A great poet manages always to stay true. Who knows what Ghalib had on his mind when he wrote immortal lines. But, for many days, as my pen reclines achingly in its resting place, as if stiff from bleeding, and my fingers refuse to move, as if hurt, nothing describes my situation better than this line from Ghalib
Ungliyan figaar apni khama khun-chukan apna - Ghalib
(My fingers are broken, my pen bloodied!)
Up in the sky, I see a silver lining flicker. Somewhere in the dark thickness of the clouds, there is a fleeting glimmer, not much but quite enough to spark hope. Hope is perhaps easier to spark among those of us raised in the faith that destiny is divinely decreed and embodies His transcendent wisdom. May be, it is only that we have been trained to see good emerging out of every incident, no matter how appalling and shocking that incident itself is.
One way or the other, I see hope gushing out after a period of dryness. My pen is healing now and my fingers are flowing. May be, you didn’t notice it but the truth is that the days are now growing longer and brighter, nights are on a retreat and it is not getting colder any more. True, the trees have bare branches and roses have all but withered, but then what is autumn but the harbinger of another spring. With the falling of every leaf, and the withering of every petal, another spring draws nigh. In my mind’s eye, I can already see the day when, at the onset of early spring, glacial streams will gush through their narrow courses and roll down to swell the mighty Indus. Very soon, the face of the earth will be green again.
They are wrong when they say that the passing away of a great national leader means the 'death of democracy' in this country. They are wrong when they say that there is no hope now. This last year, the year two-thousand-and-seven, has proven them wrong. The suffering of countless souls who braved everything from torture, beating, imprisonment and betrayal, has done a service which no one else did to this country: they won the hearts and minds of the masses for this cause, even if they couldn’t get them to participate in this movement. If the opinion polls are anything to go by, more than 80% of the country has shown its commitment to the rule of law and democracy – an unprecedented level of support, even when compared with democratic times. Perhaps a martyr's blood will tip the scales even further.
A year ago, the prospect of toppling the dictator seemed half as real and imminent as it does today. Back then, continuing with the status quo seemed quite possible. Today, however, in the wake of Benazir's sad demise, its violent aftermath, and the PPP’s reaffirmation of its commitment to Pakistan's solidarity - the army and the US are left with little choice but to dispense with the dictator. With the grim images of riotous street agitation still vivid in memories, it seems unlikely if anyone will risk subverting the elections by massive rigging. The message is clear: People’s will cannot be subverted anymore, if the country is to survive. If free and fair elections happen, the King's party is on the way out and the PPP will soon be in government. The PPP's share is likely to be bolstered by the sacrifice of its leader and King's party is likely to slip further. Therefore, the specter of a hung parliament seems less real.
The failure of the electoral process in the nineties was due, among other factors, to the immense polarization between major political parties. The fairly convivial electioneering and Nawaz Sharif’s grand gestures of solidarity at Benazir's death show that the country's biggest political parties have finally realized their true competition is not with each other but with the army and the establishment who will always try to scuttle democracy by discrediting politicians. How can one not be heartened at the sight of Mr. Sharif - not long ago quite unsupportive of the rule of law and media freedom - going now from one corner of the country to the other, campaigning for these very slogans? The politicians, for all their weaknesses, have proven themselves dynamic, quick learners.
One can also hope that, with the passing of a major figure who epitomized the politics of deal-making and compromise, more principled and idealistic politics will come to prevail in Pakistan's political arena. In the absence of towering sagacious figures, resort will have to be made to the counsel of the collectivity. The charisma of the Bhuttos would be an asset for any political party, but democracy cannot be about perpetuating dynasties. No matter how much you love someone, you just can’t play with the most fundamental distinction between democracy and monarchy. Without intending it, top leadership of the PPP has now gotten a chance to break the stranglehold of one family over their party – to show to the people that their party is not all about one family; rather, it is about the principles stated in their manifesto. For party stalwarts like Aitzaz Ahsan, who stood for principles but couldn't steer their parties away from sheer opportunism, now is the time to act; and act they will.
One cannot talk about the year two-thousand-and-seven without mentioning the countless heroes it has produced from amongst the ranks of the judiciary. Not long ago, the bench was a stronghold of the cowardly and the compromised. Never before did the judges rise up in large numbers and if ever any did, no one came to rally behind them. This year, when the call came, dozens upon dozens stood up to defy oppression and, two months down the lane, they are still standing. Not for one moment did they stand alone: they stand on the shoulders of hundreds of thousands of lawyers, political activists, students and other members of the civil society. The elections and their tragic prelude do nothing to dampen this cause. When a popular government is there in the halls of power – a prospect that now seems imminent – the cry for rule of law and freedom will again be raised, with at least as much support, if not more. This time round, it will have to be heard.
In its last hour, as I think about the happenings of this year and all the tragedies that have recently befallen us, I still cannot deny myself this feeling of hope. May be it is the stars inspiring me or the elation of having written so many words, after so long. May be, it is simply the hope that a man of faith must always have. I share this hope in the honest belief that it will avail others who may need it in these testing times.