, was mainly a centrist party. The daily newspaper Dawn was considered a mouthpiece of the League. Led by honest and able political leaders, the League avoided regressive politics. Within the League there was a progressive group led by Mian Iftikharuddin of Baghbanpura Lahore. In early 1947 he founded a leftist newspaper by the name of The Pakistan Times whose editor was the legendary Faiz Ahmed Faiz. It was named Progressive Papers Limited. There were four publications, The Pakistan Times, the Urdu daily Imroze, weekly Lail o Nahar and a monthly Sports Times. After the Partition, Iftikharuddin was appointed President of the Punjab Muslim League and Minister of Rehabilitation. With his progressive outlook he proposed major land reforms which did not sit well with his colleagues, forcing him to leave the Cabinet.
Progressive thinkers kept pushing the centrist leadership of the times. It is widely believed that, one of the major factors in Ayub Khan’s martial law was the fear of a Leftist Government in the republic, had elections been held in 1958 under the 1956 constitution. In October 1958, Pakistan moved in the opposite direction. From able, honest, centrist politics, a repressive and regressive regime took control of the country. Progressives were hounded. The Progressive Papers Limited was taken over by force in April 1959. Stalwarts were either arrested or sidelined. Iftikharuddin, the Chairman, Syed Amir Hussain Shah, the Managing Director, and Mazhar Ali Khan, the Editor, were stopped from working. The editorial after the take over was titled, ‘ The New Leaf’. It was indeed a new rotten leaf in which press freedom and individual liberties were seriously curbed. Finally the Ayub era of regressive politics came to an end in March 1969, but the damage had been done. The Eastern wing of the country was up in arms. Yahya Khan, the second dictator, took control of the country with a promise of free and fair elections on the basis of one man, one vote. He also abrogated the 1962 imposed constitution.
Confrontation may not be the best way forward. A negotiated settlement between the past but entrenched forces of darkness and the comrades of change may still work. It is a complex, difficult situation but nations do emerge from adversities to change their course but regressive politics have to be reversed to move forward. Today the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is at the cross roads. Tough decisions have to be taken, it is a test of leadership and political sagacity of the Kaptaan. Obsolete Technicians (Puranay Mistri) may not be able to deliver ‘Naya Pakistan
A hung parliament is the dream of every dictator but the results in the 1970 free and fair elections came as a big surprise for the establishment. The Mujib-led Awami League bagged 161 seats in the Eastern wing while Bhutto’s progressive People’s Party bagged 81 seats in West Pakistan. When transfer of power was delayed, civil war broke out in East Pakistan, and the rest is history, as it is said. Bhutto came into power in what remained of Quaid’s Pakistan. The republic started to move in the direction of progressive politics, ending the regressive era of the first two dictators. In 1973 a unanimous constitution was also passed, and Pakistan re-emerged as a constitutional democracy. Bhutto’s popularity was on the rise. Beaming with confidence and hoping for an absolute majority, he dissolved the assemblies ahead of the completion of his term in early 1977. The trap had been laid for him. The very next day an opposition alliance of nine diverse political parties was announced under the banner of Pakistan National Alliance (PNA). It turned out to be a one-on-one contest. The very first election under the new constitution was disputed. Street protests started all over the country. The PNA, in connivance with the establishment, pushed the country back into regressive politics which has continued unabated till today. Air Marshal Asghar Khan realized too late that he had been used as a tool to curb the march of democracy in the country. He never recovered from this gross miscalculation and his political career suffered an irreparable loss.
The present government led by Imran Khan continues to struggle in reversing the rot by moving the country back to the progressive politics of the 1970s. In my analysis, the establishment of today also realizes its past mistakes in pursuing regressive politics through corrupt propped political leadership. Since July 1977, a lot of dirty water has passed under the bridge, weakening its foundations. Mafias are well entrenched and control the relevant record and levers of power. The ‘Sarkari Leagues’, starting with the PML-Convention and coming down to the PML(N) and PML(Q) of our times, have further compounded the problem. Efforts for common good are nowhere to be seen. Comrades like Mian Iftikharuddin, Mairaj Muhammed Khan, Hamza Alvi, Sheikh Rashid Sr., Dr Mubashir Hasan have perished. Who will formulate the progressive agenda to move the country forward? In the first decade of Pakistan the progressives kept the centrists into check. Ayub Khan kicked in the regressive era which was then turned around by Bhutto in the 1970s. Zia succeeded in neutralizing the democratic gains by pushing the country back into the political dark ages the 1973 constitution was de-shaped but it survived. Musharraf only talked about moderation but could not deliver much. Benazir was cornered while Nawaz and Zardari forged an evil alliance to gain from the prevalent regressive politics of the Zia era.
Confrontation may not be the best way forward. A negotiated settlement between the past but entrenched forces of darkness and the comrades of change may still work. It is a complex, difficult situation but nations do emerge from adversities to change their course but regressive politics have to be reversed to move forward. Today the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is at the cross roads. Tough decisions have to be taken, it is a test of leadership and political sagacity of the Kaptaan. Obslete Technicians (Puranay Mistri) may not be able to deliver ‘Naya Pakistan’.